To be clear, there are not two Paige von Spreckens on Texas’ softball team.
Sure, Paige von Sprecken the pitcher leads the Big 12 in shutouts and ranks fourth in ERA. Meanwhile, Paige von Sprecken the hitter is hitting .305 with three home runs and leads the team in RBIs. She warms up to blink-182’s “All the Small Things” and the 69 Boyz’s “Tootsee Roll” when she’s pitching at McCombs Field. When she’s walking to the plate, it’s been Kool & the Gang, Taylor Swift and Kendrick Lamar.
The pitcher and the hitter are one and the same, though.
“I view myself as a softball player,” said von Sprecken, a senior. “I like to consider myself utility, and I don’t think I want to be pigeon-holed as just a pitcher or just a hitter. I’m a competitor.”
Using a methodical approach and four pitches — her favorite is the change-up — von Sprecken has 83 strikeouts along with her conference-leading eight shutouts and 1.60 ERA. In four of her eight losses, she’s allowed two runs or less to teams that are currently ranked No. 4, No. 10, No. 14 and No. 21 in the country.
With 10 wins, she’s run her career pitching record to 49-28, with 21 of them coming her freshman season at the University of San Diego.
Von Sprecken also has recorded 260 at-bats in her collegiate career. A back injury limited her ability to work with new hitting coach Tripp MacKay during last year’s off-season, so Texas had her just focus on pitching in 2017. But ahead of this season, UT coach Connie Clark told reporters she would find a way to keep von Sprecken in the batting order.
Clark has stayed true to her word, penciling von Sprecken into UT’s lineup as either a pitcher, designated player or first baseman. Besides that .305 average and three homers, she’s hit 22 RBIs; her 17 doubles rank eighth in the country and are three off the school record.
“We just know she can bring so much to the table,” Clark said. “It’s challenging when you do that. If you have a pitcher that’s dealing like she’s been dealing this year and swinging the bat, playing first base … it can take a toll on your body.”
Two-way talentsAmong the players with 100 at-bats, 100 innings pitched and a sub-2.00 ERA, how does Texas senior Paige von Sprecken stack up?
|ERA||Batting average||HRs||Total bases|
|Odicci Alexander||James Madison||1.85||.397||12||100|
|Morgan Rackel||Austin Peay||1.61||.307||7||67|
|Paige von Sprecken||Texas||1.60||.305||3||65|
|Courtney Mirabella||N.C. Central||1.86||.250||0||30|
A Californian, von Sprecken is a long-time fan of the Los Angeles Angels and superstar outfielder Mike Trout. She also “absolutely loves” newcomer Shohei Ohtani, the Japanese phenom who boasts a 2-1 pitching record and a .333 batting average.
Like Ohtani in the major leagues, von Sprecken’s two-way talent is somewhat of a rarity in college softball. Through Tuesday’s games, 79 Division I pitchers had thrown at least 100 innings with a sub-2.00 ERA. Only eight of those pitchers had also logged 100 at-bats.
“I had a lot of coaches tell me that pitchers aren’t going to hit. It would make me really mad, because I’m like, no, you’re not going to tell me what I can and can’t do,” said von Sprecken, who began playing softball when she was five. “Just being a pitcher that hits, you have to work that much harder.”
Von Sprecken often finds herself “running around all over the place” at practice alongside fellow senior Kristen Clark, who has 11 at-bats and 17 1/3 innings pitched this season. The two-way gig is also mentally taxing, and von Sprecken has to mentally separate her two tasks.
Von Sprecken will remain busy this weekend as Texas (28-18, 10-3 Big 12) travels to third-ranked Oklahoma (41-3, 12-0) for a three-game series. The Sooners have won the last two national championships. Earlier this week, OU seniors Paige Lowary, Paige Parker and Nicole Pendley all were selected in the first 12 picks of the National Pro Fastpitch League’s draft.
Even more daunting for the Longhorns is their 11-game losing streak to Oklahoma dating back to the 2014 season. No player on UT’s active roster has ever beaten the Sooners.
“We talk a lot about a Texas family here and the pride and tradition of the Longhorns,” von Sprecken said. “That’s something that really matters to us, is being able to beat OU and take one. The fact that we haven’t beat them, any of the girls here, makes us want it that much more.”
This weekend’s series
Texas at No. 3 Oklahoma, Friday-Sunday (6:30 Friday, 105.3; 1 Saturday, ESPN2, 105.3; 1 Sunday, ESPN2, 105.3)