Whitney Canion

In the first two games of the series, the battle between Texas and Baylor was focused mainly on the pitchers. But in the final home game of her career and the last game of the season, senior shortstop Taylor Thom placed the spotlight on herself.

With the game tied at two in the bottom of the seventh and senior centerfielder Brejae Washington at first, Thom lined a doubled to right-center field to score Washington and give the Longhorns a 3-2 win over the Bears on Senior Day.

“It couldn’t have been scripted any better,” head coach Connie Clark said.

The game, as it has been any time Texas and Baylor play each other in softball, was a pitcher’s duel between the Longhorns’ freshman ace Tiarra Davis and the Bears’ senior ace Whitney Canion. After giving up runs in each of the last two innings in a loss against the Bears Tuesday night, Davis allowed only one run through the first four innings, mainly thanks to her control of the change up.

“Every day that we had from Tuesday to now, we spent working on [the change up],” Davis said. “It felt great to have it.”

Meanwhile, it was Canion who blinked first in the duel. In the second inning, the first two batters reached base and senior catcher Mandy Ogle laced a double to right-center field to score a run. Freshman left fielder Stephanie Wong then hit a sacrifice fly to up the Texas lead to 2-0.

But the Bears would chip away at that lead, scoring a run in the third on an RBI single by senior first baseman Holly Holl. Then in the fifth with a runner on base, Washington misplayed a single by freshman second baseman Ari Hawkins to center, which allowed a run to score to tie the game and Hawkins to reach third base. The Bears almost took the lead on a sacrifice fly from the next batter, but Hawkins was caught leaving third early to end the inning.

After a scoreless sixth, Baylor again threatened with two runners reaching base with two outs, including a single that bounced off the face of freshman third baseman Devon Tunning. Despite being down for multiple minutes and a bevy of trainers and coaches around her, Tunning stayed in the game.

“That was a shot,” Clark said. “Devon was tough through all of that and I’m proud of her tenacity and mental toughness.”

After a pop out ended the top half of the inning, the bottom of the seventh inning was set up perfectly for the Longhorns. Washington, sophomore right fielder Lindsey Stephens and Thom were due up. Then Washington reached on a signature bunt base hit to lead off the inning and after Stephens popped out, Thom took to the plate.

“You have to want that moment and I want that moment just as much as anybody else,” Thom said.

Thom took hold of that moment, lining a ball in a gap that Baylor had given her in right-center field which Washington scored easily on to give Texas the walk off win in the seniors’ last game at McCombs Field.

“I’m sad to say that that’s my last game here, but it was a great way to end [the game],” Thom said.

The four seniors on the team—Thom, Washington, Ogle and first baseman Karina Scott—leave the program with a record of 177-54 and a Women’s College World Series appearance, though those aren’t quite final numbers yet for the class.

Six hours after the game ended, the Longhorns learned that they are headed for a tenth-straight NCAA tournament. Texas will join Mississippi State, Louisiana at Lafayette and Texas Southern in the Lafayette Regional. Earlier this season, the Longhorns beat both ULL and Texas Southern twice in tournament play.

That, along with the momentum from the walk off win over Baylor, gives Thom hope that this team can make a run in the postseason.

“We have to keep pitching like Tiarra did today and we have to score runs and have great defense and I think we’re going to be great,” Thom said.

The Longhorns have won 32 of their 53 games this season, but it could be game 54 against Baylor that determines Texas’ NCAA Tournament destiny.

Coming into this week, the Longhorns were ranked 27th in the RPI, a computer ranking that the selection committee uses to pick the national seeds and at-large teams. However, with a win over the Bears on Sunday, that ranking will likely rise and increase the chances of the Longhorns making the tournament.

Texas comes into the game looking to take the season series from Baylor for the fifth straight year. The Bears won the makeup game Tuesday night in Waco, 2-1, behind solid pitching from senior ace Whitney Canion. Longhorn freshman Tiarra Davis pitched another strong game with only two runs surrendered and five hits given up over six innings, but struggled to control her changeup. Head coach Connie Clark hopes the off-speed pitch will be better this outing.

“I think that could have really been the difference in this game for her,” Clark said.

The Longhorns will also get another chance to see Canion, who they’ve had success against before. Back on March 22, Texas got seven hits and three runs off of Canion, including a three-run home run from senior catcher Mandy Ogle in a 4-1 win.

But Tuesday night, it was Canion who had the upper hand, allowing only one run in seven innings. She shut down a big opportunity for the Longhorns, who had runners at second and third with one out in the fourth inning.

Sunday’s game will also have more on the line than simple bragging rights. While Baylor has an NCAA tournament spot clinched and will also likely be hosting a regional, Texas’ spot in the tournament isn’t as certain. With an RPI rank of 27, the Longhorns are likely into the tournament even with a loss to the 17th ranked team in the country, but a win against the Bears would help their resume considerably.

Texas will find out if and where it will play in the regionals Sunday night with the selection show on ESPNU at 9 p.m. Regional play will begin Friday.

One of the biggest problems for the Longhorns this season has been maintaining consistency. They’ve been inconsistent in scoring with runners on base, inconsistent in the circle at times and inconsistent hitting the ball. Texas has swept only one series — at Iowa State — while dropping one game in three other series.

But coming off of a seven-run fifth inning in a run rule victory over Kansas on Sunday, the Longhorns are looking to ride that wave of momentum past Baylor Tuesday and Sunday and into a second-place finish in the Big 12.

“Whitney Canion is a great pitcher, but the way our offense is going now, we can take any pitcher in the country,” freshman pitcher Tiarra Davis said.

The Longhorns had success against Canion, the ace for the Bears, in their first meeting back on March 22. Senior catcher Mandy Ogle lined a double and hit a three-run home run as Texas made Canion throw 104 pitches to 24 batters. Davis, on the other hand, shut down the Baylor offense, allowing only a solo home run, which Davis admitted after the game was a mistake pitch.

Since that game, however, a lot has changed for both teams.

Baylor has won its past eight conference games and 13 of its last 16 games overall. Each of the three Bears pitchers boast an ERA under one. Canion is 25-9 this season with an ERA of 1.44 and an opponent’s batting average .168.

Meanwhile, the hitting for the Longhorns has been hit or miss over the past two series against Oklahoma State and Kansas. Texas pulled out a run-rule win once each of those series, but also lost a game in the series because they couldn’t hit. In the first two games of the last series, Kansas ace Kelsey Kessler kept the Longhorns off balance with slow pitches and a lot of movement. The strategy worked as Kessler held Texas to three runs and nine hits over 10 innings pitched.

The Longhorns will also likely have to win at least one of the two games against the Bears to solidify their spot in the NCAA tournament. Texas is ranked 27th in the latest RPI rankings, but with Oklahoma winning the Big 12 and taking that automatic qualifying spot, nothing is guaranteed.

Texas is headed to a place where they’ve had success in the recent past. The Longhorns have taken four of the last five games played in Waco and are 11-6 all-time at Getterman Stadium.

That, along with the fact that the Longhorns have seen Canion and done well against her, has head coach Connie Clark feeling good going into the season’s final two games.

“For some reason, we always play really well over in Waco and we feel really confident facing their pitchers,” Clark said.