Texas softball players Erica Wright (left) and Taylor Ellsworth speak during a softball game at McCombs Field on April 2, 2017. (Stephen Spillman / for AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Softball

Pomp and circumstance: Familiar foes await as Texas returns to NCAA’s softball tournament

Posted May 17th, 2018

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Texas senior Randel Leahy will miss her graduation ceremony this weekend.

Leahy, who’ll graduate with a degree in speech and language pathology, will instead be in Seattle. As will classmates Paige von Sprecken (advertising) and Kristen Clark (exercise science). And Erica Wright, a redshirt junior who’ll focus on becoming a physician’s assistant once she graduates, also is skipping out on the pomp and circumstance.

So instead of a graduation cap, Leahy will opt for a visor as Texas heads west for a NCAA softball regional that begins on Friday.

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“Being a spring sport, you kind of expect to miss graduation,” Leahy said. “You hear horror stories about graduations being three hours long and sitting in the hot sun. I’m definitely grateful that we get to continue playing the sport that we love.”

Texas (32-24), the third seed in the Seattle regional, will meet Minnesota (39-15) Friday night at the University of Washington’s Husky Softball Stadium. Boise State (40-14) and the host Huskies (44-8) also will play. The regional, which wraps up on Sunday, is a double-elimination format.

Texas hasn’t advanced to a super regional since 2013.

The Longhorns have lost nine of their last 15 games but are coming off a third-place showing at last week’s Big 12 tournament. They’re hitting only .269 as a team, though von Sprecken, freshman Janae Jefferson and sophomore Kaitlyn Washington boast all-conference bats. Von Sprecken, Wright and junior Brooke Bolinger have contributed to a team ERA of 2.49, second-best in the Big 12.

“I think we’re in a really good place right now,” Leahy said. “We’re just really excited to start postseason and prove to ourselves how we can really play.”

Texas pitcher Paige von Sprecken (77) winds up against Incarnate Word in Austin on Feb. 9, 2018. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Texas has never played Boise State, although Bolinger beat the Broncos twice while pitching for Nevada in 2016. But UT scouting reports do exist on Minnesota and Washington.

Minnesota recorded 5-2 and 11-6 wins over Texas in 2017. While leading Iowa State’s program in 2017, Minnesota coach Jamie Trachsel also won two of the three games she coached against UT. And Washington, which was then the nation’s No. 1-ranked team, earned a 2-1 win over the Longhorns on Feb. 21. The teams battled through four scoreless innings before the Huskies scored in the fifth and sixth frames. Washington ace Taran Alvelo struck out 10 Longhorns in her pitching duel against von Sprecken.

“It gives us a lot of confidence because we know it was a close game,” Jefferson said. “We’re going to be ready for their pitchers and things that are going to be thrown our way.”

Washington and Minnesota are ranked fifth and 25th in the USA Today poll, which continues a trend on Texas’ schedule. UT has already played 10 games against a team that’s hosting a regional. Five of those were against the nation’s top overall seed, Oregon, and two-time defending national champion Oklahoma.

Texas went 1-9 in those matchups. Four of those nine losses were by two runs or fewer.

“(Playing those games) can either be a little bit of a confidence bust or a boost,” UT coach Connie Clark said. “Even though the outcomes weren’t always there, I thought we had so many one-run or tight ball games with a lot of those teams. I think if we can hit on all cylinders and get hot when the timing is right, that’s all the difference in the world.”

Seattle regional

Friday-Sunday, Husky Softball Stadium

Friday: (1) Texas vs. Minnesota, 8 p.m., ESPN, 105.3; (2) Boise State vs. Washington, 10:30, ESPNU

Saturday: (3) Game 1 vs. 2 winners, 4 p.m.; (4) Game 1 vs. 2 losers, 6:30; (5) Game 4 winner vs. Game 3 loser, 9

Sunday: (6) Game 3 winner vs. Game 5 winner, 6 p.m.; (7) Game 6 rematch, if needed

We meet again

In Texas' postseason rematches over the past 10 years, how have the playoff scores compared to the regular-season results?
  Regular Season Postseason
2017
Texas State
2-1 L; 2-1 L2-1 L; 6-3 W
2017Texas Southern5-0 W8-0 W
2015UCLA5-3 W4-1 L
2014Louisiana-Lafayette10-7 W; 7-3 W3-2 L; 10-1 L
2013Arizona State3-0 L6-3 W
2013 Oklahoma6-1 L; 4-2 W; 5-3 L10-2 L
2012Houston15-4 W10-1 W
2011Texas State2-1 W; 6-2 W2-0 W
2011Houston4-1 W1-0 L

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