It has been two weeks since their season started, and already the Longhorns are playing like it is May. The No. 8 Longhorns have posted an 8-0 record already this season while outscoring their opponents 74-9. Their performance has not gone unnoticed — in addition to setting two school records so far this year, this team has received recognition on both the national and conference levels.
Junior All-American Blaire Luna was named Big 12 Pitcher of the Week this week for her performance in the circle. She has won nine career conference awards in total. The right-hander has a season ERA of 0.29 and 43 strikeouts so far this season. Luna leads the only still undefeated Big 12 pitching staffs this year. Senior infielder Lexy Bennett was named Big 12 Player of the Week last week and has a conference high batting average of .609 with a team leading 14 hits and 15 RBIs. Bennett is the star presence on the conference’s top performing offense so far this season.
On the national stage, junior Taylor Hoagland, who spent last summer touring with the USA National Softball team, was named along with both Luna and Bennett to the watch list for the USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Year award.
“This team has what it takes,” said senior outfielder Courtney Craig. “We have worked hard on and off the field. All of our minds are set to get further than we have ever gotten before, and we are controlling everything that we can control.”
For a team that has been putting up staggering numbers thus far, it is surprising that they started the season ranked so low. In January, national polls had listed the Longhorns at 18/19 overall and experts have slated them to finish third in the Big 12, one of the strongest conferences for softball in the country. Less than a week after the season had begun, the Longhorns had already jumped five spots to 13 overall. This week, going into their third tournament in three weeks, the Longhorns sit at eight.
“It definitely puts a little more fuel in the fire,” Craig said about being seen as an underdog at the start of the season. “We really don’t look at numbers on this team, though. We know what we are capable of, and we know how far we want to go this year.”
Even when they are down, which has not been often, the Longhorns exhibit the necessary maturity and motivation to come up with the win.
Last Sunday, against the University of Tennessee, Texas struggled to come from behind and maintain a lead for the first time all season. During the bottom of the ninth and trailing by one, the Texas offense stepped out of the dugout with a fighter’s mindset. Off an in-the-park home run by sophomore center fielder Brejae Washington, the Longhorns won the game 3-2.
“After they scored and went up by one run, from there we just said. ‘Ladies, let’s go. Let’s get this thing back. Let’s keep on fighting and finish,’” Washington said. “‘We are fighters. We are not going to finish until the last pitch is thrown.’”
No longer considered a young team, the juniors and seniors who have experienced several years of early season-ending disappointment bring experience and motivation that has this year’s squad playing like the World Series is tomorrow.
“It has to be the captains and the veterans,” said freshman Gabby Smith about what is significant about this year’s team. “They are our leaders on the team, and they will hopefully lead us to go further in the postseason than the team has gone in the last few years.”