The 2017 season isn’t a rebuilding effort for Texas coach Connie Clark and her staff. Not even close.
On paper, all the pieces of the puzzle were in place for the Longhorns. Clark returned eight starters. Yes, eight. There are 10 upperclassmen on a roster that boasts seven seniors, including 2014 Big 12 freshman of the year Tiarra Davis.
The pitching staff, anchored by Davis, is as deep as it’s ever been. It got a shot in the arm with the return of Erica Wright, who won 20-plus games as a freshman in 2015. Transfer Brooke Bolinger (5-2, 2.60 ERA, 16 Ks) and junior Paige von Sprecken (5-3, 1.98 ERA, 49 Ks) have been efficient. If anything, this staff just lacks that dominant every- day starter like a Blaire Luna or Cat Osterman.
The offense has been effective in recent years, but Clark hired former Oklahoma assistant Tripp McKay to ignite some power into an already solid batting order.
But the Longhorns (20-18, 0-6 Big 12) are heading into the home stretch with a record two-games above .500 and their worst start in the Big 12 since 2004.
The offense is stale, and to make matters worse, one of Texas’ top power hitters — sophomore outfielder Reagan Hathaway — was lost for the season with a knee injury. It’s just another blow to an offense that needed all the help it could get.
Texas’ collective .286 batting average ranks fifth in the conference ahead of Texas Tech (.266) and last-place Iowa State (.259). The Longhorns lead the league with 11 triples (Hathaway accounted for four) but has the second fewest runs scored (181) than any team in the conference. Only Iowa State has fewer than 150. They are also next to last in slugging percentage (.406).
It’s only fair to note that freshman Taylor Ellsworth’s .475 average would rank second in the Big 12 and her .678 slugging percentage would top the conference if she had enough at bats to be eligible.
As for pitching, Texas carries the league’s third lowest ERA (2.34), but it cannot close out games. None of the Longhorns’ five pitchers have yet to record a save, and UT has given up leads five times in their opponents’ final at-bat.
The bottom line is that the offense is inefficient and the pitching staff can’t finish opponents. For a team that was picked to finish second in the Big 12, Texas is surely underachieving.
Let’s play in some dirt.
Three, err, up?
- Relief pitching: It’s difficult to come up with positives after being swept, but let’s consider that Bolinger and Kristen Clark didn’t allow a run in a combined eight innings of relief. Bolinger had two appearances, threw six innings and gave up three hits, walked three and struck out two. Clark tossed two innings in Texas’ 3-1 loss to Oklahoma on Saturday and allowed two hits, walked one and struck out two. That’s about all you can ask from your bullpen in non-save situations.
- The schedule gets easier: Texas, which is 2-11 against ranked teams, won’t have to worry about another top 25 opponent until they close the regular season against No. 13 Baylor. Maybe Texas can get a little momentum in the next three weeks before the Bears come to town.
That’s all we got.
- Texas’ record against Oklahoma: Let’s not sugarcoat it. Losing to OU in any sport is viewed as unacceptable for Texas. With the Sooners’ sweep of Texas, the Longhorns have now lost 10 straight to their Red River rivals.
- Road woes: Texas travels to Lubbock this weekend to face Big 12 rival Texas Tech. The Longhorns are 5-9 in true road games and haven’t had much luck in Lubbock in recent years. Since 2012, Texas is 4-3 there, with Tech taking two of three games the last time Texas was in town.
- Another stale plate performance: Texas had a total of nine hits in the three games against the Sooners. Of those, only two went for extra bases — Kelli Hanzel’s triple on Sunday and Kaitlyn Washington’s double Saturday. Washington ended up scoring.
ON DECK: As mentioned, the Longhorns (20-18, 0-6) travel to Lubbock Thursday in search of their first conference win as they take on a young Texas Tech team. The Red Raiders (17-20, 4-5) are coming off a losing two of three against Kansas. Texas was swept by No. 11 Oklahoma last weekend. Here’s the upcoming schedule (all games will air on 105.3):
Thursday — at Texas Tech, 6 p.m.
Friday — at Texas Tech, 4 p.m.
