Erica Wright

Photo Credit: Anthony Mireles | Daily Texan Staff

While it’s just a number, 850 signified something greater for 22-year coaching veteran Connie Clark on Thursday night.

Lifted by a three-run shot from senior first baseman Paige von Sprecken in the fifth inning, Clark picked up her 850th career victory as head coach of the Texas program, as the Longhorns (10–11) edged out Coastal Carolina (14–11) for a 5-3 win in Conway, South Carolina.

“(850 wins) means I’ve been doing this a long time with a lot of great athletes,” Clark said. “Most important (thing) about tonight was getting back into the win column.”

The Longhorns jumped out ahead in the first inning after freshman second baseman Janae Jefferson scored from third base on a sacrifice fly to left field by freshman third baseman MK Tedder.

In the second inning, the Texas offense added another run, reversing a recent inability to capitalize on opponents’ mistakes. Following an error to start the inning that allowed senior designated player Randel Leahy to reach base, sophomore shortstop Kaitlyn Slack stepped to the plate and poked an RBI single to right field, giving the Longhorns a 2-0 lead.

But Coastal Carolina quickly responded in the bottom of the frame. With two runners on base, junior designated player Natalie David shifted momentum back in the Chanticleers’ favor with a three-run shot to left field off junior pitcher Erica Wright to give Coastal Carolina a 3-2 lead.

Following a scoreless fourth inning, the Longhorns rallied in the fifth with consecutive singles from Jefferson and junior center fielder Ki’Audra Hayter. With opportunity knocking, von Sprecken roped a three-run home run down the left field line to give the Longhorns a 5-3 lead.

“Off the bat it felt pretty good, so I had a feeling it was going out,” von Sprecken said. “It’s just nice to give the team the lead and get us back in the win column.”

Senior pitcher Kristen Clark took matters from there, shutting down Coastal Carolina in the final three innings to the tune of one hit and two strikeouts to cement the Texas win.

“We’ve had a really challenging schedule, but we’ve competed well with all of our opponents,” von Sprecken said. “Getting back in the win column lets us feel more comfortable going into this weekend, and especially heading into conference.”

Photo Credit: Brooke Crim | Daily Texan Staff

Losing to the No. 1 team in the country by a single run is a tough pill to swallow.

But the Longhorns (4–5) will have to move on anyway as they attempt to rebound this weekend from their Wednesday night loss to the top-ranked Washington Huskies.

The midweek matchup against the Huskies was a nail-biter, coming down to the final inning. The Longhorns fell, 2-1, but still put up a tough fight against the best team in the country.

“I think we have high expectations,” Texas head coach Connie Clark said. “I think they have a good sense of reality and understand that it’s about a season — it’s not about what we are going to do this weekend or the next two weekends.”

Moving forward to this weekend, the team will play five games at home in the Texas Invitational, three of which are against ranked opponents. The opening game of the tournament for Texas will be a doubleheader Friday against No. 20 Michigan and Wichita State.

Five games are a lot for one weekend and can wear down the roster with game after game. But Texas boasts depth that should prove to be an important weapon.

“I think it’s definitely an advantage that we have six pitchers,” senior captain Randel Leahy said. “Having six pitchers allows us to take someone out of the bullpen and have the opponent not know what to expect.”

Texas’ pitchers include seniors Paige von Sprecken and Kristen Clark, juniors Erica Wright and Brooke Bolinger and freshmen Chloe Romero and Ariana Adams. Among the pitchers, a camaraderie has already started developing.

“Within the team, we like to say we have the squad within the squad, because you’ll look around and we are always together,” redshirt junior pitcher Erica Wright said. “I wouldn’t say we are competitive — we are more supportive of each other, and I think that’s what’s great about it. Like we all want each other to do well, but if not, we have each others’ backs.”

With all of those pitchers comes a ton of different styles of pitching. Some prefer the rise ball, some prefer a good fastball, while others love the changeup. The teams’ two catchers, Leahy and sophomore Taylor Ellsworth, have had to learn to adjust to each pitcher.

“Everyone brings something different to the table,” Ellsworth said. “Catching every single one of them, they are all different in their own way. When we’re hitting against them, they give us a struggle.”

