Of course, it's impossible to compare the two teams without looking at the two aces. An ace pitcher in softball is so much more important than an ace in baseball because a team can feasibly roll out the same pitcher for every game in a tournament setting. It's not unusual for high school pitchers, playing on their traveling teams, to pitch several games over the course of the day. Unlike baseball, the strain on the arm just isn't there.
That makes an ace pitcher the single most important element to a strong softball team. And both the 2006 team (55-9) and this year's squad (49-8) have had big-time arms to rely on. Blaire Luna has had an outstanding season, starting 34 games and going 30-5 with a 1.16 ERA, while allowing opposing batters to hit just .130 against her. And if Texas does have to go to a second option, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better one than Kim Bruins, who is 10-0 in 11 starts, with opponents hitting .196 against her. The Longhorns have two other pitching options in Holly Kern and Gabby Smith, though it would be somewhat unexpected to see them take the mound in the World Series.
Of course, as good as Luna has been, it would be difficult to say that she's in the same league as Cat Osterman, one of the finest pitchers ever to play college softball. Osterman was a one-woman wrecking crew as a Longhorn, something reflected not just by the fact that she ended it as the NCAA's all-time leader in career strikeouts, but also in that — when the Longhorns made the College World Series — Osterman pitched every inning of Texas's three games.
She allowed just 78 hits in 47 games pitched, winning 38 games, losing four and saving two. She had a 0.41 ERA and struck out 630 batters (second best all-time). And she was outstanding in the College World Series as well, allowing just three earned runs (four total) in three games.
But the Longhorns went just 1-2 in those contests, winning their first and dropping twin 2-0 defeats to get bounced out. And that might just be why this year's team could be better equipped to make a longer stay. 2013 Texas isn't nearly as reliant on a great pitching outcome, grading out better in pretty much every offensive category than its 2006 counterparts, including batting average (.329 to .256), on-base percentage (.411 to .331) and slugging percentage (.482 to .414).
Three current Longhorn regulars — Taylor Hoagland (.433), Brejae Washington (.388) and Taylor Thom (.388) — hit higher than the highest batting average on the 2006 team, Desiree Williams at .333. And no player who started at least 20 games hit worse than the 2006 team's .256 average. The 2006 team hit 46 homers in 64 games … the 2013 team has 46 homers in 57 games.
That extra batting average and on-base percentage also adds up when you add in the fact that not only has the 2013 team stolen more bases (120 to 107), but they've also done it at a slightly more efficient rate (81.6 percent to 80.5 percent).
And that adds up to the most important part: scoring runs. Texas in 2013 has scored 344 runs (6.0 per game). The 2006 Longhorns scored 239 (3.7).
The 2013 Longhorns have more pop in their bats, run the bases better and have an ace pitcher working the mound. So does that mean Texas can expect an extended stay in Oklahoma City? It's hard to say. The Longhorns have shown real potential at times and shouldn't be overwhelmed — they beat Oklahoma one out of three tries this year, and the Sooners, runners-up last year, are the favorite to win it all. Indeed, if Texas wins its first game, the Longhorns will likely find themselves up against their Red River rivals, but with a lot more at stake.