Courtney Craig

Senior second baseman, the third overall pick in this year’s National Pro Fastpitch League draft, leads Texas with a .408 batting average.

Photo Credit: Rebeca Rodriguez | Daily Texan Staff

This weekend marks softball’s final installment of the State Farm Lone Star Showdown and for the century-old rivalry. The Longhorns will travel to College Station Friday afternoon to play the first game of the series on the road against the Aggies. Saturday, both teams will head over to Red and Charline McCombs field to play the rest of the series in Austin.

The highly anticipated game will be aired nationally on ESPN2. The No 5. Longhorns are ranked second in the Big 12 with a conference record of 11-5 and have a one-game advantage over the Aggies who have an 11-6 conference record.

The Aggies are ranked 14th in the country and are 31-14 on the season. They are led by junior Mel Dumezich, who was named Big 12 Pitcher of the Week last week.

During their last meeting, the Aggies won 5-1 against the Longhorns in College Station May 2011.

Longhorns take advantage of momentum surges to win games

No matter if they are up, down or tied, the Longhorns have effectively fed off of each other, utilizing momentum at the plate. They have at least 10 innings so far this season in which they have scored at least five runs — a rare feat in softball.
“When one person on our team hits, the energy starts going. It’s a domino effect,” said senior Courtney Craig.

The most ideal inning for these momentum swings is the fifth inning — a time when the Longhorns have warmed up enough in the game but early enough to not put the game in jeopardy. They have scored 55 runs in the fifth inning alone so far this season — most of them as part of comebacks.

“Teams have been scoring before us, and we’ve stayed calm. We don’t let it get to us,” said junior Torie Schmidt.

The most recent momentum surge came in a 13-6 win in Lawrence, Kan. where the Longhorns utilized a seven-run inning to secure the win against the Jayhawks.

Senior trio fulfills expectations

Seniors Lexy Bennett, Nadia Taylor and Craig, who were appointed as team captains earlier this year, have proven themselves to be invaluable to the Longhorns’ success this year.

Bennett, who recently was drafted third overall in the National Fast Pitch Pro Draft, has become a Top 25 finalist for National Player of the Year for the Amateur Softball Association. Her .408 batting average and 49 RBIs lead the potent Texas offense and she has 51 hits and 38 runs so far this season. In February, the second baseman was named Player of the Week for the Big 12 Conference for the third time in her career. Bennett is ninth in the country for RBIs and owns the career RBI record at Texas with 147. She also has the highest career batting average at Texas with .379.

As a third baseman, Taylor, along with Bennett, has been an important component in the infield and at the plate for Texas. Taylor has started all but three games in four years at Texas, most of them at third base, although she has contributed as designated player for the Longhorns. Twice this season Taylor has been named Big 12 Player of the week, most recently last week for her performances against Texas Tech and Kansas where she went .800 at the plate.

Despite struggling with injuries last year, designated player Courtney Craig hasn’t let anything stop her this season. Her .352 career batting average ranks third in the Texas record books and she is second on the team this season with 35 RBIs and third with 43 hits. As a freshman in 2009, Craig also dabbled in the circle and pitched 4 and 2/3 innings for the Longhorns, earning a 3.00 ERA.

“These three have earned the trust of their teammates, they’ve walked the walk and they have the ear of their team,” said Texas head coach Connie Clark.

Printed on Tuesday, April 24, 2012 as:Horns set to square off against rival Aggies

If there’s one thing the Longhorns can say they definitely have, it’s leadership. The 32-2 team exudes composure not only from their seniors but from all of their players.

The Longhorns have a total of eight upperclassmen, including three seniors. All are important leaders on and off the field. While it is great to have veteran leaders, the younger players from Texas are also learning to take the reigns.

The biggest sign of leadership on the team comes from senior captain Lexy Bennett, the second baseman who showed this in the team’s first game of the home stand against Missouri on Thursday. As Texas took the 9-5 victory Thursday night, Bennett broke the school’s career RBI record. Going into Thursday night’s game, she was tied for the record with Loryn Johnson (2007-10) at 139 but took the lead in the sixth inning when she tallied one more RBI.

