Connie Clark

Photo Credit: Brooke Crim | Daily Texan Staff

Heading into this weekend’s series against No. 3 Oklahoma, Texas head coach Connie Clark predicted her team would need to be aggressive and take advantage of key opportunities in order to succeed.

But the Longhorns (28–19, 10–4 Big 12) failed to do just that in their opening game against the Sooners on Friday night in Norman. Texas left runners on base in crucial situations during the first and third innings to fall 6-0 to Oklahoma (42–3, 13–0 Big 12).

“It's about executing, and it doesn't matter who's on the other side,” Clark said. “We had a couple of big opportunities early, and we needed to strike.”

The first opportunity for Texas came in the top of the first after freshman second baseman Janae Jefferson and senior designated player Paige von Sprecken led the inning with consecutive singles off All-American Oklahoma pitcher Paige Parker.

But the Longhorns’ offense stalled there, as Parker forced a failed sacrifice bunt attempt by sophomore left fielder Kaitlyn Washington and then struck out the next two Texas hitters to escape the inning without any damage.

In the following frame, the Sooners found their first run of the game off the bat of Oklahoma freshman Jocelyn Alo, who homered off junior pitcher Brooke Bolinger for her 22nd home run of the season.

After a scoreless second inning, the top of the Texas lineup provided some life in the third when Jefferson and von Sprecken reached base again for the Longhorns. But the rally was short-lived, as Parker worked around the Texas hitters with a flyout and strikeout to end the frame.

While Boligner threw three excellent innings after a one-run first, the potent Oklahoma offense eventually got to the Texas lefty in the fifth inning. After the Sooners loaded the bases on a Longhorn error and a walk, junior Oklahoma first baseman Shay Knighten shifted the momentum with a grand slam for a 5-0 lead.

Following another scoreless inning by the Longhorns, Oklahoma padded its lead in the sixth inning when sophomore Oklahoma right fielder Nicole Mendes smacked an RBI single to make the score 6-0.

The Longhorns will play their second game of the series against Oklahoma on Saturday afternoon. First pitch is scheduled for 1 p.m.

“You have to execute, and I think that's about us and continues to be about us,” Clark said. “We've got to come back to work tomorrow.”

Photo Credit: Anthony Mireles | Daily Texan Staff

Timing is everything. The right time, the right place and the right people can equal success. The Longhorn softball team appears to be hitting its stride at the right time.

Texas (27–18, 10–3 Big 12) has series against No. 3 Oklahoma and No. 19 Baylor to close out the season. These series present a vital opportunity to prove that the Longhorns belong in the NCAA Tournament.

But first, the team has a midweek nonconference matchup against Texas Southern on Wednesday night at McCombs Field.

“We can’t take teams lightly just because they’re not in conference,” senior pitcher Paige von Sprecken said. “We need to make sure we’re playing Texas softball and not playing to levels of our opponent, especially if we want to win a Big 12 championship.”

Texas got off to a very slow start to the season. Through the first seven games, the Longhorns only scored more than three runs on one occasion, limping to a 3–4 record.

“There (are) ups and downs through a season, but we have to stay positive with this young group,” Texas head coach Connie Clark said. “We’ve got some things to continue to learn and (can) continue to grow in some areas.”

But the start of Big 12 play triggered a turnaround for the team.

Texas swept its first three series over Big 12 foes. In addition, the Longhorns also swept Samford in a nonconference series. Although they lost a home series to No. 24 Oklahoma State, the Longhorns were still able to snag a win over the Cowgirls.

“We’ve thought we’re one of the best Big 12 teams from the start,” sophomore catcher Taylor Ellsworth said. “We had a tough schedule in the beginning, and that just prepared us more for the Big 12, and we’re ready to take on any team that comes out here.”

While Wednesday night’s game against the small-conference Texas Southern Tigers is not as flashy as the Red River Rivalry, it is still important for the Longhorns to give this game its due. It’s a chance to sharpen fundamentals before trying to make some noise in the postseason.

“You can’t make any game too big of a game,” sophomore infielder Kaitlyn Slack said. “You have to make sure you have the little things going and perform like you know how to.”

