AUSTIN, Texas – On Wednesday night at Red & Charline McCombs Field, Texas head coach Connie Clark reached a significant coaching milestone by earning her 800th career victory as the Longhorns (31-13) shutout Texas Southern (24-16), 6-0.
With the triumph Clark became the 26th currently active Division I coach to possess at least 800 wins in her career, with every victory coming on the Forty Acres as the only head coach the UT program has ever known.
"It feels like another big win, and I have been here awhile," Clark said. "I think when you hit milestones, you stop and reflect a little bit on the longevity. You don't see that very much anymore, where you are blessed to start the program and then be there 20 years later. That just means that you had a lot of great athletes. Through the years it takes a team, and not only the athletes, but my staff as well. It makes you stop and reflect on the people that have been part of this journey the whole way through. I am really blessed about it."
Freshman left fielder Reagan Hathaway led the way for a nine-hit Texas offensive attack by going 2-for-3 at the plate with a walk, a run scored, a single-game career-best two doubles and three RBIs. Junior third baseman Celina Felix doubled as part of a 1-for-4 evening with a run scored and a RBI, sophomore pitcher Paige von Sprecken helped her own cause at the dish by going 2-for-4 and senior Rachel Scottwalked and doubled in a run during a pair of plate appearances off the bench.
In the circle for the Burnt Orange & White, von Sprecken (10-3) picked up her 10th career victory at Texas, scattering six hits, walking two and striking out seven over a complete-game effort.
After von Sprecken retired Texas Southern in order with a pair of K's in the top half, senior center fielderLindsey Stephens got the Longhorns off to a strong start in the bottom of the first with a lead-off walk and her team-leading 15th stolen base of 2016. With the bags packed after senior right fielder Holly Kern drew a free pass and von Sprecken reached via infield miscue, Hathaway stepped to the plate and hammered a two-RBI double into the right field corner to grant the Horns a quick 2-0 advantage.
Texas Southern center fielder Brianna Simpson broke up a streak of eight-straight retired by von Sprecken to start the game by beating out an infield single up the middle with two down in the third. Designated player Domonique Tello followed with a blooper onto the grass in left and second baseman Miranda Rodarte reached via error and suddenly the Lady Tigers had the bases loaded. Facing the first TSU threat of the contest, von Sprecken escaped the jam by getting third baseman Haley Smith to pop-up harmlessly to first to end the threat.
A lead-off walk to begin the bottom of the third, a wild pitch and a fly out set Kern up at third with one retired. That set the stage for Hathaway to contribute again as the freshman's second RBI double of the contest plated the runner from 60 feet away to make it 3-0. Texas Southern's third error of the game, this one on a throwing miscue off a Devon Tunning bouncer to second, plated Hathaway with the Burnt Orange & White's fourth tally.
TSU got a double from right fielder Amber Garza with two outs in the top of the fourth, but von Sprecken prevented any damage by getting catcher Jade Bismark to fly out harmlessly to left.
After Texas left the bases juiced in the bottom of the fourth, the Lady Tigers managed another two-out scoring opportunity in the top of the fifth by loading the bags on a walk and consecutive infield singles. Again von Sprecken proved up to the task by catching pinch hitter Anisha Richardson swinging at strike three for the hurler's seventh K of the night.
The Horns finally added to their lead in the bottom of the fifth as a single from freshman pinch hitter Bekah Alcozer was cashed in on Felix's RBI double to left. With Texas up by five runs, Scott followed with her own run-scoring double, on a blooper to right center, expanding the advantage to 6-0.
With one final opportunity to get back in the contest during the top of the seventh, the Lady Tigers got two base runners on to christen the frame via a single and a walk. That was all TSU could get, however, as a fielder's choice and a line drive double play to second finished off Clark's milestone victory.
TEXAS POSTGAME QUOTES
Texas Head Coach Connie Clark
On the 800th career win: It feels like another big win, and I have been here awhile. I think when you hit milestones, you stop and reflect a little bit on the longevity. You don't see that very much anymore, where you are blessed to start the program and then be there 20 years later. That just means that you had a lot of great athletes. Through the years it takes a team, and not only the athletes but my staff as well. It makes you stop and reflect on the people that have been part of this journey the whole time through. I am really blessed about it.
On Reagan Hathaway's performance: She looked great. She is really working through some things and has been for the last three or four weeks. That is pretty typical. You have a high level recruit that comes in, and she was so hot out of the gate. Scouting reports got out, and then she has to make counter moves and make those adjustments back when they are trying to attack things with her that she hasn't seen before. It is a different level for a reason. She has really been working through that and just working on how important the mental game is. I know that she has heard it from us, but to be able to work through that will bode well for her to finish out really strong for us.
On the offense starting to hit their stride: There have been a few people working through some things. It was nice to get Randel [Leahy] into the game tonight, too. She has been swinging the bat really well at practice, but Erin [Shireman] and her are our two catchers. You certainly don't want to burn her for a pinch hitter and something happens, and you are out of luck. You have to be a little careful how you manage getting her into games. It was a great opportunity tonight, and she swung well and had some good looks. Overall, we have been talking with this group about how it is really important to finish right now in the last eight games, and how important those last 10 games are to the committee. We have to make sure that everyone counts, and not have a let-down with your approach with a mid-week non-conference game. Those are a little bit of a challenge with your mentality sometimes. I am pleased with their approach tonight.
On Paige von Sprecken hitting the strike-zone: I thought that she did a nice job. We talked about it pre-game. On a Wednesday, if you don't have a single game non-conference then you have practice, your inter-squading, and you are attacking some of the things that we were able to do tonight. We really wanted her to get in to a groove with her off-speed. That is such a big pitch for her, and really getting more comfortable with that and in rhythm. We were able to get ahead and establish being able to mix that in quite a bit. We were using everything in her bag of tricks tonight, so it was good to use different pitches and let her get some mid-week work that will be great to take into the conference weekend.
Freshman Outfielder Reagan Hathaway
On her performance at the plate: I was feeling really calm and relaxed and just seeing the ball well. I am starting to feel really confident. Coach Hill and I have been working a lot on just keeping it simple, and that's what I have been trying to do.
On the impact of Coach Clark: Living far from home, she is literally like another parent for us. She is somebody that you can go to anytime. She has good advice, and likes to get us fired up. It is fun to play for her.
Senior Infielder Stephanie Ceo
On picking up confidence at the plate: Absolutely. We have our down moments, and we have our up moments, but as long as we keep coming to practice every day and working hard every day, you can only get better from here. Now is the perfect time to bust out of anything and keep swinging it.
On using the whole line-up: Any time that we get everyone in the line-up swinging it and swinging it big, is going to mean wins for us. The more hits that we can get and the more people in scoring position we can get the better.
On the seniors throwing a pie at Coach Clark for her 800th win: We got the word before the game, and it is kind of special for us. She hit a milestone my freshman year as well, and I got to pie her in the face my freshman year, too. So I started with getting to pie her, and now I got to finish with getting to pie her.
On the impact of Coach Clark: It is really special. It has been a great four years for me, and she has taught me a lot through these four years. It is always a great moment, because I want to go into coaching. It is always a great moment when we break down the game and have those great conversations that you don't get to have with every coach. She is open to always teaching, and that's a really great thing to be a part of.