'Tremendous' Kavan lifts No. 1 UT into WCWS final

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OKLAHOMA CITY — No. 1 Texas advanced to the WCWS championship finals for the second time in three seasons with a 1-0 one-hit shutout of Stanford, eliminating the Cardinal and closing the book on the storied history of Pac-12 softball.

Longhorns freshman Teagan Kavan outdueled Stanford’s NiJaree Canady, last year’s breakout freshman star, for the second time this week, after another 1-hit gem on Thursday in a 4-0 shutout of the Cardinal.

Texas (55-8) stands two wins away from its first national title, awaiting the winner of Tuesday’s semifinal matchup between No. 2 Oklahoma and No. 4 Florida on Wednesday.

“Obviously that was an old-fashioned ballgame right there, 1-0,” Texas coach Mike White said. “Pitchers’ duel, two tremendous pitchers going at it. Whoever was going to blink first was going to win.”

The game came down to a play at the plate, with Alyssa Washington scoring the lone run in the seventh inning, just sliding underneath a tag at the plate after a rundown following a bunt by Ashton Maloney.

“When she was chasing me down, instead of the ball in her hand, she had it in her glove,” Washington said. “[I was] recognizing that’s going to take a little time with the transfer to get it in there, sliding my hand in there, recognizing where the catcher stands and the timing of the transfer.”

The call at the plate was upheld after a Stanford challenge.

For the Cardinal, it was a heartbreaking ending, just inches away from surviving a sixth elimination game in this year’s NCAA tournament. Canady, who led the country in ERA and strikeouts, went 5-1 record in those games, giving up only two earned runs in 40 innings over that span.

“NiJaree Canady, what can you say?” White said. “She’s really, really tough. We’re fortunate to be going on to our second World Series final in three years.”

On Monday, the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year did not allow an earned run — Washington reached on a fielding error — giving up five hits with seven strikeouts against the best offense in the country.

“I mean, maybe one of the best performances in Oklahoma City that I’ve seen,” Stanford coach Jessica Allister said. “None of us that are around her all the time are surprised.”

But it was Texas’ pitching that made the difference. Kavan became the first freshman to throw multiple shutouts in the WCWS since Montana Fouts in 2019, finishing with just the one hit, seven strikeouts and one walk.

“Tremendous job by Teagan, pitching for the second time against that club, a World Series contender, showing no nerves,” White said. “I now call her ‘Ice’ Kavan.”

For White, the former head coach at Oregon, it was a bittersweet end, eliminating the final Pac-12 team.

“It’s very sad,” White said. “We all don’t know how it’s going to turn out in the future, what’s going to happen, how it’s going to play out because of — you know, it was a money move, just for TV and everything. I’m just sad to see that conference fold. I wish they could have stayed together because that’s the conference I started out in. Great rivalries, coaches.”

Allister echoed White’s sentiment of the league that won 24 national championships, the most of any conference, with all nine member teams making at least one WCWS appearance.

“It’s sad,” Stanford coach Jessica Allister said Sunday after the Cardinal eliminated rival UCLA. “It’s just sad because it has been the greatest softball conference in the country. When you look at the history of the conference, even the present of the conference — it’s not just even really that close.”

Now, Texas, headed for the SEC next year along with Oklahoma, looks to claim its first national championship in its final tournament in the Big 12.

“We are just relishing on the chance to get back and play in the series for the championship,” White said. “It’s an honor to be sitting here right now as the No. 1 team. I think there could be several teams that could have that title. Obviously one of them’s Oklahoma. They’re an excellent team. Whoever comes through, Oklahoma or Florida, we’ve got to be ready to go. … I don’t want to put a lid on this team and this program on what their capabilities are and what they can do.”

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