Bennett has always been a strong presence on the team. While starting out a little shy, she has grown to be where she is now.

“It’s been fun to see her really grow into being a captain and just becoming more vocal,” said head coach Connie Clark. “No doubt she was always somebody who led by example through work ethic or just her athletic abilities from day one as a freshman.”

A common characteristic said about Bennett is her competitive spirit, which has helped carry the team. Even her teammates and fellow captains notice the enthusiasm she brings.

“Lexy is a great competitor period,” said co-captain Courtney Craig. “You can tell she is just very focused on the games and very focused in the dugout. She is always telling you little tips for you to progress [and allows you] to do better in the game. She is a great team player with great competitive spirit. She gives her all in every game, every at bat, every pitch, just all the time — just 100 percent great.”

Now while her time at Texas is almost over, she has definitely made her mark on the program. Not only has she broken records all season long, her name is now at the top of the Texas softball program with the most RBI’s, and her career isn’t quite over yet.

Bennett is definitely not the only leader on the team. Junior Blaire Luna has consistently been a presence for the Longhorns. While gaining her 13th win of the season in Thursday’s game, the Austin native has been a huge part of the success the team has had this season.

In her start versus the Tigers, she tallied eight strikeouts, giving up only seven hits. The All-American pitcher has continued all season to lead the pitching staff and lead the Texas defense to give up very few runs.

There’s much to say about the Longhorns, who are on track to have one of their best seasons yet. However one thing that can’t be denied is the leadership that surrounds the team. On and off the field, all players contribute to proving just how good they are.

Printed on Friday, April 6, 2012 as: Bennett guiding Texas, veterans show leadership

Courtney Craig dashes to first base after hitting a ball down the third base line. The hit was a three-run bases-loaded double in the fifth frame that gave Texas a lead it never gave up.

Photo Credit: Rebeca Rodriguez | Daily Texan Staff

The game started out slowly for the first time all season, but the Longhorns scraped together five runs in the fifth inning to come out with the 9-5 win over the Missouri Tigers in game one of a three game series.

“I think it’s definitely what we needed,” senior right fielder Courtney Craig said of their comeback victory. “It’s something that makes us different from teams in years before. We’ve been challenged [this season] and in years before we haven’t been able to come back. This year we’ve needed to see it over and over again to get us ready for more games.”

The No. 3 Longhorns extended their winning streak to 10 games Thursday evening bringing their season record to 32-2 and 6-0 in Big 12 Conference play. After a streak of non-conference competition, the Longhorns’ only remaining opponents for the 2012 season are of conference caliber.

“You have to give it to them. They kept fighting all the way until the end,” said senior left fielder Torie Schmidt. “We’ve been pretty consistently good at not letting things get to us and shaking things off. Teams have been scoring before us and we’ve stayed calm. We don’t let it get to us.”

Junior All-American pitcher Blaire Luna spent all seven innings in the circle for the Longhorns. She gave up five runs off of seven hits, the most she’s given up all season. Luna had an impressive eight strike outs in seven innings and is now 13-1 with a 1.43 ERA.

Freshman pitcher and designated player Gabby Smith scored the first run in the fifth inning to break the scoring drought for the Longhorns. The initial run was scored off a two RBI single by Schmidt with one out in the bottom of the fifth inning. Schmidt went 3-for-3 with two runs and three RBIs. Craig contributed three RBIs to the win off of her 1-for-4 night.

“The pitches were just coming inside and it was jamming me up on both at-bats,” Craig said. “I went into the dugout and told myself to focus. ... I set the play up a little bit, made an adjustment, kept my hands inside and did what I needed to do for my team.”

Senior third baseman Nadia Taylor also had a successful and productive offensive night as she went 2-for-3 for the night. Taylor has been on a hot streak lately after her record setting three double performance against New Mexico last weekend.

“She has been on a streak lately and got us all a hit,” Craig said. “When one person on our team hits, the energy starts going. It’s a domino effect. Nadia really started that and the team really kept going with it.”

