Longhorns need every win they can get to ensure NCAA tournament berth

Claire Cruz

As the regular season winds down, every game remaining on Texas’ schedule is crucial to its postseason hopes.

The Longhorns are currently ranked fourth in the Big 12 following their series sweep of Oklahoma State and will likely end the season in third. Oklahoma is the heavy favorite to win a fifth-straight conference championship and clinch the automatic tournament bid. 

“With OU being so far out in front right now, it comes down to RPI,” head coach Connie Clark said. “As we get down the stretch, every win matters, so we have to come out and really take care of business.”

Texas is No. 32 in the NCAA RPI rankings, which is based on a team’s strength of schedule and its record at home, on the road and at neutral sites. The Longhorns can boost that standing — and their potential seeding in the postseason — if they sweep their last two conference series against Kansas and Iowa State, which is definitely possible. 

A pair of Wednesday games against Texas Southern and North Texas will give the Longhorns a chance to fine-tune their play and cushion their record. Arguably the toughest contest remaining is the season finale against Baylor, which won the first two games of the series back in March.

More consistent offensive production and better control in the pitching circle will be key factors in Texas’ ability to win out.

Offensively, junior shortstop Devon Tunning hasn’t been up to par at the plate. She led the Longhorns in batting average and on-base percentage in 2015 but is hitting just .230 this season, and her struggles to get on base have moved her from the lead-off spot to the six hole in the lineup. 

“[Devon’s] been working through some things,” Clark said. “Hitting well is about confidence, so we have to get her confidence back. We’ve been working during the week to do that, so we’ll just have to stay at it because we really need it.” 

Fortunately for Texas, sophomore pitcher Paige von Sprecken has proved to be an offensive weapon. She currently boasts a .480 batting average, and her 14 RBIs are fourth-best on the team. Von Sprecken has a knack for delivering big hits when Texas needs them most, and Clark has rewarded her with more plate appearances.

In the circle, von Sprecken and the rest of the Longhorn staff are still issuing too many free passes. Clark said that Davis was struggling through some physical things during the Oklahoma State series and that the sophomores on the staff will be ready to produce if they’re called on.

“We work well together,” von Sprecken said. “Coach Clark has said many times that it takes a village, and we prove that.” 

Clark has praised her team for being deep throughout the roster, and that quality will be leaned upon as Texas looks to finish the season strong.