If you listen at McCombs Field this weekend, you’ll be able to hear Janae Jefferson’s softball story played out.
Like her teammates, Texas’ sophomore second baseman is accompanied to every at-bat with songs of her choosing as she walks to the plate. The Longhorns will need Jefferson’s soundtrack played on a loop this week. She’s hitting .431 with 30 runs scored, 18 RBIs and nine steals. No. 11-ranked Texas hosts No. 1 Oklahoma for a three-game series starting Thursday. All three games are sold out.
Jefferson has picked the works of Migos, Nelly and Drake for her walk-up songs. And each one was selected for a different reason.
“Batter Up” (Nelly and the St. Lunatics)
Jefferson picked Nelly’s 2001 baseball-themed anthem after it was suggested by her father, Vincent. Call it the Jefferson family’s theme song, Janae says.
Baseball, after all, is a pastime in the Jefferson home. Vincent Jefferson jokes that his daughter inherited her fielding and speed from him and the ability to hit from her uncle. She has a cousin who saved 142 games over 17 major league seasons. Most importantly to Janae, her older brother, Jalen, also was into baseball.
Jalen Jefferson is four years older than his sister. So when six-year-old Janae saw him playing baseball, she insisted on grabbing a glove. Their mother, Catherine, hesitated at letting her play baseball with the boys so the family instead found a softball league in Humble for her.
“She was so good at it from day one,” Vincent Jefferson recalled. “We knew she was special at six, we really did.”
Jefferson was a three-sport star at Aldine Nimitz, earning all-district honors in basketball and volleyball. But softball, she said, was her “first love.” She committed to Texas when she was a freshman.
Former UT outfielders Lindsey Stephens and Brejae Washington were Jefferson’s childhood heroes; she was one of the top-rated outfielders in the 2017 recruiting cycle and had never played second base. But former coach Connie Clark moved her there for the 2018 season opener. She drew a leadoff walk and later drove in both of UT’s runs in a shutout of Incarnate Word.
Jefferson soon became the first UT freshman to record a hit in each of her first eight games. She led Texas in batting average (.392) and runs (30), and her 74 hits rank second in the school’s record books. At the end of the season, she earned NFCA All-American accolades; Cat Osterman, Lindsay Gardner and Blaire Luna had previously been the only UT freshmen to receive that honor.
“Even when people are announcing and they say ‘Janae Jefferson, All-American,’ it gives me butterflies,” Jefferson said. “I still can’t believe that I received that award.”
“Walk It Talk It” (Migos)
Jefferson picked one of Migos’ biggest hits because it’s “a good hype song.” The word uttered quite often in the headline and chorus doesn’t really apply to Jefferson’s game, though. This year, she’s drawn only eight walks.
Still, she has had no problem getting on base. In the Big 12, Jefferson’s 59 hits trail only the 61 by Oklahoma’s Sydney Romero. If Jefferson was to never pick up a bat again, her .408 career average would stand as a school record.
In a 4-3 win at UT-Arlington on Tuesday, Jefferson went 2-for-4, her 21st multi-hit game of the season. In 44 games, 10 opponents have held Jefferson hitless.
“She’s a spark plug, she’s the one that gets it going,” Texas coach Mike White said. “She knows the essence of the game and how to win and that’s what I love about her offensively.”
Added UT leadoff hitter Reagan Hathaway: “She’s got a lot of tools in her toolbox. My goal is to get on base so that she can do something after me.”
Jefferson has yet to hit a home run as a Longhorn, although she insists she does go deep in practices at McCombs Field. Opposing scouting reports will show that the 5-4 Jefferson is better equipped to play the small ball anyway. Batting left-handed, Jefferson has successfully put down 13 bunt singles in 2019.
Due to an aggressive approach and a desire to avoid two-strike counts, strikeouts are almost as rare as homers for Jefferson. In 137 at-bats this spring, she’s struck out twice. Jefferson joins Eastern Kentucky’s Sammi Miller, South Dakota’s Alyssa Fernandez and Fresno State’s Rachel Minogue as the only players in the country with 125 at-bats and two or fewer strikeouts.
Last year, Jefferson struck out seven times. Only two of those were recorded over her 25 plate appearances against pitchers who ended the season ranked third (Texas State’s Randi Rupp), 11th (Arizona’s Taylor McQuillin), 13th (Baylor’s Gia Rodoni), 15th (Michigan’s Meghan Beaubien) and 17th (Oregon’s Miranda Elish) nationally in strikeouts.
“I try not to get upset because I know everyone is going to strike out eventually. Even the best strike out,” Jefferson said. “But yeah, I take it personal. I know it’s natural and this is a game of failure.”
“Big Rings” (Drake)
In Jefferson’s mind, Drake might as well be talking about the Longhorns when he declares “‘Cause I got a really big team, and they need some really big rings.”
Says Jefferson: “It’s basically describing our year and hopefully we’re chasing rings this year.”
Following Tuesday’s close call in Arlington, Texas is 36-9 and ranked 11th in the country. With 10 games remaining in the regular season, Texas has already surpassed its win totals from 2017 and 2018. Eight of the Longhorns’ wins have come against foes currently ranked.
An Oklahoma team that has outscored its opponents 328-46 will provide UT with its biggest test. The Big 12’s seven-time defending champion, Oklahoma (38-2) has won the last 15 games in this series.
“There’s a lot of situations where there’s teams that have dominated other teams for however many years and sometimes you’ve just got to say enough is enough,” Hathaway said. “That’s what we want to do this weekend. We’re tired of getting beaten by them and it feels like our time. We’re just going to go out there and play our game and do what we know how to do.”
Catching Oklahoma in the Big 12 may be unrealistic since Texas has already lost three conference games. The Longhorns, however, could be in line to host an NCAA regional for the first time since 2013. It has also been nearly six years since Texas last reached the Women’s College World Series, but Jefferson has confidence that his year’s team can get there.
“I absolutely do think this is a team that can make it to Oklahoma City,” Jefferson said. “We’re just excited about this year and think that we can make it to the end.”
This week’s series
No. 1 Oklahoma at No. 11 Texas, Thursday-Saturday, McCombs Field, LHN, 105.3
6 p.m. Thursday, 6 p.m. Friday, 1 p.m. Saturday