Paige von Sprecken

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

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.

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.”