Strong slugging, closeout defense continues to be key to success for Texas softball

Nicholas Pannes

A walk-off home run is ever-elusive. 

It’s a feat that softball players across the country hope to accomplish in their careers. Rarely are players put in the position to end the game with one swing of the bat, and even less often can they actually manage to hit it out of the park to seal the deal.

But on Friday afternoon, Texas redshirt junior utility player Taylor Ellsworth and senior outfielder Shannon Rhodes both got to realize that dream.

The Longhorns returned to form in their back-to-back victories against Tarleton State and Texas Southern University on Friday. Powerful hitting, complemented by a solid defensive performance, propelled Texas to run-rule victories in both of their games.

Their first victory came against Tarleton State, a former NCAA Division II powerhouse that’s struggled in on-field performance since making the adjustment to Division I last year.

The Longhorns exploited an inexperienced Tarleton State bullpen to consistently load the bases off the back of a series of walks and hits-by-pitch. A left center double by Ellsworth helped push Texas’s lead to 6-1 by the bottom of the second inning.

Seeking relief in their rotation, Tarleton State swapped through three different pitchers early on in the contest. Tarleton State temporarily regained control to stem their hemorrhage of free base-hits and walks, but the damage had already been done.

The Longhorns kept tacking on runs as the game neared a close, with a walk-off home run from Ellsworth sealing a victory by mercy rule in the bottom of the sixth inning. She finished the game with three RBIs off of two hits.

On the other side of the ball for Texas, junior pitcher Ariana Adams, who had struggled to find playing time over the past two seasons, had a lights-out performance.

Head coach Mike White didn’t hesitate to sing her praises after the game.

“She’s got a great pitch,” White said in a post-game interview. “When she works ahead she can use her (pitching) speed, and it’s deadly. She did an excellent job today … throwing first-pitch strikes just about all the time.”

The second contest was much of the same for Texas. Consistent, strong hitting from standout players such as sophomore catcher Colleen Sullivan, Rhodes and All-American junior second baseman Janae Jefferson paved the way for another high-scoring performance.

Solid defense by the Longhorns kept Texas Southern out of reach for most of the game. Aside from two runs scored in the second inning off of a fielding error by Texas, the Tigers were scoreless the rest of the day.

When they did manage to stack the bases and threaten a score, highlight-reel efforts from Texas fielders stamped out the Tigers’ hopes. Texas Southern’s last at-bat, with runners on first and second, ended on a behind-the-back catch by Jefferson to close out the top of the fifth inning.

By the bottom of the fifth, a dejected Texas Southern dugout looked up to see Rhodes blast a walk-off grand slam right down center field. The home-run bonanza on Friday was a welcome sight, White said.

“It’s always great to see our power batters come through,” White said.