In the final weekend tournament before conference play begins, the Longhorns are slated to take on one of the most anticipated opponents of the season in a rematch of 2019’s super regional: No. 10 Alabama.
Last year, a lot of questions surrounded the Longhorn softball program. Texas head coach Mike White had just moved from Oregon and several of Texas’ star players, including senior pitcher Miranda Elish and junior utility player Lauren Burke had come with him. The Oregonians wasted no time in helping propel Texas to a place amongst the elites, as the Longhorns finished 46–17 in 2019 and earned a spot in the Super Regionals.
“I feel like having Coach White for the second time under our belts, it really gets us closer,” junior infielder Janae Jefferson said.
Texas advanced to the Super Regionals as a No. 9 seed, with No. 8 seed Alabama to beat in order to reach the Women’s College World Series. Texas dropped the first game of the series but managed a huge comeback in the second game to force a deciding third game.
But in that second game, Elish suffered a nasty face injury when then-sophomore catcher Mary Iakopo threw to second, striking Elish in the face and forcing a trip to the emergency room. Elish missed Game 3, when Texas fell 8–5 to miss the Women’s College World Series.
“There is a little added motivation just because it’s kind of a revenge game,” Jefferson said. “It’s huge motivation going into them.”
This year, Texas looks for a different outcome in their two regular season games against the Crimson Tide. Elish has come back from injury stronger than ever, entering this weekend’s tournament coming off the second perfect game of her career. Elish will look to replicate that performance this weekend.
“I was just executing my pitches really well,” Elish said. “I was throwing really quality pitches and that’s what coach White really stresses and we saw really good results from that.”
Jefferson also looks to exact revenge this weekend. Last year, Jefferson had six hits and two runs in the Longhorns’ series against Alabama. This year, she will enter the weekend with Big 12 Player of the Week honors after raising her batting average from .516 to .554 in an incredible 9-for-12 performance the past weekend.
“(I was) basically just being more aggressive on the count,” said Jefferson. “I feel like that’s where my success really gets better, when I’m being more aggressive on the count.”
Jefferson’s excellent batting and second base play from last season isn’t the only reason White will look to lean on her in the big games this weekend.
“The thing is to keep your heartbeat between 80 and 60,” said White. “Janae Jefferson has learned some of that as she’s going along … she seems to be pretty cool, calm, collected out there.”
The Longhorns have already knocked off five ranked opponents this season, and are eager to make it six in Tuscaloosa.