Not since the height of Texas’ first head coach Connie Clark’s program has the Texas softball team reached such heights. The team will try to continue that level of success in the 2020 Longhorn Invitational, which starts Friday.
Over the course of the last eight days, the No. 3 Longhorns defeated the No. 1, 2, 10 and 13-ranked programs in the country to push Texas to a record of 4–1 against ranked teams so far in their strong start to the season.
Last week’s wins brought the Longhorns up to 174 runs scored in their first 23 games, which averages out to about seven runs a game. This staggering figure broke the previous record by 15 runs, and is just one of the reasons Texas has been able to hold its own against the nation’s elite.
Texas’ 20–3 start to the season has been led in part by junior utility player Lauren Burke and junior infielder Janae Jefferson, who are now the Big 12 leaders in doubles and hits, respectively.
“(Lauren) struggled to start the season,” Texas head coach Mike White said in an availability last week. “But I know Lauren … I know what she can do. She’s a streaky kind of player, and I rode that streak (last week) ... and she made me look good.”
At the Texas Invitational this weekend, the Longhorns will play four games at home, none of which will be against teams with winning records. While Texas has yet to fall to such a team this season, this weekend will test the team’s ability to remain focused on winning even with the hype surrounding this program.
“That’s what you’re afraid of,” White said. “Like I told the ladies … we don’t want to work this hard, get this far and then all of the sudden stub our toe … But we want those expectations. We want that pressure.”
Each weekend, a different Texas player has found a way to stand out. Last week, freshman pitcher and utility player Courtney Day seemed to shine, hitting two home runs against Fresno State on Saturday. Burke also looked spectacular, with five runs scored and 11 hits on the week. Senior pitcher Miranda Elish, despite picking up her third loss in the circle, showed no signs of slowing with 11 strikeouts against Fresno State.
With many players still battling for positions, it’s never certain who will get the chance to perform. For example, earlier this season sophomore infielder McKenzie Parker played a fantastic game in an exhibition match against the Mexican Olympic team in Puerto Vallarta. She wound up batting 2-for-4 with three RBIs, two runs, a triple and a home run. As a result of her performance, Parker earned time last week against Boise State and Fresno State.
As lineups shift and the hype continues to mount, Texas will have to stick with what they know to avoid falling short in a weekend full of opportunities to slip up.
“You can’t look at any of that stuff because you don’t want to get in your head,” sophomore pitcher Shealyn O’Leary said. “Don’t let it. Just go out there and have fun.”