Horns get last opportunity to tune up for conference play against Houston

Jacob Martella

Compared to past seasons, the start of the 2014 campaign has been bumpy.

Texas has, at times, looked like the team that ended a seven-year Women’s College World Series drought last season while, at other times, struggled to take advantage with runners in scoring position. The Longhorns have had winning streaks of four and six games and losing streaks of four and five games.

But, with conference play beginning this weekend, there’s a chance for the Longhorns to start anew with their the goal of winning their first Big 12 title since 2010. 

They’ll have one last chance to tune up for the conference schedule tonight against Houston.

This season hitting has generally not been an issue for the Longhorns. After this weekend, Texas ranked first in the Big 12 in batting average and second in on-base percentage. Sophomore right-fielder Lindsey Stephens leads the conference in home runs and total bases.

But the Achilles’ heel for the Longhorn offense is taking advantage of run-scoring opportunities. In 32 games, Texas has left 251 runners on base. On Feb. 12, against UTSA, the Longhorns loaded the bases in five innings but only managed to score two runs — both coming on an error and hit batter.

While it has improved in recent games — the Longhorns are averaging six runners left on base in the past five games — sophomore first baseman Holly Kern said it’s something the team continues to work on.

“I feel like we’re finally stringing things together and [getting] a little momentum on our side,” Kern said.

The struggles on offense haven’t helped out a pitching staff that’s been a concern for Texas after the departure of Blaire Luna and Kim Bruins.

Tiarra Davis, freshman pitcher and first-baseman, is the top candidate for the ace spot. She leads the team with a 2.36 ERA, 10 complete games and 91 strikeouts. Junior pitcher and utility Gabby Smith has also been solid this season with a 9-3 record and a 2.85 ERA in 73.2 innings.

While pitching is still a concern for head coach Connie Clark, she said that she has seen improvement in both Davis and fellow freshman Lauren Slatten.

“I think we’re seeing some very, very good things in [Davis], and we’ll bring Lauren along as well,” Clark said.

Texas will face Houston for the second time this season. The two teams met on March 6 in the Judi Garman Classic when Davis shutdown the Cougars in a 5-1 Longhorn win.

With Baylor approaching this weekend, Kern said the team is looking forward to conference play.

“We’re ready for the games to start counting and start playing those three-game series,” Kern said.