Texas talent secures softball victories against sister schools

Nicholas Pannes

The Longhorns reminded everyone who the top team in Texas is after beating fellow University of Texas system schools UT Arlington and UT San Antonio 2-1 and 8-0, respectively.

That said, it still wasn’t a walk in the park for the Longhorns, at least in their first game against UT Arlington.

Despite Texas’ impressive slugging this season, the Mavericks managed to turn the contest into a pitcher’s duel. The Longhorns leaned heavily on sophomore pitcher Shea O’Leary to keep them in the game. And once again, O’Leary dominated from the circle, showing everyone why she’s a contender for 2021’s USA Softball Player of the Year award.

“I thought we got a really good pitching performance from Shea O’Leary,” Texas head coach Mike White said. “We had one long inning there where we didn’t help her out at all and they scored a run. Fortunately our defense stayed strong after that point. (O’Leary) really dominated today.”

O’Leary pitched all seven innings for the Longhorns, recording a career-high nine strikeouts and only one walk against 25 batters faced.

Still, despite O’Leary’s efforts, the Mavericks came in with a strong pitching core of their own. With the game tied 1-1 after six innings, sophomore shortstop McKenzie Parker executed a perfect squeeze bunt in the seventh to walk Texas off.

White said he would’ve liked to see his squad score more points throughout the game, but applauded their toughness in hanging on for the win. White echoed his mantra after the game, which his team seems to have taken to heart this season.

“We have to bend, not break. Especially going into conference (play), we’re gonna be in a lot of tight ball games,” White said. “We’re starting to get a little better on defense, especially in the outfield, (but) we’ve gotta learn how to score runs in a timely fashion.”

Senior outfielder Shannon Rhodes had her team’s scoring covered as she notched an incredible three home runs in the Longhorns’ second game against the UTSA Roadrunners.

“I mean two (home runs is) tough, but three is just tremendous, especially off of a secondary pitcher who was throwing well at the time. Kudos to her, great job,” White said. “And she even struggled a little bit in the first game, so it just goes to show you can’t let one or two bad at-bats ruin your whole day.”

Rhodes hit three home runs in three at-bats and batted in six of the team’s eight runs. It was Rhodes’ second career multi-home run performance and tied Tallie Thrasher’s 11-year-old record for most home runs in a single game at Texas.

But O’Leary and Rhodes weren’t the only bright spots for the Longhorns on Saturday. Freshman pitcher Ryleigh White and graduate transfer pitcher Molly Jacobsen combined for seven strikeouts across five innings as they kept the Roadrunners scoreless. White also praised freshman utility player Alyssa Popelka, who has batted .857 over her past three games and went a perfect 5-5 on Saturday.

“Popelka had a great day today,” White said postgame. “If we can get her doing that at the bottom of the lineup it’s going to kickstart (our offense). Especially once we get (Janae) Jefferson back in the full swing, it’s going to be nice for our club.”