This weekend is a chance for the Longhorns to right the ship early in the season. Coming away from the Texas Invitational with a winning record would set the tone for the rest of the season.

“I’d like to say we just want to learn how to work as a team, but I think we’re past that just from the fall and the practices,” Ellsworth said. “I think we’re ready to come out and win and take over some teams.”

Photo Credit: Joshua Guerra | Daily Texan Staff

The day started in a blaze, then quickly cooled to embers. The Longhorn softball team shut out an opponent to open play in Mexico at the Puerto Vallarta College Challenge, but then was shut out in the ensuing game.

The Longhorns first played Rutgers. Senior Paige von Sprecken pitched a complete-game shutout, her second of the season, as the Longhorns won 2-0. Von Sprecken also hit a solo home run during the game.

Freshman infielder MK Tedder notched her second RBI of the season — scoring sophomore catcher Taylor Ellsworth, who hustled for a triple to start the fourth inning.

“Having that depth will be good because if someone is struggling, somebody else can come in and hopefully get the job done,” redshirt junior pitcher Erica Wright said. “I’m hoping that we can all stay on the attack.”

But the second game of the day did not go so well for the Longhorns. Facing No. 15 Ole Miss, Wright gave up five runs in the first three innings of play, while the Texas offense did not put up a run until the bottom of the fifth. The Longhorns lost 8-2.

The offense this season has struggled so far, as the team has scored three runs or less in every game except for one.

The Longhorns continue play in Mexico on Friday against No. 3 Oregon. First pitch is 8 p.m.

Photo Credit: Brooke Crim | Daily Texan Staff

From the 1980 USA Olympic hockey team to the 2005 Texas Longhorns football national championship team to the 2017 Houston Astros — what did all of these teams have in common? Undeniable chemistry.

The Longhorn softball team looks to bounce back from last weekend’s pedestrian start to the season by heading to Mexico in hopes of displaying the kind of chemistry that championship teams need.

“We’re ready,” sophomore catcher Taylor Ellsworth said. “We’ve been practicing hard to come out everyday ready to work. Our chemistry this year is unbelievable. We’re just ready to come out and play.”

During last week’s games, the youth of the team, especially in the infield, got its first taste of regular season action. Freshman Janae Jefferson got off to a hot start, recording a total of five RBIs over her first four games. Fellow freshman MK Tedder flashed the glove at third base.

The team chemistry has been a process to build this year. In the fall season, Texas’ freshmen got their first taste of collegiate competition. But it wasn’t the only way the team bonded together.

“The main thing that we did this fall that was kind of special was a triathlon,” Erica Wright, a redshirt junior pitcher, said. “And at first we thought this is insane, we play softball, why do we have to do this? But honestly, it brought us together as a team, and it helped build us mentally as well as physically.”

The players were not the only ones involved in the triathlon. The coaching staff also played a role.

“I was doing music and holding up signs and following them around,” Texas head coach Connie Clark said. “But what a special experience that was for the athletes. Working through the triathlon was special for us because they got uncomfortable and learned they could get through tough things together.”

The fall season and the experience already on the roster has the team looking forward to the rest of the season. The upperclassmen feel inspired to lead the youth of the team.

“I am excited to have fun on the field,” senior captain Randel Leahy said. “I’m excited because our team chemistry has been so amazing and the fall was awesome.”

This upcoming weekend, the Longhorns will play Rutgers, Houston, No. 15 Ole Miss and No. 3 Oregon in the Puerto Vallarta College Challenge. Last year, Texas struggled to notch a signature win early in the season en route to an early NCAA
Tournament exit.

Texas has a chance to not only exceed expectations this year, but also do something the 2017 Longhorns were unable to accomplish early last season, with two top-15 teams on the schedule this weekend in Mexico for potential
signature victories.

“I think that we’re young, and I think people are underestimating us a lot,” Ellsworth said. “That being said, I think that we have more room to grow. We’re very coachable and come out everyday ready to play. The bar is real high, and we are ready to reach it.”

