The Longhorns’ line-up has been the same for much of the season, which is now in the middle of a grueling Big 12 stretch that includes three ranked opponents.
What you don’t always see are the five players on the outside of that line-up card, the same five players that could be the key to the third-ranked Longhorns’ season.
Texas has one of the smallest rosters in the country at only 15 players, but every single one is capable of stepping into the line-up and contributing like a starter or coming off the bench and pinch-hitting in a critical situation.
“We have 15 heroes, any one of them can be one at any given time,” said junior Lexy Bennett. “I think it’s just whoever called upon, and when someone’s stepping in they almost always come through.”
The depth of the team is evident at every spot on the field. It could be a backup like freshman Karina Scott coming into the line-up and playing in one of the middle infield positions when a starter is hurt or needs a rest. Or a flexible infielder like Bennett can play anywhere in the infield from her normal first base spot to second base or even shortstop.
The best example of the team’s depth is perhaps in the outfield, where junior Courtney Craig — a two-time all-Big 12 performer — is on the outside looking in at the rotation after coming back from an injury. The talented Craig has been kept sidelined by the stellar performances from all of the outfielders, especially Torie Schmidt in left field. Schmidt is hitting a blistering .396 at the plate and has a perfect fielding percentage.
“Our depth chart is huge for us right now. We have 15 players so we’re really small, but at any given time we can switch players in and out and you don’t have to worry about is she is as strong as the starter, and that’s been really nice,” said senior Amy Hooks.
The team’s depth shines shows in pressure situations, like the Texas A&M game last Wednesday. Freshman Mandy Ogle came in to pinch-run for Hooks and ended up scoring the winning run thanks to some heads-up base running on a wild pitch.
The capability of the bench also shows up in pinch-hitting situations, where senior Shelby Savony and Karina Scott often come off the bench and deliver a hit in pressure situations.
“You never know when your time’s going to be. It could be anyone 1-9 or whoever’s playing that game, and you might come off the bench and be a pinch hitter, and you could be the one to score that winning run,” Bennett said.
The depth is also apparent in the circle. Freshman Rachel Fox has shown she is able to come in behind All-American pitcher Blaire Luna when the normal starter needs rest or even relieve her out of the bullpen on a day when she is struggling. With a 14-1 record and 1.15 ERA, Fox has shown she is a solid option behind Luna, something that was sorely missing from last year’s squad.
“We have great depth in the circle,” said Texas head coach Connie Clark. “Although Luna is Luna and is very consistent and is one of the best in the country, Rachel Fox is having a great year for us and will continue to get the ball and she competes so well. And it’s just nice not to have to rely on one specific person.”
Texas fell in the regional round of the NCAA tournament last year; a disappointing end to a season for which expectations were high. Expectations are higher this season, with the Longhorns moving up to No. 3 in the country in the most recent coaches’ poll.
“I think that’s the difference between the ’11 club versus the ’10 club,” Clark said. “The ’10 club was talented, but this club has more depth, and we’re able to make some moves and get even better when we make those moves.”