By CLIFF BRUNT, AP Sports Writer
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Unseeded Texas is four wins from a national title.
Estelle Czech allowed just one hit in 3 2/3 scoreless innings of relief, JJ Smith hit a three-run homer and the Longhorns defeated Arizona 5-2 on Sunday night to advance to the Women’s College World Series semifinals.
Czech (12-1), a sophomore, retired the first eight batters she faced in relief of ace Hailey Dolcini on her way to eliminating the Wildcats.
“Me and coach (Mike White) had a discussion before the game that my position today was to be the reliever and to pick up Hailey when I need it,” Czech said. “That’s what I tried to do. Hailey did her job, and I did mine.”
Smith, also a sophomore, fought through nerves to hit just her second home run of the season.
“This is my first time being in the World Series,” she said. “On deck, the first thing that ran through my mind is this is for the super seniors … I was just doing it for my team, to be honest with you.”
Texas (45-20-1) will play Big 12 rival Oklahoma State — the No. 7 overall seed — in the semifinals Monday. Because it is a double-elimination tournament to decide who plays in the best-of-three championship series and Texas already has a loss, the Longhorns would need to win twice Monday to advance. Oklahoma State, undefeated in the World Series so far, would need just one win to move on.
Oklahoma State defeated Texas all four times they played this season, including a matchup in the Big 12 Tournament. But Texas had to win a regional at No. 13 Washington and a super regional at No. 4 Arkansas to qualify, so the Longhorns are used to beating the odds.
“We’re really gritty,” Smith said. “Over the course of the season, we’ve all gotten really close and understanding no matter what happens we’re still in the game. We’re not out of the game until it’s over.”
In the other semifinals matchup Monday, defending champion and No. 1 seed Oklahoma will face No. 5 UCLA, with UCLA needing to win twice and Oklahoma needing to win just once to advance.
With Texas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in the semifinals, it’s the first time three Big 12 teams have reached the semifinals and the first time since the Southeastern Conference in 2015 that any conference has had three of the final four teams.
Texas’ Courtney Day hit a solo homer in the bottom of the third to open the scoring.
Carlie Scupin’s hard single down the right field line in the fourth knocked in Allie Skaggs and Amber Toven to give Arizona a 2-1 lead. Shortly after that, Czech replaced Dolcini with two runners on and struck out both batters she faced to escape.
Texas took the lead for good in its half of the fourth. Shortly after Devyn Netz replaced starter Hanah Bowen, Smith’s three-run blast gave Texas a 4-2 lead. Bowen (14-12) took the loss for Arizona.
Arizona (39-22) lost its first eight Pac-12 games and tied for last place in the league before getting hot during the regionals and super regionals. It was a strong finish for Caitlin Lowe, the first-year coach who replaced eight-time national champion Mike Candrea.
“I think in 21 days I watched them grow up,” Lowe said. “We’ve been on the road for all of it. But I watched them go from a team that was happy to be here, and then they realized, like, why not us?”
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