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Texas Softball survived a test in the Super Regionals. Can it defend its top spot in the WCWS?

Any good postseason should push every team to the limit. Just ask Texas, the No. 1 seed in the NCAA softball tournament, what it got out of sweeping No. 16 Texas A&M in a three-game series in the Austin Super Regional last weekend.

“I think this is exactly what we needed this week,” said Texas' second-year catcher Reese Atwood, who was hit three times by a pitch in the series finale against the Aggies. “It's definitely going to be tough. This series has prepared us for it. It's been a battle every single inning. There were a couple of times where we were tested to the limit.”

Texas trailed in every game of the series before punching its ticket to the Women's College World Series on Sunday. After putting themselves in a tough spot in Game 1, losing 6-5, the uncomfortable precedent set in: win two games in a row or go home. In Game 2, that limit was tested again, as the Aggies beat the Longhorns 5-1 before a sixth-inning comeback saved Texas' season from a premature end. A decisive Game 3 completed the three-way bet – three games decided by one point – this time in favor of the Burnt Orange, 6-5.

“We talked about it all weekend, this series should prepare us,” said freshman right-hander Teagan Kavan, who made the save in Game 3. “I think it only makes us better. I'm glad we were battle-tested then and we can use that to help us in the future.”

The 39 runs scored by Texas and Texas A&M were the most ever in an NCAA Softball Super Regional. The Longhorns benefited from late-game comebacks, scoring 16 of their 20 runs in the sixth inning or later.

“We fought through every inning,” said sophomore Viviana Martinez, who had the most doubles (2) and putouts (4) of the game on Sunday. “That showed us and everyone else that we have grit.”

Heading into its seventh WCWS, this Texas team needs just that: grit. A trip to the Sooner State is never inviting for the Longhorns, given their Big 12 rivalries with Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

Earlier this week, Texas head coach Mike White said, according to the Austin American-Statesman, that hosting the WCWS in Oklahoma City is a “huge advantage” for Oklahoma and he would “love to see the site change at some point, but probably not during my tenure as coach.” Devon Field – home of the WCWS – was formerly called USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium and is located about 27 miles north of Oklahoma's Love's Field in Norman. Whether it's a regular season series or the WCWS, Texas knows the environment.

“As a team, we've learned to harness that energy and use it to our advantage,” Atwood said. “A lot of people will be cheering against us, but we also have our family in the stands. We have each other, and that's all we really need.”

“I think we use that as motivation,” Martinez said.

The Longhorns have secured first place in this postseason for the first time in program history, breaking Oklahoma's three-year winning streak at the top. The battle for the other This week, Oklahoma's victory is at stake: its fourth victory in a row.

Atwood will certainly be a key player for Texas. A finalist for the USA Softball Player of the Year award, she has already broken school records for home runs (23), RBIs (90) and total bases (160) in a single season. She leads her team with a batting average of .435 and a slugging percentage of .904.

A force like Atwood is needed against a pitcher like Stanford's NiJaree Canady, whom the Longhorns face in their first game of the WCWS on Thursday at 7 p.m. The Cardinal and Longhorns met in February, when Atwood hit a home run against Canady to help Texas win 9-2. The Cardinal beat Texas 4-3 in eight innings later that month. Atwood says Canady, the winner of USA Softball's Player of the Year award, is “one of the best pitchers I've ever played against.”

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“This weekend I'm going to make sure the team is on track to do what we do best: catch their rise ball and get a good pitch to hit,” Atwood said. “I think that's going to be key when we go up against them.”

Texas finished second in its final WCWS appearance of 2022. Nine players from that squad are still on the roster, but the new talent has been just as impactful. Sophomore P Citlaly Gutierrez leads the team with a 1.79 ERA and joins Atwood and Martinez in a strong sophomore class. Freshman Katie Stewart is second on the team with 12 HRs and 53 RBIs. Fellow freshman Kayden Henry has also earned a spot in the starting lineup. White has also stocked up on influential players like Joley Mitchell (Notre Dame) and P Mac Morgan (Arizona State) through the transfer portal.

They all hope to bring home the first national title for Texas. And on Thursday they'll be playing against eighth-seeded Stanford.

“They're a tough club. They're hot,” White said of the Cardinal. “NiJaree is obviously the best pitcher in the country right now and she won the award last night. Congratulations to her and Stanford. But we'll be ready. That's it. That's what makes this thing great, that it's a new day.”

“It’s 0-0, so let’s go.”

(Photo of Teagan Kavan and Reese Atwood: Aaron E. Martinez / American-Statesman / USA Today)

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