The Longhorns are in a strong position to end the season in style, riding solid play as of late, thanks to a stifling pitching staff. In order to bring home a Big 12 title, the Longhorns will have to maintain their momentum.

“You’re seeing some lights come on in terms of what we want to see come out in a championship-minded club,” Clark said. “With some tough competition coming in, our confidence is right where it needs to be.”

Photo Credit: Katie Bauer | Daily Texan Staff

Despite an inconsistent performance throughout, the Longhorn softball team rode to a series victory by winning both games in a Saturday doubleheader against Samford, 15-2 and 1-0, at McCombs Field.

The conditions in Austin were windy and chilly, reminiscent of a road series Texas embarked on a couple of weeks ago.

“It felt just like Iowa State,” senior ace pitcher Paige von Sprecken said. “We were kind of complaining, like, ‘No, we’re back in Austin.’ But we just can’t let that affect us. We have to continue to play our game and not let the uncontrollable be a factor.”

Both games highlighted different aspects of the Texas squad — one, the offense; the other, the pitching. The first game was a blowout that ended in five innings, with the Longhorns scoring a whopping nine runs in the first inning. Von Sprecken led the team with four runs batted in, followed by freshman Janae Jefferson, who collected three of her own.

In the second game, von Sprecken put down the bat and took her place in the circle, twirling a three-hitter and shutting out Samford. Through four and two-thirds innings, she had a perfect game going. But Texas’ offense fell flat in the second game, scoring a single run in the first inning.

“Obviously, it was a tale of two games,” Texas head coach Connie Clark said. “Conditions were tough, man — it’s cold again just like when we were at Iowa State. We were pretty bang-bang out of the gate in the first game, then turned on cruise control and you just can’t do that.”

The first game of the day also saw several pitchers and pinch hitters making appearances, and it was a good showing of the work that has been put in during practice.

“We did a nice job in the early game with our pitch-identification that we had been working on,” Clark said. “It was good to see that a majority of our players weren’t chasing pitches they didn’t need to be chasing. Good to get a couple of pitchers in. We really wanted to give them some work.”

Sunday is the series finale, and Texas will look for its third consecutive sweep of the season after winning three games against both Iowa State and Kansas in back-to-back series.

It will take a balanced offense and a solid pitching performance to lock down the sweep. It will also take a solid start to get the game moving in the Longhorns’ direction early.

“We just need to come out strong like we did in the first game today,” von Sprecken said. “We need to make sure we are attacking the right pitches, have good pitch selection and keep them off balance from the circle.”

Expect to see junior ace Brooke Bolinger take the mound. Sunday’s game begins 11 a.m. at McCombs Field.

Photo Credit: Anthony Mireles | Daily Texan Staff

While it’s just a number, 850 signified something greater for 22-year coaching veteran Connie Clark on Thursday night.

Lifted by a three-run shot from senior first baseman Paige von Sprecken in the fifth inning, Clark picked up her 850th career victory as head coach of the Texas program, as the Longhorns (10–11) edged out Coastal Carolina (14–11) for a 5-3 win in Conway, South Carolina.

“(850 wins) means I’ve been doing this a long time with a lot of great athletes,” Clark said. “Most important (thing) about tonight was getting back into the win column.”

The Longhorns jumped out ahead in the first inning after freshman second baseman Janae Jefferson scored from third base on a sacrifice fly to left field by freshman third baseman MK Tedder.

In the second inning, the Texas offense added another run, reversing a recent inability to capitalize on opponents’ mistakes. Following an error to start the inning that allowed senior designated player Randel Leahy to reach base, sophomore shortstop Kaitlyn Slack stepped to the plate and poked an RBI single to right field, giving the Longhorns a 2-0 lead.

But Coastal Carolina quickly responded in the bottom of the frame. With two runners on base, junior designated player Natalie David shifted momentum back in the Chanticleers’ favor with a three-run shot to left field off junior pitcher Erica Wright to give Coastal Carolina a 3-2 lead.

Following a scoreless fourth inning, the Longhorns rallied in the fifth with consecutive singles from Jefferson and junior center fielder Ki’Audra Hayter. With opportunity knocking, von Sprecken roped a three-run home run down the left field line to give the Longhorns a 5-3 lead.

