Just two days removed from splitting a doubleheader against No. 10 Louisiana on Tuesday, the No. 3 Longhorns are making a trip to the west coast for a matchup with No. 1 UCLA.
The Longhorns are now 2–1 on the season when facing ranked opponents, with the 1–1 record against the Ragin’ Cajuns and a blowout win over No. 12 Tennessee in the Puerto Vallarta College Challenge. This next stretch of games will see them face off against the top-ranked Bruins on Thursday before playing No. 2 Washington the following night. Texas is now entering the thick of their season — the Longhorns are scheduled to play 10 of the USA Today/NFCA Coaches Top 25 teams.
“It’s about trust (between the players and coaches),” Texas head coach Mike White said when asked about the upcoming games against top-ranked opponents. “They (the players) don’t watch hours and hours of tape like we do. … We give them the game plan, and we have to stick to that.”
One of the key players that Texas will rely on in this road trip is senior outfielder Shannon Rhodes. Before the Feb. 19 win over North Texas, White rearranged the lineup so Rhodes would bat leadoff, and the senior out of Fort Worth, Texas, has responded by going on a 10-game hitting streak. Over that stretch, she is hitting .400.
Rhodes’ newfound home near the top of the lineup — whether that be batting first as she did in against North Texas or second as she did against Louisiana — has given her the opportunity to set the tone offensively for a Texas team that is averaging 10.3 hits per game.
Despite the fact that Rhodes often hits with no runners on base, she has still managed to record six RBIs in this 10-game hitting streak. Her ability to get hits in high-pressure moments has also been integral to Texas’ success this season. In the second game of the doubleheader against Louisiana, she drove a double into the outfield that scored the game-winning run.
“As a whole, we are working toward championship-level play,” Rhodes said. “Our defense is really starting to come together, and our offense is starting to do some things in big situations.”
The stakes do not get much higher than playing the No. 1 team in the nation on the road. Thursday’s matchup against UCLA is the first time the Longhorns will enter a contest as the underdogs. The Bruins are still undefeated at 15–0 and have outscored their opponents 130-20 on the season.
These are the types of games that will test the Longhorns and prepare them for a potential postseason run.
“Everybody is going to be scrappy from now on,” Rhodes said. “You’re not going to see very many run rules … so I think this is great to prepare us for what’s to come.”