Senior pitcher Gabby Smith has pitched well in her final season, compiling a 9–3 record and a 2.59 ERA.
Photo Credit: Joshua Guerra | Daily Texan Staff

Texas will play its final home games this weekend against No. 16 Baylor in a Big 12 battle.

If the Longhorns (35–15, 10–6 Big 12) can pull off wins both Saturday and Sunday, they will finish tied for second in the conference with the Bears (38–13, 12–4). It will be a difficult feat, but Texas is up for the challenge, according to head coach Connie Clark.

“We knew that we were going to have a tough schedule coming out of the chute,” Clark said. “I love that we’ve been able to make some great progress. This group has been tremendous about getting back to work, and, if we can continue that mindset and keep improving, we’ll stay competitive.”

Texas’ offense has some work to do if it wants to beat the Bears and make a run to the Women’s College World Series. The Longhorns managed just one hit against Baylor on Wednesday night and have stranded base runners all season. Through 50 games, Texas has left 325 runners on base.

Texas has had success hitting home runs — it currently has the second most in the conference with 51 — but Clark doesn’t want her team to rely on the power hitters.

“We’re working on some things to manufacture runs so that we’re not waiting for the long ball,” Clark said. “I think that will be helpful as we finish out the season because we’re going to face some pretty darn good pitching over the next month. We’re advancing [runners] well, but we’re working on scoring them.”

One of the bright spots this season has been Texas’ pitching staff, which ranks third in the conference with a group ERA of 3.05. Freshman pitcher Erica Wright leads the group with a 2.49 ERA and a 16–7 record. Senior pitcher Gabby Smith (2.59 ERA, 9–3) will play on her home diamond for the last time against the Bears.

Both hurlers, along with sophomore Tiarra Davis (3.71 ERA, 5–4), who also serves as a starter, have consistently improved throughout the season — something Clark said will be helpful in the long run.

“They’re all throwing well and really even reinventing some of their pitches and tweaking some things, which you’ve got to be able to do because we’re on TV all the time, so people are scouting us nonstop,” Clark said.

The NCAA Tournament bracket will be announced Sunday, and the Longhorns fully expect to be one of the 64 teams selected to play in an NCAA Regional. As Texas makes its run through the postseason Wright will likely come out of the bullpen more often, Clark said. 

Wright said she doesn’t mind taking on that role as long as it helps the team.

“It takes everybody to win,” Wright said. “I thank God every day for the opportunity to play with such a great group of girls  … I can’t wait to see what the rest of the season holds.”

Sophomore shortstop Devon Tunning was the only Longhorn to manage a hit in Texas’ shutout loss to Baylor. The series heads to Austin for the final two games, which the Longhorns need to win for a chance at moving up in the Big 12 rankings.
Photo Credit: Joshua Guerra | Daily Texan Staff

Texas got shut out for only the fifth time this season, falling to Baylor, 5–0, on Wednesday night in the opener of a three-game split series.

After an all-around impressive performance this past weekend, Texas (35–15, 10–6 Big 12) struggled to find a rhythm against No. 16 Baylor (38–13, 12–4 Big 12) in Waco. The Longhorns could not manage to shake junior pitcher Heather Stearns as they drew just two walks and hit one ball off her over the span of seven innings.

Before tonight, freshman pitcher Erica Wright had won five straight pitching decisions for Texas since her last loss on April 11 against Oklahoma. In that stretch, she recorded an impressive 1.34 ERA, two complete-game shutouts and 48 strikeouts over 31.1 innings.

But on this night, Wright allowed eight hits and five runs over six innings while accepting the loss.

In her first season, Wright holds a 16–7 record with an 2.49 ERA.

“It’s just awesome to be able to pitch and play with people who are so good,” Wright said. “They’re all so talented.”

After a leadoff double in the second, an infield single put the Bears on the scoreboard. The next inning, sophomore shortstop Devon Tunning hit a triple for the Longhorns, sparking a potential Texas run. But by the end of the inning, she was stranded just 60 feet from home plate.

As the fourth inning progressed, the Bears put a pair on base. With two on and no outs, Wright stood on the mound and faced the looming attack. In such a squeeze, she prompted a fly-out to right, incited a pop-up to short and caught junior catcher Robin Landrith looking to get out of the inning unharmed.

