The Blaire Luna that the outside world sees is not always the same Blaire Luna inside the Texas locker room.
She may be the ace of the staff — and the best softball pitcher in Longhorns history not named Cat Osterman or Christa Williams — but that’s not the person that her teammates see behind closed doors every day.
At least that’s what they called her back at Bowie High School, where she could cut up among her buddies as easily as she could cut down a softball lineup. Her Texas teammates might be reluctant to stick that label on her now, but she’s not above some childish pranks, especially when they involve Brejae Washington and Karina Scott.
“I like to mess with them,” a grinning Luna said. “I’m just an instigator.”
She’s more than that. Head coach Connie Clark will ask her to incite more than a relaxed atmosphere on a 44-8 team that has greatly underachieved since its last trip to the Women’s College World Series in 2006. Luna comes off as a demure, subdued personality.
“Don’t be fooled,” cautioned pitcher/first baseman Kim Bruins.
“Blaire’s not shy. Blaire’s not mute,” said Washington, the team’s base-stealing center fielder. “On the field, Blaire gets a strikeout, Blaire walks someone, Blaire throws a no-hitter. It’s the same facial expression. In the locker room, she’s jumping around and kind of hyper. She’s more determined than anybody to go out with a bang.”
Instead of a bust.
Bottom line, Luna defines the Longhorns in both their successes and their shortcomings — valiant in the regular season, but vulnerable to meltdowns in their last four post-seasons on their home field.
Luna has her light-hearted side in private, but has been deadly serious during a career that includes a 26-5 record this season and a 106-28 mark overall with multiple spots in the record book that snuggle up to the legendary Cat. And there’ll be nothing meek about her approach this weekend, when there’s nothing more at stake than her entire Longhorns legacy.
If she and the Longhorns again fall short of the WCWS, the omission from her gaudy résumé will be as pronounced as the movement on her Cat-like drop ball.
“It definitely would be upsetting,” Luna said.
And unacceptable for a Texas team seeded fourth nationally, with an opening Austin Regional that sets up nicely for Clark’s bunch — Army carries a pedestrian 35-24 record as the regional’s second seed, and Houston was whipped 15-0 at home by these same Longhorns earlier this season — but most of the pressure again falls on Luna’s shoulders.
She’s come a long way and has had to overcome a lot of self-doubt. She was lightly regarded coming out of high school when she was courted only by Western Kentucky, Loyola-Chicago, Tulsa and Centenary besides Texas.
“I didn’t know if I was going to make it,” a candid Luna recalled from her freshman year. “I thought it’s going to be a long four years. I accomplished more than I thought I would because I doubted myself then.”
Not all of those self-esteem issues have been removed. Clark has desperately tried to instill a nastiness in Luna, and even Osterman has questioned Luna’s mental toughness.
That lack of confidence was there from the start. Three weeks ago, a nostalgic Luna asked her coach how much she had changed in four years. In a tournament game against UCLA as a freshman, Luna told Clark she wanted nothing to do with pitching left-handers inside. Clark knew then what they needed to work on.
“She’s not a real assertive kid,” Clark said. “Her teammates want a little bit more fire from her, but her personality is just not like that. In regards to getting mean and throwing somebody some chin music, that’s tough to get out of her.”
But Luna is not the same pitcher on the bump that she was in 2010.
She’s on the same page with her catcher, Mandy Ogle, who calls all the pitches. She’s more trustful of the defense behind her and doesn’t try to strike out every batter. She’s not out-thinking herself. She’s worked on endurance running with coach Lance Sewell for late-inning strength. When things go badly early in games, she’s not above reinventing herself.
“She can turn it around more in mid-game,” Clark said. “Before, what you had in the second inning is what you probably had in the seventh inning. Now we get something better in the seventh inning.”
In addition, Bruins’ emergence as a reliable No. 2 pitcher allows Clark to confidently go to the bullpen more quickly if necessary. Bruins, who posted a 1.70 ERA against top 15 teams this season, more naturally goes on the attack.
“Blaire’s definitely a finesse pitcher,” Bruins said. “It’s an awesome thing she does. I wish I could strike out 15 girls a day.”
Luna has gradually become more aggressive on the mound, and will need to be if Texas is to stay in the hunt for its first softball national title. Maybe the book on her will change.
“You have to be patient against Luna and make her work from behind in the count,” Clark said. “If we were facing her, we’d do the same thing. She performs best when the bases are loaded. She’s given me a lot of gray hair that way, but then she’ll strike out the side.”
Just part of her prankster side.
Friday — (1) Houston-South Carolina, 3 p.m.; (2) Texas-Army, 6, LHN
Saturday — (3) Texas/Army winner vs. Houston/South Carolina winner, 11 a.m.; (4) Texas/Army loser vs. Houston/South Carolina loser, 2 p.m.; (5) Game 4 winner vs. Game 3 loser, 5 p.m.
Sunday — Game 3 winner vs. Game 5 winner, 1 p.m. (doubleheader, if needed)
THREE FOR TEXAS
How Blaire Luna, Cat Osterman and Christa Williams — the three most dominant and recognizable softball pitchers in Longhorns history — stack up against each other. Osterman was a three-time national player of the year, an Olympic gold and silver medalist, and led UT to three College World Series appearances. Williams led a 1-year-old UT program to the World Series and won two Olympic golds.
HARD TO ECLIPSE LUNA
Blaire Luna ranks high nationally in several pitching categories this season:
Category; Total; National rank