Three years ago, the Longhorns made it to college softball’s spiritual home — Oklahoma City.
After six-straight years of falling short, Texas finally advanced to the Women’s College World Series before failing to reach the championship series.
But that was 2013. The freshmen on that team are now seniors, and with the 2016 season starting Thursday night against Arkansas, they are looking to get back to the Sooner state.
“In previous years, we had people that said, ‘Yeah, we’re going to make it to the World Series,’ but they weren’t necessarily backing it up and actually believing that,” senior outfielder Lindsey Stephens said. “Now, we have all 19 girls who know and believe that we deserve to be in the World Series, and we can do it.”
The Longhorns’ hopes of a return to the World Series are bolstered by the return of all but two players from last year’s squad. Stephens led the team with 15 home runs and 47 RBIs in 2015, while junior third baseman Devon Tunning led the team in batting average.
Senior second baseman Stephanie Ceo — who finished last year with 22 RBIs — said that confidence will be key for the Longhorns.
“If you don’t start every year out as if you are going to be the number one team at the end, the team mentality is very different,” Ceo said.
Texas’ path to Oklahoma City, however, has already hit a roadblock before the season has even begun. The team announced Tuesday that sophomore pitcher Erica Wright will be out indefinitely while nursing a
Wright impressed onlookers in 2015 with a stellar freshman campaign, leading the team with an 18–9 record, 2.42 ERA and 178 strikeouts.
Junior pitcher Tiarra Davis will likely step into the ace role. Davis had a strong freshman season herself before fading back last year, appearing 20 times with a 3.60 ERA an injury. But Davis said dealing with the injury gave her a new outlook on pitching.
“I think my mindset now is better than ever,” Davis said. “Coming back from an injury, you learn how to be a better teammate and student of the game.”
Texas’ matchup with Arkansas is the first of five games that will play this weekend. The Longhorns will also face North Carolina and North Dakota State.
Arkansas enters this season after posting a 16–37 record last season, including just one win in the SEC. North Carolina and North Dakota State are coming off of seasons featuring an NCAA Tournament appearance.
But as the season gets under way, head coach Connie Clark said she’s focused more on how her own team performs rather than the name of the opponent.
“Quite honestly, it’s really about us,” Clark said. “It’s about our execution, us attacking those segment goals that we talked about, having quality at bats and having our pitchers make their pitch.”