“Off the bat it felt pretty good, so I had a feeling it was going out,” von Sprecken said. “It’s just nice to give the team the lead and get us back in the win column.”

Senior pitcher Kristen Clark took matters from there, shutting down Coastal Carolina in the final three innings to the tune of one hit and two strikeouts to cement the Texas win.

“We’ve had a really challenging schedule, but we’ve competed well with all of our opponents,” von Sprecken said. “Getting back in the win column lets us feel more comfortable going into this weekend, and especially heading into conference.”

The trend the Longhorn softball team has started of losing to ranked teams at home continued Friday night as Texas lost, 2-0, to the Arizona Wildcats.

The offense struggled all game despite a solid pitching performance from senior Paige von Sprecken, who pitched the complete-game loss only allowing two runs. She also struck out eight and collected a walk as a batter.

The Longhorns were up against the No. 9 ranked Wildcats and their ace, junior Taylor McQuillin, whose last four consecutive starts have resulted in one-hit shutouts. That streak was snapped as the Longhorns mustered two hits in seven innings off of her.

“We’ve got to figure out how to scratch and claw and find a way to put a couple runs up,” head coach Connie Clark said. “I think that’s something we have to do for us to get an outcome. The difficult schedule only helps you if you continue to get a couple wins in the mix, so we’ve got to be able to figure out how to do that.”

The Longhorns’ best chance to score a run or two occurred in the bottom of the second inning. Arizona had scored in the top half, and the Longhorns looked ready to pounce, as von Sprecken was at third base after a double by freshman MK Tedder with no outs in the inning.

However, this scoring opportunity was snuffed out after sophomore Kaitlyn Slack struck out, which was followed by a fielder’s choice that had von Sprecken out at home. Finally, sophomore Malory Schattle struck out to squash the scoring chance for the Longhorns.

“We had some opportunities tonight,” Clark said. “We tried to force things in a little bit. Unfortunately, again, we had some big strikeouts in key situations.”

The Longhorns have now faced seven ranked teams this far in the season, losing to six of them. The lone win was against No. 20 Michigan in the Texas Invitiational.

However, the experience gained going against so many ranked teams early in the season is not lost on the players.

“It’s definitely very valuable for us because we’re going to be playing ranked teams for the rest of the season,” von Sprecken said. “We have to continue being able to compete with them and eventually we’re going to get the outcomes.”

The Longhorns have limped out of the gate to start this season, compiling a record of 7–9. While one would assume a losing record at this point in the season may be affecting team morale, the team sees their performance thus far in the season a little differently.

“I don’t think that there’s any correlation between morale and record,” von Sprecken said. “I think that we have great chemistry on our team and we’re proud of the way that we’ve been playing. We just know that eventually we are going to get those outcomes. We just need to keep our morale up and we don’t let games like this define us and define our season.”

Photo Credit: Anthony Mireles | Daily Texan Staff

In the midst of a five-run rally in the first inning, Texas head coach Connie Clark broke from her usual coaching stance at third base and cracked a quick smile. 

This victory, while expected, felt good for her struggling team. 

Thanks to an offensive explosion at the plate and dominant pitching in the circle from redshirt junior pitcher Erica Wright, the Longhorns (7–8) run-ruled the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders (5–10) in five quick innings for an 8-0 win.

“This time of year, you’re coming off those big tournaments, and we’ve been playing so much we haven’t had much practice opportunities,” Clark said. “We had an opportunity yesterday and tonight to work through some things we needed to get after.” 

The Longhorns’ offense pressured the Islanders right off the bat in the first inning.

After dropping a bunt single with one out, junior right fielder Ki’Audra Hayter swiped second base on a steal and advanced to third on a throwing error by Islanders catcher Kaylee Hoppens.

Sophomore catcher Taylor Ellsworth promptly followed suit, stealing second after drawing a walk. But another errant throw by Hoppens allowed Hayter to advance home for the Longhorns’ first lead of the game.

With Ellsworth at third, senior first baseman Paige von Sprecken lined a shot through the right side of the infield to make it 2-0. She scored just shortly after, as sophomore shortstop Kaitlyn Slack looped a single to shallow left field for a three-run lead.

