Texas will play its final home games this weekend against No. 16 Baylor in a Big 12 battle.
If the Longhorns (35–15, 10–6 Big 12) can pull off wins both Saturday and Sunday, they will finish tied for second in the conference with the Bears (38–13, 12–4). It will be a difficult feat, but Texas is up for the challenge, according to head coach Connie Clark.
“We knew that we were going to have a tough schedule coming out of the chute,” Clark said. “I love that we’ve been able to make some great progress. This group has been tremendous about getting back to work, and, if we can continue that mindset and keep improving, we’ll stay competitive.”
Texas’ offense has some work to do if it wants to beat the Bears and make a run to the Women’s College World Series. The Longhorns managed just one hit against Baylor on Wednesday night and have stranded base runners all season. Through 50 games, Texas has left 325 runners on base.
Texas has had success hitting home runs — it currently has the second most in the conference with 51 — but Clark doesn’t want her team to rely on the power hitters.
“We’re working on some things to manufacture runs so that we’re not waiting for the long ball,” Clark said. “I think that will be helpful as we finish out the season because we’re going to face some pretty darn good pitching over the next month. We’re advancing [runners] well, but we’re working on scoring them.”
One of the bright spots this season has been Texas’ pitching staff, which ranks third in the conference with a group ERA of 3.05. Freshman pitcher Erica Wright leads the group with a 2.49 ERA and a 16–7 record. Senior pitcher Gabby Smith (2.59 ERA, 9–3) will play on her home diamond for the last time against the Bears.
Both hurlers, along with sophomore Tiarra Davis (3.71 ERA, 5–4), who also serves as a starter, have consistently improved throughout the season — something Clark said will be helpful in the long run.
“They’re all throwing well and really even reinventing some of their pitches and tweaking some things, which you’ve got to be able to do because we’re on TV all the time, so people are scouting us nonstop,” Clark said.
The NCAA Tournament bracket will be announced Sunday, and the Longhorns fully expect to be one of the 64 teams selected to play in an NCAA Regional. As Texas makes its run through the postseason Wright will likely come out of the bullpen more often, Clark said.
Wright said she doesn’t mind taking on that role as long as it helps the team.
“It takes everybody to win,” Wright said. “I thank God every day for the opportunity to play with such a great group of girls … I can’t wait to see what the rest of the season holds.”