Opening day is here for the Texas softball team.
On deck is this weekend’s Texas Classic, which features No. 16-Minnesota and Sara Groenewegan, who tied for the national lead in strikeouts last season. The Golden Gophers likely will be the only real competition for the Longhorns; Colorado State and Maryland also are in the field.
Texas opens against Colorado State on Friday (4:30 p.m., LHN). And history is on the Longhorns’ side. Texas is 29-1 in the Texas Classic since 2010, the lone blemish a 6-4 loss to Wichita State in 2015. And when the Longhorns have opened the season with a home tournament, they’re 25-0.
The only two teams that have beaten Texas in a home season opener were UTSA in 2014 and San Diego State in 2007; Texas is 18-2 all-time in home openers.
Texas plays two games Friday, including a 7 p.m. matchup with Minnesota (LHN). Texas faces the Golden Gophers again at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, then gets Maryland at 6:30. Sunday’s go-home game for the tournament will be against Colorado State, at 12:30 p.m.
Let’s play in some dirt.
THREE UP, THREE DOWN: There are a lot of things to like about this year’s Longhorns team, but there’s a few things that could pose potential problems. First, the good stuff:
- Depth in the circle: The days of having one pitcher are gone in softball. Hitters are more advanced and skilled to find a pitcher with the dominance of a Cat Osterman or Blaire Luna on a day-to-day basis. Coaches now recruit staffs, and Clark has put together one with a lot of potential in senior Tiarra Davis, sophomore Erica Wright, juniors Kristen Clark and Paige von Sprecken and sophomore transfer Brooke Bolinger.
- Experience in the infield (and everywhere else): Only one position will need to be filled in the infield — second base. The outfield will miss Lindsey Stephens, but Reagan Hathaway and Stephanie Wong are back. Freshmen Jade Gortarez and Malory Schattle will likely battle for the second base spot and Tuesday DerMargosian and Kaitlyn Washington could end up in center field.
- The schedule: Yes, there are nine ranked teams on UT’s schedule. That’s not favorable, though it does help with RPI, which could determine whether Texas hosts a regional or super-regional in the postseason. We’re talking conference schedule here; Big 12-favorite Oklahoma comes to McCombs Field in April and Baylor plays two of the three games in its series with Texas in Austin. That’s good news for Texas.
Now, what causes concern:
- Injuries: It’s been a real issue for the Longhorns the past couple of years. Davis missed most of her sophomore season (ankle) and Wright (ribs) missed all of last year. Texas’ depth lowers the concern level, but injuries always seem to be a problem for Texas.
- Lack of power: Texas had 422 hits last season, but only 30 percent of those went for extra bases. That number isn’t all that bad, but consider that 38 extra-base hits were by Stephens, which equates to 29 percent of all of Texas’ 129 extra-base hits. Celina Felix (8 home runs, 3 triples and 7 doubles) had a slugging percentage of .561 while Hathaway and Hanzel combined for 10 home runs and nine doubles.
- Postseason inexperience: There’s not a single player on the roster that’s played past the regional round of the NCAA tournament. The Longhorns have been ousted in the regionals in each of the past three years. If they face a more postseason-tested team like Texas A&M or Louisiana Lafayette, that could make a big difference.
AROUND THE HORN: Here is a quick look at a few story lines heading into opening weekend around the Big 12 and with Texas opponents:
KNOW YOUR LONGHORNS: Each week we’ll take a look at a Texas player or coach. This week it’s senior designated player Mickenzi Krpec.
The Richmond Foster product has primarily played a reserve role for the Longhorns since arriving in the fall of 2013. Krpec’s the definition of a role player, who has made just nine starts in her collegiate career, but has played in 77 games.
Krpec hit her third career home run as a junior in a pinch-hitting situation and had four hits in 16 at-bats. Half of her hits went for extra bases; she also had a double. She has a .230 career average with three home runs, 17 runs and 10 RBIs.
Krpec played club softball in high school with Hanzel and was the first softball player at Richmond Foster to earn all-state honors.
TRIVIA: Last week, we asked who was the only other Big 12 team outside of Baylor and Oklahoma to be ranked in the NFCA preseason top 25 over the last five years? And for bonus points, what was the year and ranking? The answer: Texas, which was ranked third in the 2013 preseason poll.
This week’s question involves home runs: Who was the last Longhorn to win the home run crown in the Big 12? (Hint: It’s a lot fewer than you might think.) Check back next week for the answer.
As always, swing for the fences.
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