No. 1 Texas facing ‘very nice’ pitcher to open WCWS play Thursday vs. No. 8 Stanford

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Playing the Stanford Cardinal on the softball diamond the past two seasons has meant one thing — trying to generate offense against one of the best pitchers in the country.

No. 1 Texas will give it a shot, again, at 6 p.m. Thursday in the Women’s College World Series at OGE Energy Field at Devon Park. In what feels like years ago, Stanford sophomore NiJaree Canady hurled eight innings against the Longhorns on Feb. 24 in Austin, striking out 11 with two walks in a 4-3 win during the Longhorn Invitational. That was Texas’ first loss of the season.

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Texas sophomore shortstop Viviana Martinez said the team has been studying the game and trying to prepare for the array of pitch types and velocities Canady brings.

Stanford pitcher NiJaree Canady (24) pitches during an NCAA softball game against Saint Mary’s on Friday, May 17, 2024 in Stanford, Calif. (AP Photo/Lachlan Cunningham)
Stanford pitcher NiJaree Canady (24) pitches during an NCAA softball game against Saint Mary’s on Friday, May 17, 2024 in Stanford, Calif. (AP Photo/Lachlan Cunningham)

“She’s a great pitcher. She has good velocity and that riser and a change,” Martinez said. “We’re just preparing to cover the ball and adjust from the first game. To take everything from that game and learn from it.”

Martinez and Canady played for Team USA in the 2023 Japan Series. Martinez slid over to second base while Canady was one of the top-end pitchers for the Stars and Stripes. Martinez’s takeaway from briefly being teammates with Canady is endearing.

“She’s a very nice person,” Martinez said.

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To say Canady is the pillar of the Cardinal’s staff is a massive understatement with 204 2/3 innings pitched with an eye-popping 310 strikeouts against 37 walks. She’s 22-5 this season with a national-best 0.65 ERA. She rebounded after getting shelled by Louisiana State in the first game of the super regional by throwing back-to-back shutouts to send the Cardinal to Oklahoma City, so she doesn’t mind a little pressure.

Longhorns head coach Mike White said that’s one of the things that makes Canady so good.

“She got hit pretty hard in the first game, then came back and threw two shutouts. That shows what good pitching can do,” White said. “And that’s what makes this exciting.”

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Both Canady and Texas sophomore catcher Reese Atwood were named first-team All-Americans by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association on Wednesday, and of the seven home runs Canady has allowed this season, one of them was a 2-run shot to Atwood. Both are up for USA Softball’s national player of the year honors along with Oklahoma State pitcher Lexi Kilfoyl (another first-team All-American), which Texas could see again in the next round of the WCWS.

Coming off perhaps the wildest stretch of three games the entire season in the super regional against No. 16 Texas A&M, White said he’s going to find out if that kind of stress will help or hurt them in the WCWS.

“It was a lot of grit, determination and we were down every single game,” White said. “I didn’t see any panic in their eyes.”

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