“She wants the ball in her hands at the biggest moments, and quite honestly, that’s something you can’t teach,” head coach Connie Clark said.

The Baylor lead stayed at one through four innings, but the Longhorns could not even muster another hit.

In the bottom of the fifth inning, the Bears broke the door open as they increased command of the board. With bases loaded, junior outfielder Linsey Hays picked her pitch and sent one down the right-field line for a two-RBI double. The next play, the Bears extended their lead to four and grabbed one more the next inning.

In the Longhorns’ last chance in the top of the seventh, three came up and three went down.

“It’s great knowing they are all going to get the job done, and if not, they are going to do their best,” Wright said.

The Longhorns will next play the Bears at Red and Charline McCombs Field at 6:30 p.m. Saturday before wrapping up the series Sunday. Both games will be aired on Longhorn Network. 

Freshman pitcher Erica Wright pitched a one-hit shutout in Texas’ 11-0 win on Friday.
Photo Credit: Charlotte Carpenter | Daily Texan Staff

After dropping two of three to Texas Tech last weekend, Texas bounced back to sweep Oklahoma State this past weekend in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Freshman Erica Wright pitched a one-hit shutout to start the series off for Texas (35–14, 10–5 Big 12) to grab an 11–0 victory over Oklahoma State (21–31, 3–13 Big 12) on Friday.

“[Wright] was really just beginning to get into a groove,” head coach Connie Clark said. “I thought her velocity was exceptional tonight, and with her movement, she was locating the ball well.”

On the offensive end, Texas continued to display a solid hitting performance this weekend. Coming into the weekend, Texas had outhit its opponents, .342 to .251, and the team continued to do so against Oklahoma State, outhitting the Cowgirls, .413 to .164.

The Longhorns complemented Wright’s pitching efforts in the first game, connecting on 11 hits, including three home runs.

After junior center fielder Lindsey Stephens and freshman third baseman Randel Leahy hit back-to-back home runs in the first, junior second baseman Stephanie Ceo eagerly joined in on the fun. With bases loaded in the top of the fifth, Ceo blasted a grand slam to left-center, Texas’ sixth of the season, to put the Longhorns in position for another run-rule victory.

“We were ready to hit the field from pitch one, and we were ready to fight,” Ceo said. “All of the preparation at-bat happens in the dugout and once you get out there, you just keep your eye on the ball.”

Sophomore Tiarra Davis took the mound in the second game. Despite battling injury all season, she struck out four and brought her record up to 5–4.

“For Tiarra to get in five innings today from the circle was really exciting,” Clark said. “I don’t know if she had her best stuff physically today, but mentally, that’s as good as I’ve seen her.”

From the plate, Ceo homered again while Stephens and sophomore shortstop Devon Tunning each went 2-for-4 to lead the Longhorns to victory over the Cowgirls, 9–0.

“Man, [Ceo] just saw the ball all weekend and was one of our strongest hitters,” Clark said. “Really happy to get that production from the bottom of the order.”

The third game wasn’t much different. Wright kicked it off with five strikeouts, one hit and two walks in four innings to improve to 16–6. Before the end of the game, senior Gabby Smith and sophomore Lauren Slatten also saw the mound and earned two strikeouts apiece to lead Texas to a 7–2 victory.

“It was a goal today going in to get Gabby and Lauren a little work, and that was accomplished,” Clark said.

After scoring four runs in the first game, the Longhorns only managed to score three over the next two games against Texas Tech.
Photo Credit: Joshua Guerra | Daily Texan Staff

After edging the Red Raiders in a close game Friday, Texas dropped the next two to conclude the three-game conference series this past weekend.

With sophomore first baseman Kelli Hanzel’s go-ahead blast in the sixth and freshman pitcher Erica Wright’s 10 strikeouts Friday night, Texas grabbed a 4–3 win over Texas Tech for its ninth-consecutive road win.

Texas (32–14, 7–5 Big 12) jump-started the game with a crucial three-run second inning, but Texas Tech (23–25, 7–8 Big 12) fought back. In the fourth inning, Devon Thomey, Texas Tech sophomore designated hitter, sent one into the stands to pull within two. The next inning, the Red Raiders rallied with two outs with an RBI triple and a windy tag-up on a dropped foul ball that rolled fair.

