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Czech and Smith lead Texas past Arizona to advance to WCWS Semifinals

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Unranked Texas is four wins away from a national title.

Estelle Czech allowed just one hit in 3 2/3 innings of scoreless relief, JJ Smith hit a three-run homer, and the Longhorns beat Arizona 5-2 on Sunday night to advance to the semi-finals of the Women’s College World Series.

Czech (12-1), a sophomore, struck out the first eight batters she faced in relief of ace Hailey Dolcini en route to the Wildcats elimination.

“Me and the coach (Mike White) had a discussion before the game that my position today was to be the reliever and get Hailey back when I needed it,” Czech said. “That’s what I tried to do. Hailey did her job and I did mine.

Smith, also a sophomore, battled nerves to hit just her second home run of the season.

“This is my first time competing in the World Series,” she said. “On deck, the first thing that crossed my mind was that it’s for super seniors… I was just doing it for my team, to be honest with you.”

Texas (45-20-1) will face Big 12 rival Oklahoma State — the No. 7 seed overall — in the semifinals on Monday. Because it’s a double-elimination tournament to decide who plays in the best-of-three championship series and Texas has already lost, the Longhorns would need to win twice Monday to qualify. Oklahoma State, undefeated in the World Series so far, would only need one win to move on.

Oklahoma State has beaten Texas all four times they have played this season, including a game 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 stand. qualify, so the Longhorns are used to beating the odds.

“We’re really brave,” Smith said. “Over the course of the season, we’ve all become very close and understand that no matter what happens, we’re still in the game. We’re not out of the game until it’s over.

In Monday’s other semifinal game, defending champion and No. 1 seed Oklahoma will face No. 5 UCLA, with UCLA set to win twice and Oklahoma needing no to win only once to qualify.

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 a conference has three of the last four teams.

Courtney Day of Texas hit a solo homer late in the third to open the scoring.

Carlie Scupin’s hard single down the right field line in fourth hit Allie Skaggs and Amber Toven to give Arizona a 2-1 lead. Shortly after, Czech replaced Dolcini with two runners and retired the two batters she faced to escape.

Texas took the lead for good in their fourth half. Shortly after Devyn Netz replaced starter Hanah Bowen, Smith’s three-point outburst 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 in the league before going hot in regionals and super regionals. It was a great end to the game for Caitlin Lowe, the freshman coach who replaced eight-time national champion Mike Candrea.

“I think in 21 days I’ve seen them grow,” Lowe said. “We have been on the road during all of this. But I saw them start from a team that was happy to be here, and then they realized, why not us?

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Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: twitter.com/CliffBruntAP

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More AP college sports: https://apnews.com/hub/college-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25




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