Following a walk from freshman third baseman MK Tedder, junior designated player Bekah Alcozer broke the game open by roping a RBI double to the alley in right-center field, giving the Longhorns a 5-0 lead.

“I felt good this week and earlier during batting practice,” Alcozer said. “I knew I was seeing the ball well and coming in to hit the way I know how to.”

Texas added more runs in the second, as von Sprecken, with runners at first and third, recorded her second RBI of the game with a sacrifice fly to move the Texas lead to 6-0. Sophomore left fielder Kaitlyn Washington then flared a pitch over the glove of Islanders second baseman Destiney Diaz to bring home another Texas run.

Wright, meanwhile, delivered a much-needed quality start in the pitcher’s circle for the Longhorns. The junior allowed only one hit and whiffed four Islanders hitters en route to her second victory of the season.

Texas added its final run in the bottom of the fourth inning. In her first plate appearance of the season, senior pitcher Kristen Clark smoked an RBI single to left field, scoring sophomore first baseman Malory Schattle from second for the 8-0 lead.

Freshman pitcher Ariana Adams closed out the final Islanders hitters in the top of the fifth inning, sealing the Texas win in her first collegiate appearance.

“It’s about the growth process with these young athletes and getting a bunch of different looks,” Connie Clark said. “(There were) some good things in terms of piecing it together.” 

Texas now shifts its attention to No. 9 Arizona, as the Longhorns prepare for a three-game series at McCombs Field this weekend.

Photo Credit: Anthony Mireles | Daily Texan Staff

Few things in sports provide a sense of pride and accomplishment to an athlete the way winning on home turf does. But through the first two days of the Texas Invitational, the Longhorns have struggled to do that.

Texas beat a ranked team in No. 20 Michigan and added a win versus Virginia Tech this weekend. But the Longhorns also lost to No. 21 Ohio State and Wichita State.

Texas finally recorded a win against a top-25 team on the opening day of the tournament, but its second such win failed to come the next day. Texas has a record of 2–2 in the tournament heading into the final day of play, where the team will face Michigan once again.

“Our communication and our chemistry are really big strengths,” sophomore catcher Taylor Ellsworth said. “All of us get along, and we all hang out off the field. We’re never alone — we’re always together. I think just having the chemistry is a strength that brings you together as a team. You have that trust in the person, on and off the field.”

In Saturday’s first game of the doubleheader, Texas had to rely on a rally to defeat the Hokies, trailing by two runs until the fourth inning. Freshman Chloe Romero started for the Longhorns and got rocked for three runs in just a third of an inning. Romero was relieved by junior Paige von Sprecken.

Von Sprecken continued her strong start to the season, bringing her record to 3–1, after recording two shutouts earlier this season. Texas defeated Virginia Tech, 3-2.

“Paige von Sprecken is doing a lot of things for us this year,” Texas head coach Connie Clark said. “She’s one of our top hitters and needs to be in the lineup whether she’s in the circle or not. Working at first, working in the outfield — she’s doing really well.”

In the second game, senior Kristen Clark started for Texas and pitched four strong innings of two earned-run ball. Junior Brooke Bolinger came into the game to collect the last couple of innings. She gave up a grand slam in the top of the seventh to give the Buckeyes an 8-5 lead. The Longhorns weren’t able to recover.

The depth of the Texas pitching staff was on full display in both games — when one pitcher grew tired or was being out-played, another came in. Having so many pitchers pitch in one game can be challenging, but with time, could be a weapon for the team.

“It takes some getting used to, just knowing what pitches each pitcher throws,” senior captain Randel Leahy said. “We’ve been working on that a lot in practice.”

Texas plays No. 20 Michigan at 1:30 p.m. Sunday to close out the Texas Invitational at McCombs Field.

Junior catcher Randel Leahy attempts to hit an incoming pitch. Leahy has been impressed with Taylor Ellsworth’s quick development at the same position.
Photo Credit: Mary Pistorius | Daily Texan Staff

Two steps forward, one step back.

That’s been the mantra for the Texas softball team so far in 2018.

On a Friday where the Longhorns showed promise in a 3-0 victory against No. 20 Michigan, they followed it up with an even more disappointing 7-5 loss to Wichita State.