Game two against Missouri comes at 7 p.m. Friday evening with the conclusion coming Saturday.

Courtney Craig (25) was 2-2 with one RBI on Tuesday night. She has been a strong offensive threat for the Longhorns all season.

Photo Credit: Nathan Goldsmith | Daily Texan Staff

Senior Courtney Craig has stepped up to be one of strongest offensive attackers for the Longhorns as they continue to muscle their way through the season.

On Tuesday, Craig was flawless from the plate and knocked in a run. Craig, a native of California, was recently named the Big 12 Conference Player of the Week after she led the Longhorns to a 5-0 win last week. She batted .592 with a .941 slugging percentage. The outfielder tallied a double, two home runs, 10 RBI’s and four stolen bases as Texas beat in-state rivals Texas State and Sam Houston State in the five games.

Over the weekend, Craig hit two home runs in Sunday’s game against Sam Houston where the Longhorns took the 14-0 victory. Although it was one of her best games yet, it was no surprise to head coach Connie Clark.

“She has been like that from day one, since we’ve had her at Texas,” Clark said. “Just a model of consistency, amazing player.”

While that was Craig’s second Big 12 honor in her career here at Texas, she is on track to have one of her best seasons yet. So far, she is batting .380 on the season with three home runs and 17 RBIs.

The versatile athlete is one of the key leaders on the No. 6 Texas team. Being one of the three senior captains, Craig is a great example for the younger players. She has always worked hard for the team and has been a key asset. Last season, she suffered a broken bone in her left hand on the first day of spring practice and was out until mid March. But, she came back with a great offensive strike finishing second on the team with a .382 batting average.

Craig has been working on offensive assaults and trying to get the team to focus on each at bat.

“As a team, we have been working on individual things,” Craig said. “Personally, I’ve been working hard on getting my hands inside. I think I’ve just been seeing the ball great lately.”

As Texas started conference play Tuesday night, she continued her great performance. Craig went 2-2 with an RBI as the Longhorns easily beat the Texas Tech Red Raiders 8-0. The 505 in attendance saw Craig get the Longhorns started as she knocked in the first run for them in the bottom of the first. This also increased her season-long hitting streak to six games where she is tied with teammates Brejae Washington and Taylor Hoagland.

While there is still a long way to go in the season, Craig is on her way to one of her best seasons yet here at Texas. While Big 12 play has started, the Big 12 Player of the Week is looking to continue the team’s success and lead her team on another championship run.

The Longhorns will face the Red Raiders again today at 4 p.m.

Printed on Wednesday, March 7, 2012 as: Craig improves, leads offensive surge

Kim Bruins takes a swing during Texas’ sweep of Sam Houston State. The pitcher threw a shutout and drove in two runs in the three game series

Photo Credit: Zachary Strain | Daily Texan Staff

The Longhorns breezed through a three-game sweep of visiting Sam Houston State this weekend.

Texas flexed its muscle in every part of the field and completely dominated all three games to improve to 17-1.

The Longhorns gave up only two runs while scoring 25. Texas ended the series with a no-hit shutout by junior Kim Bruins to give the team the sweep. UT pitchers allowed five hits total in the series.

Blaire Luna led the Longhorns in their opening game on Friday afternoon with a season high 13 strikeouts as Texas won, 5-0. While giving up only two hits, Luna lowered her ERA to 0.81 and brought her strikeout tally to 72.

The energy level for the Longhorns was a big part of the game. Coming off a hard practice Thursday night, they were able to keep up their intensity during this heavy stretch in the season.

Saturday ended just as well for Texas as Friday did. The team was led by Courtney Craig, the senior out of California, who went two for four. Craig homered and drove in three runs. Texas outhit the Bearkats, 11-3. UT stole a season-high six bases in the game, including three by junior Taylor Hoagland, which led the team to the win.

“We try to work [live reads] in practice but you don’t always get them simulated like you do in the game,” said Longhorns head coach Connie Clark. “We have a high percentage of kids that have great speed and great intelligence on the bases, and we like to take advantage of that.”