In the top of the sixth, Hanzel put Texas back in the lead with a home run, and in the bottom of the seventh, sophomore Tiarra Davis clinched the victory with a game-ending strikeout.

“Significant win for us,” head coach Connie Clark said. “I’m just pleased overall with our fight and our grit, especially when they tied it up. To answer right back, that was huge.”

Clark said she was especially glad to see Texas’ success at the plate.

“We’ve had a few of our hitters working really hard this week on some things — [Hanzel] specifically and Stephanie Ceo,” Clark said.

The next day, the Longhorns struggled to find home plate. With an 8-to-3 hit advantage over the home team, the Longhorns stranded seven over the course of the game.

In the first inning, the Red Raiders pulled a role reversal over the Longhorns, and while Texas stayed scoreless, Texas Tech took off.

Senior Gabby Smith struggled from the mound, pitching just two-thirds of an inning. In that time, the Red Raiders scored three of their four runs. Wright relieved for 5.1 frames, allowing just one run while striking out six, but the Longhorns couldn’t manage to put a run on the board.

In the top of the final frame, Texas junior designated hitter Holly Kern led off with a pop out, followed by singles from senior right fielder Marlee Gabaldon and junior catcher Erin Shireman. Still, a strikeout and a fielder’s choice concluded the game with the Red Raiders on top, 4–0.

In the third and final game of the series, Texas started out with a glimmer of hope. Sophomore shortstop Devon Tunning led off and reached first on a walk, her 30th time this season reaching base to begin the game. But she never made it around the bases, and with both teams scoreless in the first, the Red Raiders cracked the scoreboard after Davis walked a batter with the bases loaded in the bottom of the second.

Finally, in the fifth, the Longhorns reached home plate for the first time in 12 innings. With Tunning and sophomore left fielder Stephanie Wong on base, junior center fielder Lindsey Stephens hit a three-run home run — her 14th home run of the season — to her respective area of the field to pull the Longhorns within two. But the Longhorns’ success didn’t last long, and after another run in the fifth and one in the sixth for the Red Raiders, Texas fell, 7–3.

Texas continues conference play against Oklahoma State at 7 p.m. Friday in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Senior pitcher Gabby Smith pitched a complete game Saturday. Smith racked up 10 strikeouts while allowing five hits.
Photo Credit: Joshua Guerra | Daily Texan Staff

In its third conference series of the season, Texas took all three games against Iowa State, largely on the strength of its pitchers.

The Longhorns (31–12, 6–3 Big 12) entered the matchup coming off a UT-Arlington victory Wednesday and carried the momentum for the team’s second Big 12 sweep of the season. 

In the first game, which was played Saturday afternoon because of weather-related delays, freshman Erica Wright (12–6) stepped up to the mound, shutting out Iowa State (21–20, 3–6 Big 12), 8–0. She walked just one batter, allowed just one hit and struck out eight.

Texas jumped to a 1–0 lead in the first, but extended it to 5—0 by the end of the second. In the fifth inning, junior catcher Erin Shireman connected on a two-RBI double to end the game early on a run-rule with Texas up by eight — its sixth run-rule win at home this season.

“This is two weekends in a row where we’ve had to push to get in doubleheaders because of weather,” head coach Connie Clark said. “I’m happy that we have a pitching staff that can handle that.”

Senior Gabby Smith took the mound in the second game and displayed her skill in a pitching duel with Iowa State senior Stacy Roggentien. In the bottom of the first, junior center fielder Lindsey Stephens reached on a triple, scoring shortly after on a wild pitch. Once Texas scored two more, Iowa State countered in the fourth when junior center fielder Brittany Gomez scored on a sacrifice fly for the Cyclones’ first run of the game.

The Cyclones brought the game within one when junior infielder Aly Cappaert launched a long ball to right-center to bridge the gap to 3–2.

“With a close game, I thought to just attack the hitters, get ground balls, no walks,” Smith said. “I think that was the key.” 

