Texas pitcher Paige von Sprecken bobbles a ball against Indiana during the second inning on Saturday, February 17, 2017. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

BEVO BEAT Softball

Diamond Dust: Texas faces series of tests this weekend at Mary Nutter Classic

Posted February 23rd, 2017

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Texas’ softball team boasts a 7-3 record early in the 2017 season.  If you look closely, however, that mark’s a bit misleading.

The Longhorns have played only one ranked team − No. 12 Minnesota (9-0) − and was 0-2 against the Golden Gophers. Their other loss, a 9-4 setback against South Carolina in the Texas Invitational, came against a team that has been receiving votes in the NFCA/USA Today coaches poll since the beginning of the season.  Texas received two votes in this week’s coaches poll.

The Longhorns have defeated two teams with winning records − Conference USA’s Louisiana Tech (7-4) and Colorado State (5-4) out of the Mountain West. However, the four teams Texas has defeated, which also includes Maryland (1-8) and Indiana (2-7),  have a combined record of 15-24.

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Texas needs a quality win this weekend at the Mary Nutter Classic to establish itself as a contender, and there will be plenty of chances for that signature victory. More on that in a minute.

Now, let’s play in the dirt.

UT pitcher Kristen Clark deleivers a pitch to Texas State at McCombs Field on Saturday April 4, 2015. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
UT pitcher Kristen Clark has been a pleasant surprise in the circle for the Longhorns.

THREE-UP, THREE DOWN: There were plenty of positives to take away from the Texas Invitational this past weekend, but there are a few negatives, too. First, the good stuff:

Three up

  1. Kristen Clark: The junior from Richmond has posted a 2.80 earned-run average in five appearances. That’s second only to Erica Wright, who appears to be finding her groove in her return from injury. Clark, however, is a bit of a surprise and is 2-0 in the circle with 11 strikeouts, tying her with Wright for the team-high. This could be a breakout year for the right-hander.
  2.  Another breakout player? Senior Mickenzi Krpec has played a reserve role during her first three seasons in Austin. A high school teammate of Clark, Krpec might be playing her way into the starting lineup. In nine games, she’s amassed a team-high .444 batting average, a slugging percentage of .667 and four doubles. On the down side, she leads the team in errors (3).
  3. The home runs are flying out of McCombs: Make no mistake, Texas coach Connie Clark, a former pitcher herself, likes that McCombs Field is a pitcher’s ballpark. The distance to the outfield wall is is 200 feet down the baselines and 220 feet to centerfield. So the fact that Texas has hit five dingers in 10 games should be considered a surprise. Devon Tunning leads the team with two homers while Kelli Hanzel, Bekah Alcozer and Kaitlyn Washington each has one. That’s good news for a team that was second-to-last in the Big 12 in home runs last year.

Three down

  1. Texas is 0-fer against ranked opponents: The Longhorns have had three chances to beat an opponent that was either ranked or receiving votes in the top 25. Texas never led in a 5-2 loss to Minnesota on Feb. 10 or an 11-6 loss to the Golden Gophers on Feb. 11.  The Gamecocks scored six unanswered runs to rally from a 4-3 deficit and take a 9-4 victory over the Longhorns last week.
  2. Not a lot of rounding first base: Texas has accumulated 81 hits this season, but only 27 of them have gone for extra bases. The Longhorns were fourth in the Big 12 last year with a slugging percentage of .467 while ranking fourth in doubles (70) and second in triples (12). The Longhorns have 17 doubles, with Devon Tunning and Krpec leading the team with four apiece. Reagan Hathaway and Stephanie Wong each has two of UT’s five triples.
  3. Black uniforms: Longhorns faithful will be quick to tell you that Texas’ colors do not include black. They weren’t too happy with the team’s black uniforms, which aren’t new, that the Longhorns wore on back-to-back weekends. I tend to agree with the fans and think Texas should stick to burnt orange and white.
Texas's Reagan Hathaway slides safely into home as Indiana's Bella Norton bobbles a throw on Saturday, February 17, 2017. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Texas’s Reagan Hathaway slides safely into home as Indiana’s Bella Norton bobbles a throw on Saturday, February 17, 2017.  DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

ON DECK: Texas takes its first road trip of the season this weekend to sunny Palm Springs, Calif., to play in the Mary Nutter Classic. This won’t be an easy road trip for the Longhorns. Of the six games scheduled, only one is against a team not receiving votes or ranked in the Top 25: Bethune-Cookman (1-9).

Other opponents include: Notre Dame (4-5), which received seven votes in this week’s poll; No. 20 Missouri (5-2); No. 15 Tennessee (10-0); No. 21 Arizona State (9-0); and No. 8 Washington (7-1), which already has a win against defending national champion Oklahoma.

If the Longhorns want to be taken seriously as a contender, they need a victory over one of these ranked teams, if not two wins.