As the Longhorns came into their last game of the series, Bruins got the opportunity on the mound for Texas, and she took big advantage of it. The California native threw a no-hit shutout, her second at UT. She tallied a career-high nine strikeouts in the game as Texas cruised to a 14-0 victory.

The bats for the Longhorns were also hot as they recorded 17 hits in the run-ruled five-inning game.

Texas scored three runs in each of the first two innings. In the third, UT batted through its lineup and scored six runs on seven hits. The Longhorns belted three home runs in the frame, including back-to-back homers by catcher Mandy Ogle and Craig. Senior Lexy Bennett also homered. She leads Texas with five homers this year.

“They have applied things they learned early in the season, and that’s the thing I’m most excited about,” Clark said. “Just applying the things they’ve learned early, becoming more patient, splitting the plate in half and looking for specific pitches; the offense has been amazing.”

As the Longhorns look back on the weekend they can see they have a lot of strength in all parts of the field. Their defense and pitching has been impressive, while their offense continues to swing well at the plate.

Texas will look to continue its torrid pace to the season when conference play begins on Tuesday as UT hosts Texas Tech.

Printed on Monday, March 5, 2012 as: Bruins tosses no-hit shutout

Freshman pitcher Gabby Smith (18) delivers a pitch against Texas State. Smith leads the Longhorns with a 0.00 ERA in 15 innings of work.

Photo Credit: Zen Ren | Daily Texan Staff

They made it look easy. After a grueling five-game stretch that consisted of three ranked teams, the No. 6 Longhorns cruised through a double header against in-state rival Texas State.

Texas started off the night with a quick 5-0 shutout victory against the Bobcats and finished similar fashion with another 7-0 shutout. With the wins, Texas improved to 14-1 on the season as it head into a three-game series against Sam Houston State this weekend.

“I think we wanted to stay strong. We came off of a hard week in California,” said senior second baseman Lexy Bennett. “It is a grind going into yesterday’s practice just coming off of traveling and then having a double header tonight. It is pretty tough on our bodies. I think pushing and finishing were important and trying to stay consistent through the two games.”

Junior right-hander Blaire Luna led off in the circle for the Longhorns in game one. Luna registered 13 strikeouts and only gave up one hit through almost six innings of work. Junior Kim Bruins came in as relief in the sixth inning, but the win went to Luna, who is now 6-0 on the season.

Although wild pitching, hit batters and other such abnormalities contributed to the Texas score, the Texas offense still was as sharp as it’s been all season. Bennett once again lived up to hype by powering her fourth home run of the season deep over left field. The offense ended game one with nine hits in total.

In game two, freshman pitcher Gabby Smith started off in the circle for just over four innings before sophomore Rachel Fox came in as relief. Smith has not given up a run all season — she has pitched just over 15 scoreless innings and leads the team in ERA at 0.00. Fox was credited with the win.

In 14 innings, the Texas offense did not let up steam. The Longhorns had nine hits in the second game bring the night’s total to 18. Senior outfielder Courtney Craig led the offense through game going 2-for-4 with four RBI. Craig also logged her second home run of the season. Junior outfielder Taylor Hoagland also had a successful night with three hits and two runs scored.

“Hoagland specifically stands out in my mind tonight,” Texas head coach Connie Clark said. “She hit the ball hard tonight but did not have a lot to show for it, but that is part of the game. Overall, I thought we stayed consistent. We never settled for the runs on the scoreboard. We just kept competing offensively.”

So far this season, the Longhorns have outscored their opponents 103-19. With their home runs this evening, Bennett and Craig are tied in the Texas record books at sixth for career home runs.

“I think it is exciting,” Bennett said of all the recognition she, as well as the team, has earned. “But more importantly, it is about getting the job done.”

Printed on Thursday, March 1, 2012 as: Texas takes doubleheader from Bobcats

Junior pitcher Blaire Luna winds up to pitch during Texas’ victory over Texas A&M Corpus-Christi. Wednesday night. Luna improved to 3-0 on the year.

