No. 11 Texas dispatches McNeese State at home before hitting the road to Florida — again
No. 11 Texas flexed new talent Wednesday night at McCombs Field, as three freshmen made their UT debuts in an 8-4 home-opening victory over McNeese State, two days before its road trip to the St. Pete/Clearwater Invitational.
One of those freshmen, pitcher Sophia Simpson, made her first career start and pitched four innings. She struck out the first batter of the game, a sign of things to come. Eight more would follow.
"I honestly just wanted to show my stuff," Simpson said. "I know I have the ability."
Simpson ran into trouble in the fourth inning, as McNeese loaded the bases on a hit up the middle by Caleigh Cross. The UT freshman got out of the inning unscathed thanks to a strikeout and ground out to third.
“I’ve been in that situation before and I know I can get out of it,” said Simpson, who's one of three new pitchers who are working alongside returnee Shea O'Leary. “I just have to trust myself and my teammates always.”
Simpson lost some of that steeliness in the fifth, though, walking one batter and allowing two runs to score. She gave way to a pair of new transfers, Logan Hulon (Houston) and Estelle Czech (North Carolina State), who pitched the rest of the way.
The Longhorns had jumped out to a five-run lead in the second by finding a soft spot in the McNeese State right field. In the fourth, Mia Scott sent a shot up the middle and turned it into a sliding triple. In the sixth, she squeezed in yet another triple, tying a UT single-game record.
“She is very blessed with athletic speed,” Texas coach Mike White said. “(Scott’s) almost like a mini Janae (Jefferson) when you look back at her freshman year. That’s obviously some big shoes to fill, but having those two at the top of your order, they really help us.”
Wednesday's win marked the start of a long weekend for Texas. On Friday, the Longhorns will head to Florida for the second straight weekend, a time in February that's often reserved for the Texas Classic at home. Ten of the team's first 11 games will be on the road. This year's Classic doesn't start until Thursday.
White said Texas purposely scheduled the first two weekends of the season away from home because of potential weather issues. Last year, the Longhorns had to cancel their first nine games of the season due to the winter storm that shut down much of the state.
One year later, in Wednesday's home opener, Austin hit a high of 77 degrees.
"It can wear on you, so we've got to be aware of that," White said about road trips. “You’ve got to make sure they keep up with schoolwork and everything else so they don’t get too far behind and get stressed out.”
In Florida, Texas will play four ranked teams, including No. 3 UCLA and No. 5 Florida State.
“It’s gonna be tough,” he said. “But this is why we play this kind of game. We want to find out what we’ve got, find out what we need to work on, and that’s the goal of the weekend.”