Texas’ schedule (All games are live streamed on FloSoftball.com, which requires a subscription; Texas games also will be broadcast on 105.3):

Thursday —  vs. Notre Dame, 5:30; vs. No. 20 Missouri, 10:30 p.m.

Friday — vs. Bethune-Cookman, 12:30 p.m.

Saturday — vs. No. 15 Tennessee, 2 p.m., No. 21 Arizona State, 4:30 p.m.

Sunday — vs. No. 8 Washington, 11 a.m.

Texas's player Taylor Ellsworth, center, with the Longhorn team in between innings against Indiana on Saturday, February 17, 2017. Ellsworth is one of a handful of softball players who left high school early to play at the University level. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Texas’s player Taylor Ellsworth, center, with the Longhorn team in between innings against Indiana on Saturday, February 17, 2017. Ellsworth is one of a handful of softball players who left high school early to play at the University level. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

AROUND THE HORN: Here’s a quick look at a few story lines involving the Big 12, the Longhorns and their opponents:

  • Iowa State has a big weekend: The cellar-dwelling Cyclones (7-3) had a big weekend in Nashville, Tenn., going 5-0 in the Tiger Classic. Iowa State’s five straight wins tied the program’s mark for the longest winning streak since 2014. Pitcher Savannah Sanders went 3-0 in the circle with two shutouts, including a 2-0 win in the go-home game Sunday against Tennessee State. The Cyclones’ biggest win was a 21-1 shellacking of Alabama A&M on Feb. 18. The Cyclones play in the Samford/UAB Tournament in Birmingham, Ala. this weekend.
  • It wasn’t easy, but the Sooners went 4-0 in Houston: No. 4 Oklahoma snuck out of Houston last week with a 4-0 record, but the Sooners earned it. The Sooners (6-2) needed extra innings not once, but twice to defeat unranked Houston. In the opening game of a doubleheader against the Cougars, Oklahoma rallied to tie the game in the sixth inning and eventually won 7-5 in eight innings after trailing 3-0. In game two, Houston jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the third, but OU tied the game in the top of the fourth and went on to win 2-1 in eight innings.
  • Texas freshman Taylor Ellsworth settling in:  American-Statesman staff writer Danny Davis wrote an excellent story on Longhorns’ newcomer Taylor Ellsworth. In case you didn’t know, Ellsworth is one of a handful of players to skip her senior high school season to join a college team. Ellsworth, who recently turned 18 years old, has made an immediate impact for the Longhorns, batting .333 in five games with three RBIs.
  • Texas State goes 2-1 in shortened Demarini Desert Classic: The Bobcats have an upcoming date with the Longhorns (March 1 at McCombs Field). Texas State will play in this weekend’s UTSA Classic in San Antonio after going 2-1 in Las Vegas last weekend. The Bobcats suffered a 5-3 loss to No. 25 BYU in the opening game and picked up a 6-1 win over Hawai’i and a 3-0 victory over Colorado State. Saturday’s game against Weber State and Sunday morning’s game against Utah State were both called because of weather. The game against Colorado State was added on Sunday.
  • Big 12 weekly awards: Iowa State swept the weekly Big 12 awards. Sami Williams, a freshman, was named the player of the week after racking up nine RBIs, eight runs and 17 total bases in the Tiger Classic in Nashville, Tenn. Sophomore pitcher Emma Hylen was selected as pitcher of the week. Hylen allowed no earned runs in 11 1/3 innings pitched and had 13 strikeouts, including a career-high 11 against Alabama A&M.

BIG 12 POWER POLL: Oklahoma keeps the top spot in this week’s poll after going undefeated in Houston last weekend. Iowa State, however, is out of the cellar  after going 5-0 last weekend in Nashville, Tenn.
 
RANKTEAMRECORDLAST WEEKTHIS WEEKNOTE
1Oklahoma
6-21at Mary Nutter Classic, Cathedral City, Calif. Sooners struggled against unranked Houston, but still hold top spot.
2Baylor7-32vs. Getterman ClassicBears went 4-1 in Getterman Classic with only loss to North Texas.
3Iowa State7-37at Samford Tournament (Birmingham, Ala.) Cyclones have longest winning streak in Big 12 at 5 games.
4tKansas7-33at Lamar Cardinal Classic (Beaumont)After a 5-0 start, Kansas went 2-3 in Jacksonville, Fla. with a bad loss to North Florida.
4tTexas7-34tat Mary Nutter Classic, Cathedral City, Calif. Texas had a good weekend, but real tests are ahead this weekend.
6Texas Tech6-46at Easton Bama Bash (Tuscaloosa, Ala.) Red Raiders pick up big win over No. 21 Fresno State in Mexico.
7Oklahoma State5-54tat Mary Nutter Classic, Cathedral City, Calif. Cowgirls lost to No. 15 James Madison and No. 25 South Florida last weekend.

That’s all the dust for this week. As always, swing for the fences.

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