Bourgeois, Crabtree shut out Texas
Longhorns starter Luna surrenders lone run in first inning
HOUSTON - Houston's seniors combined for their 19th shutout of the year as the Cougars blanked Texas 1-0 to advance to the NCAA Austin Regional championship game.
Houston (42-16) handed the Longhorns (46-9) just their fourth loss at home this season.
Armed with a 2-0 regional record, Houston is one win away from reaching the NCAA Super Regionals. The double elimination format assures Houston now must be defeated twice as the Cougars are the only team in the Austin Regional that remains unbeaten.
"Tomorrow is a big day for us, it's the reason we're here," Houston head coach Kyla Holas said. "Going into Sunday unbeaten is huge for us, especially in this weather and on such a long weekend. We've put ourselves in a good position. We'll be here for seven (innings) hopefully or 14 - whatever it takes."
Donna Bourgeois made her 23rd start of the season and proceeded to throw 3.1 innings of shutout softball, striking out two while allowing just three hits. Trusting her pitching staff, Holas brought in fellow senior Amanda Crabtree (20-8) to throw the last half of the game.
Crabtree shined. After Bourgeois worked into a scoreless fourth, Crabtree was in shutdown mode. She didn't allow a single hit and struck out six in 3.2 innings of relief.
In the opposing dugout, Texas starter Blaire Luna (28-7) did her part to make the Saturday's winner's bracket game a pitching duel. She struck out six and walked one, but Houston's offense rallied for six hits against the sophomore All-American.
As she has all season, senior right fielder Katy Beth Sherman provided the offensive spark. Her speed was the powering force behind the Cougars' first-inning run that lead to the 1-0 lead that would stand for the remainder of the game.
A batter's interference call accounted for Bourgeois' first out of the game, and although she would surrender a walk and a single to put a pair of runners aboard, a ground out ended the inning.
The Cougars wasted no time against the nationally-ranked power as they hung a run on the board in their first at-bat. Senior right fielder Katy Beth Sherman sped down the line for a bunt single to lead off the inning and used that speed to slide under the tag at third base following Reina Gaber's double.
Conference USA Player of the Year Melissa Gregson knocked in her team-leading 45th RBI with a ground ball to the right side. Again Sherman slid safely under the tag at home. Just as they did against the Longhorns in their first meeting this season, Houston headed into the second inning with a 1-0 lead.
Unlike the teams' first meeting, however, Houston buckled down mentally, defensively and refused to budge in the circle to avoid any big-inning threats from Texas.
A leadoff walk put a runner on in Texas' half of the third. A pair of ground ball outs would move her to third base, but for the second time in three innings, Bourgeois left the Longhorns stranded in scoring position. Houston moved into the bottom of the third still ahead, 1-0.
Sherman and Gregson each tagged singles against the Longhorn All-American, but Luna worked through it to keep the pitching duel alive.
A single from designated player Courtney Craig followed directly by a double from third baseman Nadia Taylor ended Bourgeois' outing, turning it over to Crabtree.
The NCAA's leader in strikeouts per seven innings went to work. The walk she gave up to the first batter she faced only heightened the drama in the top of the fourth. With one out and the bases loaded, Crabtree struck out Big 12 batting title winner, Lexi Bennett, and pinch hitter Shelby Savony to end the inning with the bases loaded. Houston's staff left seven runners on base.
Luna kept the Cougars quiet in the top of the fourth before the spotlight returned to Crabtree in the Longhorns ensuing at bat. The senior ran with it. She left center fielder Brejae Washington on second as she struck out the Big 12's Freshman of the Year Taylor Thom and Player of the Year Amy Hooks to end any threat as Houston held tight to a 1-0 lead.
The bases loaded threat was the last time the Longhorns would rally. Crabtree collected eight consecutive outs, including four strikeouts, to end the game.