When he was hired away from Oregon last June, Mike White probably didn’t think he’d need to leave Austin to find warm weather to play softball.
But as Texas opened its season with four wins at home this past weekend, the Longhorns played one triple-header in 30-degree conditions and had two games that were postponed by weather.
White, though, kept things in perspective: “I bet you in about three months, I’ll be wishing for some weather like this.”
Texas won’t have to pack any heavy coats for this week’s trip to Clearwater, Fla. It will be humid over the three-day stay at the St. Pete/Clearwater Elite Invitational, but the forecast calls for highs in the 70s. Also heating up will be the level of Texas’ competition. The 11th-ranked Longhorns (4-0) plays No. 8 LSU (6-0) on Friday and then No. 18 Kentucky (2-3) on Saturday.
“We’re excited about it, just playing SEC schools and getting our feet wet,” second baseman Janae Jefferson said. “Another chance to get more wins on our name.”
The Longhorns beat Boston College twice at the Texas Classic and recorded decisive wins over Boise State and Northwestern State. Texas outscored its guests 32-3. Three of those games were ended in the fifth inning by a mercy rule.
The 32 runs were UT’s most over a four-game stretch since February 2017. Fifteen Longhorns scored runs and 10 players drove in at least one run. Each of the 11 players who recorded at least five at-bats exited the weekend with at least a .333 average. Texas was also 8-for-8 on attempted steals, and freshman Janna Roberts’ swiping of home plate capped Sunday’s 9-1win over Boston College.
Over the first four games of last season, Texas scored 12 runs. The Longhorns went onto rank 227th nationally with a per-game average of 3.46 runs.
“(Our offense has) come alive this season,” Jefferson said. “I feel like that has something to do with the coaching staff that’s been brought in. They told us to be intense in everything we do.”
Added sophomore Mary Iakopo, who has hit UT’s only home run so far: “I think we’re just getting the ball rolling. I can’t wait to see what we do in Florida.”
Not to rain on UT’s parade — meteorologists did enough of that last weekend — but the opening tests of the season were rudimentary. Boston College last reached the NCAA tournament in 2003 and started eight different freshmen in its two games against Texas. Boise State was breaking in a new coach. Northwestern State has lost its last 12 games against Big 12 teams.
Things will soon get tougher, though. On Thursday, Texas gets a Cal team that has earned a shutout in two of its three wins. Florida Atlantic, which is UT’s first opponent on Friday, held its own in a 4-1 loss to No. 10 Georgia last week.
Texas bested LSU in a fall scrimmage, but the Tigers have opened their season with six blowout wins and a run differential of 71. White said LSU specializes in speed and pitching depth, and he also applauded Missouri transfer Amanda Sanchez (.692 batting average, 11 RBIs, 10 runs). White, whose Oregon team gave up four home runs to Kentucky in last year’s super regional, said the Wildcats can still “bomb the ball.”
“Right now, we’ve got to stay grounded,” he said. “We can’t start drinking our own Kool-Aid and start saying we’re there because we’re not. We still need to be confident, we have to be confident that we can play with the best. The only way you find out is by facing them.”
With its strong start, Texas climbed five spots to the 11th slot in the USA Today/NFCA national poll. The Longhorns were last listed this high in 2014. That year, Texas was ranked 10th in the coaching organization’s preseason poll.
Thursday-Saturday, Clearwater, Fla.
Thursday — No. 11 Texas vs. Cal, noon, ESPNU, 105.3
Friday — No. 11 Texas vs. Florida Atlantic, 11:30 a.m., 105.3; No. 11 Texas vs. No. 8 LSU, 3 p.m., ESNU, 105.3
Saturday — No. 11 Texas vs. No. 18 Kentucky, 9 a.m., SEC Network, 105.3