Texas softball coach Connie Clark speaks to her team during the second day of practice for the 2017 season at McCombs Field Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017. (Stephen Spillman / for AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

BEVO BEAT Softball

Diamond Dust: Opening Day, Texas Classic is finally here for Texas softball

Posted February 9th, 2017

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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.

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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.

Texas' Erica Wright makes a throw to home during the second day of practice for the 2017 season at McCombs Field Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017. (Stephen Spillman / for AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
A healthy Erica Wright will give the Longhorns a great deal of depth in the circle. Wright is returning from a rib injury that kept her out of the 2016 season. (Stephen Spillman / for AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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:

  •  No. 1 Oklahoma begins national title defense in Mexico: The Sooners are a unanimous No. 1, ranked first in both the NFCA and USA Softball polls. Oklahoma will play in the Puerto Vallarta College Challenge in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico this weekend and takes on No. 2 Auburn in a rematch of last year’s College World Series final; No. 13 Washington, Nebraska and BYU also are in the field. The tournament began Thursday.
  • Oklahoma State’s Vanessa Shippy on POY watch list:  The Cowgirls’ junior shortstop was one of 50 players placed on the watch list for USA Softball’s player of the year award. Shippy, the 2016 co-Big 12 player of the year and an All-American, hit .425 with 58 runs and 31 RBIs. That list also includes Texas State pitcher Randi Rupp. Oklahoma State plays in LSU’s Tiger Classic this weekend.
  • Texas Tech opens at Texas State’s Century Link  Classic: The Red Raiders open their season this weekend in San Marcos as one of five teams in the Century Link Classic, which also includes host Texas State, Iowa, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Abilene Christian. You can find the schedule here.
  • Elsewhere around the Big 12: Baylor plays in the Hillenbrand Invitational in Tuscon, Ariz., Kansas opens at the Stetson Tournament in Deland, Fla. and Iowa State will play in the Louisiana Classic, hosted by No. 11 Louisiana Lafayette.

BIG 12 POWER POLL: Oklahoma takes the top spot in our initial Big 12 power poll. Until someone beats the Sooners.

RANKTEAM2016 RECORDLAST WEEKTHIS WEEKNOTE
1Oklahoma
57-8 (17-1)at Puerto Vallarta Challenge (Mexico)Sooners look to repeat as national champions and are the class of Big 12.
2Baylor45-14 (13-4)at Hillenbrand Invitational (Tucson, Ariz.) Bears lost three first-team All-Big 12 players, including pitcher Heather Stearns.
3Texas38-16 (10-7)vs. Texas ClassicOutside of Oklahoma, Horns are most experienced team in conference.
4Oklahoma State32-26 (6-11)at LSU Tiger Classic (Baton Rouge, La.) 2016 co-player of the year Vanessa Shippy gives Cowgirls lots of potential.
5Kansas31-20 (8-9) at Stetson Tournament (Deland, Fla.) Jayhawks are in store for a rebuilding year.
6Texas Tech23-32 (6-12)at Century Link Classic (San Marcos) Red Raiders may surprise a few teams, but are still very young.
7Iowa State20-35 (1-17) at Louisiana Classic (Lafayette, La.) Cyclones are a regular in the Big 12 cellar. They will likely stay there.

 

Texas' Mickenzi Krpec makes a throw during the second day of practice for the 2017 season at McCombs Field Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017. (Stephen Spillman / for AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Texas’ Mickenzi Krpec makes a throw during the second day of practice for the 2017 season at McCombs Field Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017. CREDIT: Stephen Spillman for American-Statesman

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.

Texas's Taylor Hoagland reacts after safely making it to second base as Florida State's Kelly Hensley watches during game two of their NCAA Super Regional in Austin, Texas on Sunday, May 26, 2013. Texas beat Florida State 4-0 to advance to the College World Series. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
The last time Texas was ranked in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association preseason poll, All-American Taylor Hoagland was leading Texas to the Women’s College World Series in 2013. The Longhorns were ranked third to start the season and it was the last time any Big 12 school other than Baylor and Oklahoma were ranked to start the season. CREDIT: Deborah Cannon/ American-Statesman

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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