“It’s such a game of momentum, and I felt we gave them a little bit of momentum tonight,” Texas head coach Connie Clark said. “We had the opportunity to put our ace in the game, and we have the firepower to put more runs up, but we just didn’t get that done.”

All started well for the Longhorns (5–6) at the beginning of the nightcap against the Shockers, as the Texas lineup saw a quick revival of life against Wichita State.

An offensive onslaught began in the second inning when sophomore shortstop Kaitlyn Slack and freshman third baseman MK Tedder combined for back-to-back singles. On the next at-bat, Wichita State’s Bailey Lange fired a wild pitch, scoring Tedder from third and giving the Longhorns a 1-0 lead.

After junior catcher Randel Leahy was hit by a pitch, sophomore outfielder Tuesday DerMargosian looped a single to left field, preparing a bases-loaded situation for a pinch-hitting Ciera Schick.

On the first pitch she saw, the junior infielder lined a ball to right field to score two more Texas runners, improving the Longhorns’ lead to 3-0. Texas added one more run shortly after thanks to another Shockers wild pitch.

But Wichita State didn’t go away quietly.

With two outs and the bases loaded in the top of the third, the Shockers’ Laurie Derrico slapped a line drive off the centerfield wall in order to cut the Longhorns’ lead in half.

Texas responded with another run of their own in the bottom of the third. With a runner on third, Tedder roped a RBI double down the left-field line for her second hit of the night, putting Texas up 5-2.

But Wichita State erased the Longhorns’ lead in the blink of an eye in the following frame. With the bases loaded again, sophomore first baseman Ryleigh Buck doubled to left-center field, clearing the bases and tying the game at five a piece.

Unable to respond in the bottom half of the inning, Texas opened the door for Wichita State to seize control of the game in the top of the fifth.

After opening with a lead-off triple, junior catcher Madison Perrigan scored on a RBI single from junior right fielder Asea Webber to make the score 6-5. Senior left fielder Morgan Palmer added another run to Wichita State’s lead with a RBI single of her own, driving Weber in with a looping single just over second base.

The Longhorns were unable to respond from there, leaving runners on base in the bottom of the sixth and seventh innings, losing 7-5.

“I thought we had a little bit of lull (in terms of playing with energy),” Clark said. “I know it’s late, but we have to keep the energy going and keep the pedal down.”

The problems that plagued the Longhorns against Wichita State were mostly absent in their earlier game against Michigan.

Junior starting pitcher Brooke Bolinger was sensational in working around Michigan hitters, accounting for a complete-game shutout, seven strikeouts and only five hits.

The Texas bats finally came to life in the bottom of the third.

Following singles by sophomore first baseman Malory Schattle and freshman second baseman Janae Jefferson that gave Texas its first two hits of the game, sophomore catcher Taylor Ellsworth uncorked a hanging pitch for a three-run homer over the left-field wall to put Texas up 3-0.

“I knew my team was down and we needed something to get going,” Ellsworth said. “I was just looking for a hard hit, and my hard hit ended up going over.”

The Wolverines loaded the bases in the top of the fifth — their second time on the night. But Bolinger was able to work out of the frame without any damage, and Texas cruised the rest of the way to the shutout win.

Texas returns to action on Saturday for another doubleheader in the Texas Invitational, with games against Virginia Tech and No. 21 Ohio State.

“Our energy can’t get down,” Ellsworth said. “We have to continue to work hard and take stuff from each game and just build on top of it.”

Photo Credit: Brooke Crim | Daily Texan Staff

Losing to the No. 1 team in the country by a single run is a tough pill to swallow.

But the Longhorns (4–5) will have to move on anyway as they attempt to rebound this weekend from their Wednesday night loss to the top-ranked Washington Huskies.

The midweek matchup against the Huskies was a nail-biter, coming down to the final inning. The Longhorns fell, 2-1, but still put up a tough fight against the best team in the country.

“I think we have high expectations,” Texas head coach Connie Clark said. “I think they have a good sense of reality and understand that it’s about a season — it’s not about what we are going to do this weekend or the next two weekends.”