Saturday — at Texas Tech, noon
AROUND THE HORNS: Here’s a quick look at story lines involving the Big 12, state schools, the Longhorns and their opponents:
- Randi Rupp wins plethora of weekly honors : The junior from Barbers Hill took home five weekly awards, including espnW player of the week, NFCA national pitcher or the week and her third Sun Belt pitcher of the week honor. Rupp was untouchable in four appearances, compiling a 4-0 record, 0.00 ERA and 29 strikeouts. She also was the Sun Belt player of the week, her second nod this season, and FastPitchNews.com’s national player of the week.
- Texas State upsets No. 13 Baylor: The Bobcats (30-8, 11-3) moved up to No. 28 in the latest Ratings Percentage Index rankings released Tuesday. They may jump even higher after Wednesday’s 1-0 upset of No. 13 Baylor. Texas State is the third highest ranked team from the state of Texas behind the Bears (9th) and Texas A&M (4th). Texas was ranked 32nd. The Bobcats will host No. 17 Louisiana Lafayette this weekend for a key Sun Belt series, which begins Friday with a doubleheader.
- Former Texas pitcher wins Heartland award: St. Edwards senior Lauren Slatten picked up her ninth Heartland Conference pitcher of the week honor on Monday. She was 2-0 in the circle with a 1.00 ERA and 11 strikeouts in two complete games. Slatten played for the Longhorns her freshman and sophomore seasons before transferring in 2016.
- No. 5 Texas A&M sweeps Oklahoma State: The Aggies (35-3) completed the sweep of Oklahoma State (25-15) Sunday in College Station with a 7-0 victory. Pitcher Lexi Smith improved her record to 10-0, giving up one hit and striking out nine. First baseman Tori Vidales scored three of A&M’s runs and had a double and was walked twice.
- Big 12 weekly awards: Oklahoma’s Paige Lowary took home Big 12 pitcher of the week honors while Baylor’s Lindsey Cargill and Oklahoma’s Shay Knighten were co-players of the week. Lowery, a junior, had a 0.00 ERA in three appearances, where she had two saves and a win. She struck out 10 batters and allowed just five hits. Cargill, a senior, had a .667 batting average, a 1.000 slugging percentage, six runs scored, and a triple. Knighten, a sophomore, led the Big 12 with six RBIs, six hits, one home run and had a .600 batting average.
— Oklahoma Softball (@OU_Softball) April 9, 2017
BIG 12 POWER POLL: Oklahoma regains the top spot in the Big 12 power poll. How do you argue against a team that has won 21 straight conference games? Oklahoma State drops to No. 2 after being swept by Texas A&M in a non-conference series, but Baylor, which has won eight straight, is on the heels of the Cowgirls.
|RANK||TEAM||RECORD (Big 12)||LAST WEEK||THIS WEEK||NOTE|
|1||Oklahoma||35-7 (6-0)||3||at Kansas (April 13-15); at North Texas (April 18)||The Sooners have won 12 straight and all 7 of their losses have been at neutral sites.|
|2||Oklahoma State||25-15 (6-0)||1||at Iowa State (April 14-15); vs. Central Arkansas (April 18), at Tulsa (April 19)||The Cowgirls were swept by No. 5 Texas A&M last week in College Station.|
|3||Baylor||35-6 (8-1)||2||vs. Houston (April 18, DH)||Baylor has won 8 straight and hosts Houston this weekend for a doubleheader.|
|4||Kansas||21-19 (3-6)||5||at Oklahoma (April 13-15); at Nebraska (April 19)||Kansas is the most up and down team in the conference. They lost the final game of the series against Texas Tech.|
|5||Texas Tech||17-20 (4-5)||4||vs. Texas (April 14-15)||The Red Raiders avoided being swept by Kansas to snap a six-game skid.|
|6||Texas||20-18 (0-6)||6||at Texas Tech (April 14-15); vs. Texas Southern (April 19)||The Longhorns are off to their worst start in the Big 12 since 2004.|
|7||Iowa State||15-28 (0-6)||7||vs. Oklahoma State (April 14-15); at Iowa (April 18)||The Cyclones have lost 12 straight, which is currently the longest losing streak in the Big 12.|
It’s time to let the dust settle. As always, swing for the fences.
News on Bevo Beat is free and unlimited. Access to the rest of Hookem.com is included with an Austin American-Statesman subscription in addition to Statesman.com and the ePaper edition. Subscribe today at statesman.com/subscribe.