Connie Clark knew the schedule would be tough. There’s no break, easy game or time to catch a breath.
The Texas softball coach has watched her team undergo a grueling schedule to start the season: 13 of Texas’ first 18 games this season have come against teams ranked in the top 25.
The Longhorns have played No. 20 Michigan twice, beating them once. They battled against No. 15 Ole Miss, lost late to No. 21 Ohio State and got throttled by No. 3 Oregon. They gave Washington – the No. 1 team in the country – everything they had.
But after Texas (8-10) got its first win over a top 10 team in in three years on Saturday, No. 9 Arizona smacked the Longhorns in the mouth Sunday in a 10-2 rout at McCombs Field.
“The process this weekend continues to be part of the growth we need to see that we get better prepared so that once we start competing for championships when conference gets underway that we don’t forget about some of these little things that we’re really learning,” Clark said.
Clark’s process could almost mirror the process made famous by Philadelphia 76ers’ center Joel Embiid. Clark has basically a new team compared to her 2017 roster. Seven seniors graduated. One player transferred. There are a number of new players who are being thrust into various roles.
“We have some great newcomers, just their personalities and everything just fits in with the rest of the team,” said junior outfielder Bekah Alcozer, who hit her first home run of the season – a two run shot to right field, on Sunday. “The first time we got together as a team and practiced as a team I mean you could tell that our chemistry was just unbelievable.”
But Texas also has experienced players like senior pitcher Paige von Sprecken.
Von Sprecken, two days removed from pitching a seven-inning loss against the Wildcats to open the series, started Sunday’s game and only got through three innings, allowing five runs.
She pitched a perfect first inning, even though a constant drizzle made it tough to grip the ball. After a 35-minute rain delay, von Sprecken had two outs in the second, when Arizona third-baseman Malia Martinez smacked a two-run home run over the 220-foot marker in dead center field.
Arizona scored three more runs in the fourth, one more in the fifth and four in the seventh. But, really, they only half of the runs they scored to win Sunday.
Texas faced Arizona starter Taylor McQuillin, who repeated her performance from Friday night. She struck out nine Longhorns, allowing two hits.
“We were putting the ball in play and we had some solid shots, they just happened to go right to them,” Alcozer said.
The process is still playing out. While it might be grueling to go through, Clark likes that her team is getting this experience this early in the season. She wants her team to play the tough teams now, so that when conference play comes around, they can look at how they played against Michigan, Arizona and Washington.
“You have to just continue to just coach them up and with this group just try to keep them positive,” Clark said. “There’s a lot more positive takeaways from this weekend that maybe it looks like on paper.”