Moving forward to this weekend, the team will play five games at home in the Texas Invitational, three of which are against ranked opponents. The opening game of the tournament for Texas will be a doubleheader Friday against No. 20 Michigan and Wichita State.

Five games are a lot for one weekend and can wear down the roster with game after game. But Texas boasts depth that should prove to be an important weapon.

“I think it’s definitely an advantage that we have six pitchers,” senior captain Randel Leahy said. “Having six pitchers allows us to take someone out of the bullpen and have the opponent not know what to expect.”

Texas’ pitchers include seniors Paige von Sprecken and Kristen Clark, juniors Erica Wright and Brooke Bolinger and freshmen Chloe Romero and Ariana Adams. Among the pitchers, a camaraderie has already started developing.

“Within the team, we like to say we have the squad within the squad, because you’ll look around and we are always together,” redshirt junior pitcher Erica Wright said. “I wouldn’t say we are competitive — we are more supportive of each other, and I think that’s what’s great about it. Like we all want each other to do well, but if not, we have each others’ backs.”

With all of those pitchers comes a ton of different styles of pitching. Some prefer the rise ball, some prefer a good fastball, while others love the changeup. The teams’ two catchers, Leahy and sophomore Taylor Ellsworth, have had to learn to adjust to each pitcher.

“Everyone brings something different to the table,” Ellsworth said. “Catching every single one of them, they are all different in their own way. When we’re hitting against them, they give us a struggle.”

This weekend is a chance for the Longhorns to right the ship early in the season. Coming away from the Texas Invitational with a winning record would set the tone for the rest of the season.

“I’d like to say we just want to learn how to work as a team, but I think we’re past that just from the fall and the practices,” Ellsworth said. “I think we’re ready to come out and win and take over some teams.”

Photo Credit: Brooke Crim | Daily Texan Staff

From the 1980 USA Olympic hockey team to the 2005 Texas Longhorns football national championship team to the 2017 Houston Astros — what did all of these teams have in common? Undeniable chemistry.

The Longhorn softball team looks to bounce back from last weekend’s pedestrian start to the season by heading to Mexico in hopes of displaying the kind of chemistry that championship teams need.

“We’re ready,” sophomore catcher Taylor Ellsworth said. “We’ve been practicing hard to come out everyday ready to work. Our chemistry this year is unbelievable. We’re just ready to come out and play.”

During last week’s games, the youth of the team, especially in the infield, got its first taste of regular season action. Freshman Janae Jefferson got off to a hot start, recording a total of five RBIs over her first four games. Fellow freshman MK Tedder flashed the glove at third base.

The team chemistry has been a process to build this year. In the fall season, Texas’ freshmen got their first taste of collegiate competition. But it wasn’t the only way the team bonded together.

“The main thing that we did this fall that was kind of special was a triathlon,” Erica Wright, a redshirt junior pitcher, said. “And at first we thought this is insane, we play softball, why do we have to do this? But honestly, it brought us together as a team, and it helped build us mentally as well as physically.”

The players were not the only ones involved in the triathlon. The coaching staff also played a role.

“I was doing music and holding up signs and following them around,” Texas head coach Connie Clark said. “But what a special experience that was for the athletes. Working through the triathlon was special for us because they got uncomfortable and learned they could get through tough things together.”

The fall season and the experience already on the roster has the team looking forward to the rest of the season. The upperclassmen feel inspired to lead the youth of the team.

“I am excited to have fun on the field,” senior captain Randel Leahy said. “I’m excited because our team chemistry has been so amazing and the fall was awesome.”

This upcoming weekend, the Longhorns will play Rutgers, Houston, No. 15 Ole Miss and No. 3 Oregon in the Puerto Vallarta College Challenge. Last year, Texas struggled to notch a signature win early in the season en route to an early NCAA
Tournament exit.

Texas has a chance to not only exceed expectations this year, but also do something the 2017 Longhorns were unable to accomplish early last season, with two top-15 teams on the schedule this weekend in Mexico for potential
signature victories.

“I think that we’re young, and I think people are underestimating us a lot,” Ellsworth said. “That being said, I think that we have more room to grow. We’re very coachable and come out everyday ready to play. The bar is real high, and we are ready to reach it.”