Despite a Cyclones lead-off single to start the seventh, Smith recorded a putout and her 10th strikeout of the night to clinch the win for Texas.

“We were not able to have Tiarra [Davis] get up and go, which bodes well for [Sunday],” Clark said. “But I thought both Gabby and Erica attacked the strike zone really well.”

In the final game of the series, sophomore Tiarra Davis posted the start for the Longhorns. While Davis started out slow, she was able to quickly recover. Walking Gomez at the lead-off position, Davis suffered an earned run in the first. But that would be the last Cyclones run of the game.

In the second inning, Davis recorded a pair of strikeouts in a one-two-three inning, sparking the beginning of a Longhorns offensive stint.

After a strong holdup in the first few frames, the Longhorns cracked the Cyclones defense in the bottom of the fourth when junior second basemen Stephanie Ceo scored on a dropped ball at the plate to put the Longhorns ahead, 2–1. After two more insurance runs from the Longhorns and seven strikeouts from Wright in the relief spot, the Longhorns picked up the 4–1 win.

On the weekend, Texas pitchers stuck out 30 and held Gomez, who entered the series with a team-best batting average of .448, to just three hits and two runs.

With these three wins, Texas has beat Iowa State in 45 of the 46 contests and moves into a second-place tie in the Big 12. Texas takes on Texas Tech beginning Friday in Lubbock in its fourth conference series.​​

Junior outfielder Lindsey Stephens, front, and her teammates celebrate senior right fielder Marlee Gabaldon’s walk-off RBI single.
Photo Credit: Daulton Venglar | Daily Texan Staff

Texas softball rolled past Texas State this weekend, improving its season record to 26-9 and maintaining a number of ongoing streaks.

The team has now won eight games in a row, its longest streak since 2013. The Longhorns’ 10–2 victory over the Bobcats in five innings Friday  was also their ninth-consecutive road victory. They followed with their third-straight home walk-off win Saturday.

In both games, Texas got on the board in the first inning, stretching that streak to seven games.

“From the first inning, we were just on them,” junior center fielder Lindsey Stephens said. “When [teams] come back, it’s always a little stressful, but not one time do we ever doubt that we can pull off the win.”

The long ball anchored Texas’ offense during game one, which took place in San Marcos in front of the second-largest crowd Bobcat Softball Stadium has ever seen.

Stephens went 2-for-2 with one walk in the game and hit her 11th home run of the season. Sophomore shortstop Devon Tunning blasted two home runs and went 2-for-2 with a pair of walks to extend her career-best on-base streak, which now sits at 20 games as she also reached base safely in game two.

Freshman pitcher Erica Wright struck out four and gave up just one hit to improve her season record to 11–4. Wright’s performances have been increasingly consistent, and she said she hopes to continue turning in strong performances as the team prepares for a tough Big 12 schedule.

“The biggest thing is just to continue attacking the strike zone and focus on taking deep breaths, not getting caught up in the moment and working on hitting my spots and producing what we want to happen,” Wright said.

Stephens came up big again in game two, notching her team-high 12th home run of the season in the top of the seventh to spark a Texas comeback. Senior right fielder Marlee Gabaldon followed Stephens’ solo shot and sophomore first baseman Kelli Hanzel’s game-tying RBI with a decisive, walk-off RBI single.

Sophomore Lauren Slatten attained the win from the mound, improving to 2-0 on the season. She threw six innings, gave up seven hits and struck out a career-high seven batters.

The come-from-behind victory, Texas’ 10th of the season, once again exemplified the Longhorns’ competitive side.

“Any day, any given team can be beat,” Stephens said. “It’s good to know that even against good teams, we can continue to fight, rally up runs and get things going on our side.”

With eight home games ahead for the Longhorns, including two conference series, head coach Connie Clark said she wants her team to stay focused on themselves.

“It’s really about what we do — are we throwing strikes, having quality at-bats, putting bunts down when we need to, playing defense when we need to, all those things,” Clark said. “We’re getting to the next pitch as good as we ever have, and that’s really what we’re focused on right now.”

Texas’ next action takes place Tuesday afternoon at Red and Charline McCombs Field against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.