Entering the 2018 season with a rare six-pitcher rotation, many questioned whether Texas softball truly had an elite ace on its staff.
On Friday, however, senior Paige von Sprecken and junior Brooke Bolinger silenced those critics, as the two combined for 16 strikeouts, six hits and only one run, leading the Longhorns to two victories in Friday’s double-header against Incarnate Word and Wisconsin.
“I thought both (von Sprecken) and (Bolinger) did an outstanding job,” head coach Connie Clark said. “They both were exceptional in terms of being on the attack.”
Von Sprecken largely dominated for most of the first game against Incarnate Word. Despite a few early defensive miscues by the Longhorns, von Sprecken and the Texas defense bounced back in the first two frames, stranding Incarnate Word base runners both innings.
On offense, the Texas bats were quiet to start, but opportunity came in the third inning when junior captain Bekah Alcozer started a rally by slapping a ball to the left-field fence for a stand-up double. On the next pitch, freshman second baseman Janae Jefferson capitalized by knocking a hit up the middle to score Alcozer from second, giving Texas the 1-0 lead.
More run support came for von Sprecken in the bottom of the fifth from two newcomers. After freshman third baseman MK Tedder recorded her first hit as a Longhorn on an infield single and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt, Jefferson came to the plate again and hit a triple to record her second RBI of the game.
“We knew those two were specifically just real special in what they were going to bring to the table,” Clark said of the freshmen tandem. “They come from competitive backgrounds and bring great skill sets.”
The two runs were enough for von Sprecken, who finished the game herself with a complete-game shutout for the 2-0 Texas win.
While Texas struggled to find its rhythm on offense for the majority of the first game against Incarnate Word, the Longhorns found their way in the night game against the Wisconsin Badgers.
After falling behind 1-0 in the first inning, the Texas offense returned the favor in the third by starting off with a leadoff double from sophomore shortstop Kaitlyn Slack.
Jefferson again came up huge for the Longhorns’ offense shortly after, hitting a double to left-center field to score Slack and tie the game at 1-1.
Up 2-1 after a RBI double from Tedder in the fourth, the Longhorns’ offense exploded in the bottom of the fifth.
Following a leadoff single for Bekah Alcozer, junior outfielder Reagan Hathaway stepped to the plate for the first time since tearing her ACL at the end of the 2017 season. On her first pitch, Hathaway drilled a two-run home run to right field to give the Longhorns a 4-1 lead in a special moment for the Texas team.
“I might have seen some happy tears in (Hathaway’s) eyes even through the mask coming around third,” Clark said. “But then I turned into our dugout and saw more watery eyes, especially from our athletic trainers.”
On the next at-bat, sophomore catcher Taylor Ellsworth electrified the crowd again with a solo shot to left field, giving the Longhorns back-to-back homeruns for the first time since 2016.
The run support was plenty for Bolinger, who settled in following the first inning. She recorded a career-high 10 strikeouts, giving up only three hits to cap off an impressive 5-1 win.
Now 2-0, the Longhorns return to action on Saturday in a double-header against Colorado State and Wisconsin.