Texas' hit queen: Now softball royalty, can Janae Jefferson guide Horns to Big 12 Tournament title?
In the first plate appearance of her Texas career, Janae Jefferson drew a walk.
During the Longhorns' 2-0 win over Incarnate Word on Feb. 9, 2018, the freshman from Humble reached base in her next two at-bats as well — with a single and a triple, driving in runs both times. Later that day, against Wisconsin, she doubled.
Even since then, the hits have kept on coming. On Sunday, the All-America second baseman broke a UT record with the 255th hit of her career in a 5-0 win at Baylor. This week she was voted onto the All-Big 12 team.
"It was just a really exciting moment for me," Jefferson said. "I was truly blessed for the opportunity to be out there."
Jefferson's record hit came in the third inning, when she chopped a single over the head of pitcher Gia Rodini. It moved her past former UT outfielder Brejae Washington, who had 254 hits from 2011 to 2014.
Jefferson mused days later that she would have preferred to enter the record book with a hard liner or a double. But a record hit is a record hit.
Over at first base, she hugged UT assistant coach Megan Bartlett. The Longhorns made sure to retrieve the ball as a keepsake. Washington — a childhood hero of Jefferson's — later reached out on Instagram to congratulate her.
On Twitter after the game, UT catcher Mary Iakopo bragged that her teammate is "the BEST to ever do it." Senior outfielder Kaitlyn Washington insisted that you'll see Jefferson's name if you "Look up GOAT in the dictionary."
Brejae Washington "held the title for quite a while, but records are made to be broken," tweeted former Longhorns coach Connie Clark, who recruited and signed Jefferson and coached her in 2018. "Keep doing great things."
Since the NCAA will forgive her for a 2020 season that was cut short by the pandemic, Jefferson plans to return to UT in 2022. In the future, Texas might need an explanation for a gap that will widen significantly between Jefferson and Washington in its record books.
No asterisk will be necessary for the broken record, though. Jefferson needed only 189 games and 592 at-bats to record her 255 career hits — 217 singles, 29 doubles, four triples and five home runs. Washington played in 235 games and had 697 at-bats.
Jefferson is hitting .429 for her career, a school record by 44 points. If she went hitless in her next 68 at-bats, she'd still be the Longhorns' batting champion.
"I call her Robo Bat," UT coach Mike White said. "She's like a robot out there. If you watch her, it's just consistently, day in, day out, doing the same thing."
Three of Jefferson's hits have come against pitchers who would become her future teammates at Texas — Oregon's Miranda Elish and Ole Miss' Molly Jacobsen. She has recorded a hit at McCombs Field against a pitcher named Shelby McCombs. The pitcher who has appeared the most on Jefferson's hit list? Texas Tech's Erin Edmoundson, who's been tagged for 10 of them.
Sixty-two schools have given up a hit to Jefferson. If you were to arrange those teams alphabetically, the list would range from Alabama to Wisconsin. If we're sorting by numbers of hits allowed, Iowa State's 16 top the list.
Jefferson will get a few more swings against Iowa State on Friday at the Big 12 Tournament in Oklahoma City. Texas, which is ranked 10th, has been placed in a pool with Iowa State (31-19) and No. 9 Oklahoma State (40-8).
Based on how it fares in Friday's pool play, Texas (38-9) will play No. 1 Oklahoma (42-2), Baylor (27-18) or Texas Tech (19-25) on Saturday. Texas last won the Big 12 Tournament in 2005.
"I feel like we're at the moment where we're starting to peak and starting to actually climb a little bit and getting better throughout the season," Jefferson said. "I feel like as of right now, we're ready for any team to go against."
Only Oklahoma (.420) and Long Island University (.358) nationally are hitting better than the Longhorns, who hit .355 in the regular season.
Texas, however, is just 3-9 against teams that are currently ranked. Six of those losses have come in Big 12 play. The Longhorns were outscored 30-3 in their three-game series sweep against Oklahoma. Oklahoma State also swept its series with Texas.