Photo Credit: Nathan Goldsmith | Daily Texan Staff

After outscoring their opponents last weekend 60-0, you wouldn’t expect No. 13 Longhorns to have to rally from behind to secure a win against the Texas A&M Corpus Christi Islanders.

The Longhorns were down 5-4 going into the sixth inning when RBIs from senior team captains Lexy Bennett and Courtney Craig put Texas ahead. The Texas defense held the Islanders scoreless in the top of the seventh inning to secure a 6-5 victory Wednesday night at home.

“We were not as sharp as we needed to be,” said Texas head coach Connie Clark. “It will be good for us to go back to work and realize that we have to keep the energy going.”

Bennett, who went 2-for-3 Wednesday night with two hits and two RBIs, was named Big 12 Player of the Week Tuesday for her performance in the Texas Classic tournament last weekend.

Bennett, along with sophomore outfielder Brejae Washington, who had two hits, led the Texas offense Thursday.

In the bottom of the first, the Longhorns jumped to an early 3-0 lead off of several well-placed bunts, coupled with poor pitching by the Islanders. Big hits by Bennett and junior left fielder Torie Schmidt contributed to the healthy lead.

The Texas coaching staff was pleased with the bunting throughout the evening — something that had been stressing in practice since the start of the season.

“I am pleased that we got the bunt down tonight. That was something that we were trying to do all last weekend,” Clark said. “Tonight, the score was close enough that we got the opportunity to work that in. One take away from the game would be that it was a great opportunity to apply bunts from practice.”

While the Texas offense did their thing, the Texas defense struggled for the first time all season, giving up a season high 11-hits while committing two errors, a rarity in recent years for a Longhorn team. The Islanders managed to score five runs off of starting pitcher Rachel Fox, who allowed eight hits in 3.2 innings.

Freshman hurler Gabby Smith worked an inning in relief before All-American Blaire Luna finished the game.

In the top of the second, with runners on second and third base, a throwing error by junior third baseman Taylor Hoagland allowed both runners to score, cutting the Texas lead to one. After Texas scored a run in the second, the Islanders responded by scoring three times in the fourth to take a 5-4 lead — the first time the Longhorns had trailed all season. The score remained the same until Bennett and Craig pushed the go-ahead runs across in the sixth.

“We had some uncharacteristic errors tonight. We will look at the film,” Clark said. “I am looking forward to the behaviors and making sure that we are coming out, staying pitch-to-pitch, and bringing the energy. I think we did that very well last weekend, but today we did not do that as well.”

The Longhorns return to the field this weekend to host the Time Warner Cable Texas Invitational.

Printed on Thursday, February 16, 2012 as: Longhorns score twice late, improve to 6-0 on season

Senior Courtney Craig prepares to run during Texas’ dominating victory over St. Mary’s. Craig went four-for-four, scored three runs and had two RBIs. Texas had fifteen hits and fifteen runs in the win.

Photo Credit: Julia Bunch | Daily Texan Staff

Texas came out strong for the second straight weekend against an overmatched opponent and improved to 2-0 for the fall season with an easy 15-1 win over St. Mary’s on Friday night.

“This gives us a good measuring stick and gives us a good opportunity to get back to work and get better,” said Texas head coach Connie Clark. The star on offense was senior outfielder Courtney Craig who went 4-for-4 with two RBI and three scores. Junior Taylor Hoagland and sophomore Brejae Washington also had productive nights with two hits each. Washington contributed further with two scores and two RBI.

All four Texas hurlers saw time in the circle with junior Kim Bruins receiving credit for the win. Junior All-American Blaire Luna started off the first two frames. Luna walked three and gave up two hits that led to St. Mary’s only score of the night. Bruins came in at the start of the third and threw two no-hit innings.

“It’s a sign of us having a lot of returners,” Clark said of the win over St. Mary’s. “They pick up where they left off. It really kind of bodes well for how hard they worked over the summer.”

Printed on Monday, October 3, 2011 as: Craig goes 4-for-4, leads team to easy victory over St. Mary's 

Texas right fielder Taylor Hoagland celebrates while rounding second base after delivering a homer in the third inning. Hoagland’s home run tied her for the single season Texas home run record at 13.

