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Led by a resurgent McKenzie Parker, No. 7 Texas to measure itself against No. 1 Oklahoma

Texas shortstop McKenzie Parker celebrates a double against Texas Tech in Austin on April 1. She's hitting .415 this season, which is second on the team, and has entrenched herself as the starter at shortstop.

McKenzie Parker insists that she has been a Longhorn since birth.

Parker, a third-year softball player for Texas, was raised in a family of Longhorns fans and grew up attending UT football, baseball and softball games. When she was five, she was a youth-league teammate of future Longhorns All-American Janae Jefferson. As a junior at Willis High School, she even got to play in a state championship game at McCombs Field.

So when Texas offered her a scholarship?

"It was a dream come true, literally," Parker said.

If Texas is indeed a dream come true, then Oklahoma has often been a nightmare for Parker and players like her. OU's 18-game winning streak over Texas dates back to 2014. Parker was a third grader when UT last won two straight games against the Sooners.

The seventh-ranked Longhorns (31-3, 6-0 Big 12) open a three-game series at No. 1 Oklahoma (30-0, 6-0) on Friday.

"This is going to be a super good series," said Parker, the starting shortstop. "I can't wait to get out on the field and play. There are so many good players on both sides of the field."

As a freshman in 2019, Parker pinch-hit once over UT's three home games against Oklahoma. One week before last year's series, the season was canceled by the pandemic.

McKenzie Parker has been one of Texas' most dangerous hitters this season, with five home runs. "McKenzie ... she's got a big arm, she's got a big bat, she moves well," UT coach Mike White said. "She didn't play her best in the games. But something's flipped, the switch flipped."

Parker won't miss out on the action this year. Her .415 batting average ranks second on the team and 10th in the Big 12. Her seven steals are second on the team, too. She's also hit the first five home runs of her career this season.

Texas entered the season knowing it needed to replace former shortstop Kaitlyn Slack, who had moved on and taken a graduate manager's position at Kansas. Despite starting 30 times in 2019 and 2020, Parker was told that she'd be a role player. Texas coach Mike White had long seen Alyssa Washington as Slack's heir.

Washington, a freshman, was indeed the starting shortstop in UT's opener against Wichita State on Feb. 21. But her early-season slump created an opportunity for Parker, who took advantage.

"McKenzie, it wasn't lack of talent. It wasn't lack of the ability to do some things athletically," White said. "She's got a big arm, she's got a big bat, she moves well. She didn't play her best in the games. But something's flipped, the switch flipped."

Now Parker, who has started 22 games this season, has committed four errors. A leaping snap last week against Iowa State, though, is among her defensive highlights.

When asked what's clicked, Parker credited her coaches and improved confidence. But did her early-season spot on the depth chart also give her a boost? 

"(I looked) at it to be really big motivation for myself," she said.

Having already climbed the depth chart, Parker can help Texas ascend the Big 12 standings this weekend. Oklahoma has won the last eight regular season conference championships.

Oklahoma leads the nation in batting average, scoring, slugging percentage, on-base percentage and home runs. Those offensive numbers complement a 1.37 team ERA that ranks sixth.

Oklahoma slugger Jocelyn Alo is contending for the NCAA's equivalent of the triple crown. She's hit a nation-leading 22 home runs, she has 58 RBIs (she and teammate Tiare Jennings, who has 55, are the only players in Division I with more than 50), and she's leading the country in batting average.

"Jocelyn Alo right now is the most focused, dedicated, committed athlete I’ve seen in a long time,” Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso told the Oklahoman earlier this month.  “She is on a mission."

Two years ago in Austin, Texas was once again swept by Oklahoma. Two of the three final scores, however, were close. One game went extra innings.

Beating the Sooners three times this weekend isn't a realistic goal for Texas. White said he'd like the Longhorns to focus on just winning a game in Norman. Since the Sooners are "No. 1 for a reason," he believes this could be a good measuring stick for his team.

"The game is going to roll with the team that plays the best and we've got to do the best we can against them and see what happens," White said. "If we want to get to the final, the World Series, we're going to have to play more teams that are very similar to Oklahoma."