Staring intently from the circle, the Longhorn pitcher nods her head after receiving a signal from catcher Amy Hooks and then starts her wind up with a ferocious look.
When most Texas fans hear this description, they immediately think of All-American Blaire Luna, but in this case, it’s freshman Rachel Fox ready to deliver the heat. And deliver she has in her first year.
Fox has been just as good as advertised, coming in as a two-time Gatorade Texas softball Player of the Year and helping her high-school team to three state titles. Texas head coach Connie Clark attributes Fox’s success to mental toughness.
“She is always ready to go, very assertive and gets herself prepared. She is as solidly mentally as a freshman as anyone we have ever had, I think that’s why she’s had a lot of success this year,” Clark said. “She doesn’t get consumed with something that just happened — she just wants the ball and is ready to compete on the next pitch.”
Fox has been lights-out this year in the circle, holding an 11-1 record, a 1.07 ERA and 74 strikeouts in 11 complete games. These impressive numbers can be attributed to quite a few things — her overall talent or the excellent defense and hitters behind her, but when asked about her success this year, Fox feels one thing is paramount.
“I’ve always prided myself in being very mentally tough, and that’s a very big aspect and a very important piece of me because I think if you’re not mentally tough as a pitcher, your team won’t be able to rely on you in key situations,” she said.
The team has come to rely on her this year as a second option to Luna. Texas lacked a solid No. 2 last season, but Fox’s arrival allows the team’s everyday starter a degree of rest.
“It’s phenomenal,” Clark said about having a reliable pitcher behind Luna.
Fox might be a complement to Luna on the pitching staff, but their demeanors on the field couldn’t be more different. Luna is blank-faced in the circle, never revealing how she’s feeling, while Fox is an intimidating presence, unafraid to go right at hitters and challenge them.
“She’s nasty in the circle. With Luna, that was something we needed to work on. You know what you need to take control of the zone — if you need to get someone up off the plate, get them off the plate to set up to beat them low and outside, and Fox does that,” Clark said. “You definitely don’t have that issue with her; she’s definitely not too nice out in the circle.”
The boldness that Fox displays on the field in challenging hitters can be seen off it as well, She does not shy away from revealing who she wants a shot at this year.
“I’d sure like to get a piece of OU,” Fox said.
When she finally gets to face Oklahoma this year, she will probably go right at hitters with her fastball but she also possesses a dangerous change of pace in her off-speed pitches.
“It depends on the day, but day in and day out, I would say the off-speed stuff is my favorite because it makes the batter look funny and it’s fun to play with and make batters look silly, plus it keeps hitters off-balance,” Fox said.
Fox will look to continue to make hitters look as silly as possible the rest of the year, and the team will look to the pitching staff to help carry the load in Big 12 play. Texas’ first conference road trip begins this weekend in Stillwater, Okla. with a pair of games versus Oklahoma State.
“Fox absolutely competes and has a tremendous fire, and you need that in any position out there,” Clark said. “She has that fire in the circle with her, and the duo between her and Luna is phenomenal, and we plan to take full advantage of that.”
Back to the present: Fox finishes her windup and releases the ball — knowing the hitter is expecting heat, and sure enough, the hitter walks away from the plate looking silly. But Fox isn’t looking; she’s already moved on to the next batter.