Photo Credit: Corey Leamon | Daily Texan Staff

ESPN picked a good weekend to focus on college softball. After dropping the first game of the series against No. 15 Oklahoma, the third-ranked Longhorns battled back and earned a 5-3 victory Sunday afternoon.

The cable network featured the Red River Rivalry on Saturday night in front of a sold-out crowd at McCombs Field. The Sooners got on the scoreboard early in the top of the first inning and took it from there, earning five more runs in six innings.

The Longhorns didn’t let that happen Sunday afternoon. After allowing Oklahoma to again score in the top of the first inning, the Texas offense produced runs early to challenge the Sooners.

“I think it was tremendous that we had to grind it out,” said Texas head coach Connie Clark. “We talked about the difference of being under pressure and having to grind it out, having the right mentality and not being too hyped. We need to understand that we are down in the foxhole together, and we just need to keep battling and keep playing — It is not going to be easy."

Taylor Hoagland punched another solid pitch out of the park in the bottom of the third inning to bring her season homer total to 13. Hoagland now leads the team in home runs and is tied for the UT single-season home run record, which is currently held by junior Courtney Craig, who set the record last year.

A pair of back-to-back singles by freshmen Brejae Washington and Taylor Thom put the Horns in scoring position. A sacrifice bunt by Amy Hooks and a wild pitch by Oklahoma starting pitcher Keilani Ricketts allowed Washington and Thom to score, putting the Longhorns ahead for good. A home run by Craig in the bottom of the fifth inning capped off the afternoon’s scoring.

“I think this is the hardest weekend we have had to play with the challenge and just battling back and really showing what we can do in the conference,” Craig said. “It is just a great feeling to know that we did get the turnaround today and have a great week coming up.”

Clark insists that this weekend was a good learning experience for her team. After going 12-0 in conference play, she said that her team needs to remember that anything is possible, especially during postseason.

After the win Sunday afternoon, the Longhorns are now 44-5 on the season and still lead the conference with a 13-1 record.

Last season, junior outfielder Courtney Craig set the Texas single-season home run record with 13.

However, an early season injury benched the California native for most of nonconference play. So far this season, junior first baseman Lexy Bennett has been headlining the Texas offense, but after she sustained an injury this past weekend, the Longhorns needed someone to step up.

In the Longhorns’ 8-0 shutout of the UT-Arlington Mavericks on Tuesday, junior Courtney Craig went 3-3, connected for two home runs and had four RBIs. This marked the second multiple home run game of her career. Craig is now tied for sixth on the Texas career home runs record list.

“It means a lot with her being able to come back, because she was one of the best hitters last year, and we need that in the Big 12,” said freshman Brejae Washington. “It makes the team really confident with her being in the lineup.”

Although Craig started as the designated hitter on Tuesday, she came in to play left field early in the game. While on defense, she made several key plays that allowed sophomore starting pitcher Blaire Luna to relax in the circle. Despite her contributions in the field, her offensive performance was what she was most excited about.

“I have really been working on my offense, getting back after my injury,” Craig said. “The inside pitch has really been getting me in the past couple of weeks and I have really just been working on that mentally and physically. Just getting that inside pitch down and giving myself some room to do what I can do.”

Craig also admitted that her performance at the plate Tuesday evening was not all a result of talent. She employed a different mindset going into the game.

“I think I was more relaxed and was just having fun,” Craig said. “I have had some frustration lately, and I was just having fun out there tonight.”

Head coach Connie Clark said it was not a coincidence that the Texas offense, and most notably Craig, stepped up to replace Bennett. Before the game, the team discussed that the entire team needed to step up to replace what Bennett was able to do both on defense and at the plate. Craig, who is getting back to full range of ability after her injury, really took that to heart.

“It was Courtney that was hurt, and now she’s really starting to feel 100 percent and see the ball well and get more at-bats under her belt,” said Clark. “It is obviously great timing and we need it. She is looking really good.”