In case you missed it, the Texas softball team was picked to finish second in the Big 12 preseason coaches’ poll last week.
What does that mean for the Longhorns? Take note that last year’s preseason poll was identical to the final standings.
Texas did get one first-place vote in the poll, which came from Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso. Rest assured that Gasso’s vote wasn’t because she thinks the Longhorns can dethrone her defending national champions. Coaches are not allowed to vote for their own teams, so Gasso’s vote went to the Longhorns.
The preseason favorites are the Sooners, which should shock no one. In this decade, Oklahoma has been picked to finish first in all but one Big 12 preseason poll. Missouri was picked to win the conference in 2012.
In the words of pro wrestling legend Ric Flair, “To be the man, you gotta beat the man.” Or in this case, women.
Let’s play in some dirt.
Well, hello there: The Longhorns got a nice surprise when Brooke Bolinger and Taylor Ellsworth joined the team as mid-term enrollees.
Both should have an immediate impact on the roster. Bolinger is a left-handed pitcher transfer from the University of Nevada. She gives Texas’ pitching staff a second left-handed option along with senior Tiarra Davis.
Ellsworth is an interesting story. The catcher from Georgetown High School graduated early and is skipping her senior season to join the Longhorns, which were already deep behind the plate with junior Randel Leahy and sophomore Reagan Hathaway.
She could fill in as a designated player and make immediate contributions to the Texas offense, which needed help.
Ellsworth had a stellar high school career at the plate from 2014-16, batting .550 with 21 home runs and 107 RBIs.
In the circle: Texas’ pitching staff has a lot of depth and experience, especially with the addition of Bolinger.
But how do the Longhorns stack up against other experienced staffs from the state of Texas?
There were four schools from Texas in last year’s NCAA Tournament – Baylor, Texas, Texas State and Texas A&M. So for this discussion, we will compare the four.
The Longhorns were second among those teams in opponent batting average (.219) and earned run average (2.42).
Texas State’s staff, which is coached by Longhorn great Cat Osterman, was undeniably the best of the four statistically. The Bobcats had the lowest earned run average (2.13) and most strikeouts (437) and shutouts (18) among the four.
Before anyone lessens those stats to playing in Sun Belt Conference, the Sun Belt hosts one of the top 15 teams in the country – perennial power Louisiana Lafayette. The Ragin Cajuns were a Super Regional finalists last year. Also, seven of the nine teams in the Sun Belt finished with a record above .500. Sure it’s not a premier conference, but it is competitive.
Texas State junior Randi Rupp was third in the nation in strikeouts (335) and was a mere one behind last year’s strikeout champions – Ohio University’s Savannah Jo Doresey and Minnesota’s Sara Groenewegen. Both Doresey and Groeneweagan return in 2017.
Rupp and the Bobcats beat the Longhorns last year, but lost the second game of the home-and-home series. The two teams will renew their rivalry on March 1 at McCombs Field and again on April 5 at Bobcat Stadium in San Marcos.
Extra bases: Ex-Longhorn Lindsey Stephens is making her way back to Central Texas.
The newly relocated Texas Charge of the National Pro Fastpitch league made a trade with the Pennsylvania Rebellion for the former All-American outfielder recently.
In December, the Charge moved from Dallas to Central Texas and will call Texas State’s Bobcat Stadium home in the upcoming 2017 season, which begins in May.
Know your Longhorns: Each week, we’ll take a look at a player on the Longhorns’ roster. This week we introduce you to senior infielder Kelli Hanzel.
The Houston native appeared in 38 games as a freshman, primarily as a pinch runner, but her first career hit was a game-winning RBI-single against Texas Southern in the Texas Classic.
In her junior season, she was one of three players to have five home runs. She also had three extra base hits and 19 RBIs.
Hanzel has a great softball pedigree. She was an alternate for the 2013 USA Softball Junior National Team and helped lead her club team (Texas Gold) to a third place finish at the 2013 ASA National Tournament.
She hit .298 during her junior campaign at Texas, which made her the team’s fourth leading hitter. Hanzel is also a clean fielder as well, with only three errors in 53 games. She had the team’s second-highest fielding percentage (.990).
Trivia: Last week we asked who was Texas’ other player not named Osterman to earn NFCA All-American honors more than twice. The answer: Blaire Luna, who was a NFCA All-American in 2010, 11 and 13. This week’s question involves the Big 12 preseason poll. Since 2000, how many times have the Longhorns been picked to win the Big 12 in the preseason poll. Bonus question: what were the year(s)? (Hint: The number is less than 5.) Check back next week for the answer.
As always, swing for the fences.
News on Bevo Beat is free and unlimited. Access to the rest of Hookem.com is included with an Austin American-Statesman subscription in addition to Statesman.com and the ePaper edition. Subscribe today at statesman.com/subscribe.