A metaphor became a motto one month before the season started.
In January, new Texas assistant coach Tripp MacKay tied knots at the ends of black ropes. Every member of Texas’ softball team — coaches, players, supporting staff — are wearing one throughout the season to remind each other that when they get to the end of a rope, they tie a knot and keep supporting each other.
The motto: “Why knot Texas 2017?”
At the season-opening Texas Classic this weekend, there were good times. And there were times the Longhorns got to the end of their rope, too.
In the five games they played, the Longhorns (3-2) won two by run rule — an 8-0 shellacking of Colorado State on Friday and a 10-2 smacking of Maryland on Saturday — and then closed the tournament on a high note Sunday afternoon with a 7-2 thumping of Colorado State again.
But against the best competition in the field, No. 16-ranked Minnesota, Texas lost. Twice.
In the opener Friday against Colorado State, freshman Kaitlyn Washington smacked a two-run homer in her first collegiate at-bat. In the win over Maryland, Kaitlyn Slack — another freshman — got the most out of her first collegiate hit: An RBI triple.
“I think this group of newcomers is going to be tremendous,” Texas coach Connie Clark said. “They sometimes get into kind of a rhythm.”
The Longhorns have seven freshmen this year, and they will all be important to Texas’ success.
In that same vein, the Longhorns are returning a majority of last season’s offense: Five every-day starters, 60 percent of the runs scored last season, 64 percent of the team’s hits, 55 percent of the home runs that were hit, and 65 percent of the RBIs.
Over the five games this weekend, Texas scored 33 runs.
“I think as an offense we look really strong,” first baseman Kelli Hanzel said. “We do have a new hitting coach, and I think we’ve done a really good job trying to figure out what he’s teaching us and everything like that. I think our lineup looks really solid as well.”
The measuring stick of the weekend was Texas’ two games against the Golden Gophers (5-0). Minnesota, last year’s Big Ten tournament champions, has reached the NCAA Tournament in each of the last four years.
The Gophers are a complete package with an explosive offense and a lethal pitching staff led by Sara Groenewegen, who tied for the most strikeouts in the nation last year, with 336. The Longhorns faced her on Friday (a 5-2 loss) and then again on Saturday, when she gave up three hits and one run in four innings of work to lead Minnesota to an 11-6 victory. Groenewegen had 10 strikeouts in the two games.
On Friday, Texas committed two errors and left nine runners on base. Starting pitcher Erica Wright, who missed all of last season with a rib injury, pitched three innings and walked four batters. She gave up three runs in the first inning.
“We beat ourselves,” senior Tiarra Davis said.
In Saturday’s game, Texas trailed 5-1 — after two errors in the third inning helped Minnesota score five runs — but scored four runs in the third to tie the game. The Gophers then scored one in the fifth and five in the seventh to get the win.
“We gave them a lot of free chances,” Davis said.
Another knot might be added to the rope after this opening weekend; many more might be needed throughout the season. But the Horns will be working toward the one knot that is unbreakable.