March 29, 2012
New Mexico Lobos Softball - In Austin, Texas
Friday: 6 p.m. (MT), Lobos at No. 6 Texas
Saturday: 2:30 p.m. (MT), Lobos at Texas; 5 p.m. (MT), Lobos vs. Tulsa
Sunday: Noon (MT) Lobos at Texas
GoLobos.com: Game Recap, Statistics, GameTracker
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
Is it coincidental that the 27-2/No. 6 Texas Longhorns are holding a book day when the No. 25 New Mexico Lobos come to play Friday in Austin? Are the Longhorns planning to "school" this upstart New Mexico program?
And how about the Hawaiian theme these Longhorns are planning for Saturday when the `Horns are passing out free Hawaiian leis and sunglasses to their fans while Beach Boys' music rocks the stadium? Is this maybe in recognition of a Texas team that is red hot and maybe getting hotter?
Do you need sunglasses in order to watch these mighty Longhorns and not be blinded by the glare of their power?
Well, you can bet if the Lobos are wearing sunglasses it's only to stop the glare of the Texas sun.
"Texas is taking care of business. We respect them," said Lobo Coach Erica Beach, who saw a five-game road sweep push her Lobos back into the Top 25 this week. "They are ranked sixth for a reason, but I think we are up for the challenge.
"The girls now expect to compete every game and they don't feel outmatched by anyone we play."
What the Lobos have done so far in compiling a 22-6 record and vaulting into the national rankings has been nothing short of amazing when you consider the state of the program inherited by Beach, in her second season.
But it's also fair to say that this is the Lobos' toughest challenge of the season. They go to Longhorn soil to play a 27-2 team that is No. 6 in the nation - and on a hot streak. Texas has pounded 14 home runs in the last five games and is coming off a 15-4 rip of Houston in which Texas mashed four home runs - two grand slams.
Texas also has not lost at home with the Longhorns' two losses on neutral sites to No. 1 Cal-Berkeley and No. 4 Florida.
The Lobos will ride a five-game win streak into Austin after rolling through the SpringHill Suites Invitational in Boise, Idaho. UNM also will be tested by a solid 23-6 Tulsa team that bats .335 and has two outstanding arms in Lacey Middlebrooks (1.46 ERA) and Aimee Creger (2.56). The Golden Hurricane will be one of the better teams the Lobos have faced this season.
UNM outscored its five opponents 47-16 while hitting .355 as a team. It is fair to expect that the Lobos will need to produce a lot of runs to hang with the Longhorns. Like the Lobos, the Longhorns are ball smashers.
"They are doing it offensively and they have great pitching," said Beach. "We tend to do better against the great pitching. I'm excited to see what our girls can do."
Beach said the results at Austin aren't as important as what Texas offers to her Lobos - a chance to play against a great team and a chance to get better. The Lobos' testing schedule is preparation for Mountain West play and their eventual goal of postseason play.
For sure, this will be a test for the Lobos at the plate and on the pitching plate. Texas has 11 batters hitting .280 or better with nine of those Longhorns hitting above .320.
Texas is paced by Lexy Bennett (.453), Courtney Craig (.436), Karina Scott (.414), Brejae Washington (.411) and Taylor Thorn (.373). Taylor Hoagland has eight home runs and Bennett and Scott each have six dingers.
It's impressive that the Longhorns have scored 197 runs in 29 games hitting .370 as a team. It might be more impressive that they have allowed only 42 runs holding opponents to a .166 average at the plate.
Like Beach said, there is a reason the `Horns are ranked No. 6 and part of the reason will come at the Lobos off the pitching plate. Texas has four pitchers with an ERA under 1.70: Kim Bruins (1.26), Rachel Fox (1.30), Blaire Luna (1.54) and Gabby Smith (1.62). Luna is 10-1 with 111 strikeouts. She throws heat.
The Lobos are working themselves back into a three-player rotation as Kari Gutierrez is close to 100 percent and got two starts in Boise. She has a 4-1 mark with a 2.78 ERA.
"They've been trying to do too much. That's backfired on them," Coach Beach said of her pitchers. "They aren't strikeout pitchers. They are coming to terms with the types of pitching that makes them effective. All our pitchers have to do is get them (batters) to put the ball in play. Our defense is playing super."
The Longhorns will be looking at some capable sticks, too. UNM's Jessica Garcia is hitting .460 followed by Stefanie Carramusa at .433, Kerry Hodgins at .371, and Shenise Cox at .356. Carramusa has 12 home runs and Cox and Garcia each have 11 long balls. UNM has seven players with at least two home runs.
"We are scoring a ton of runs," said Beach. "We teach them to hit the ball hard and if you hit the ball hard, it will go over the fence at times. The fun part is we are getting home runs from all areas of our lineup."
The Lobos have scored a whopping 217 runs and have allowed 131. Texas' big edge comes on the defensive side of the ball. UNM's opponents have a .308 batting average.
Game Notes: This is the first time since 2008 that Lobo softball has reached the 20-win plateau. "We are heading in the right direction with the program," said Beach. "The team is enjoying the feeling of winning. It's something they weren't used to." ... The three games against Texas will be on the Longhorn Network. ... Longhorn Taylor Hoagland is No. 2 on the Texas all-time list with 34 career homers. She is two off the school record of 36. ... Texas' Lexy Bennett is in the No. 3 slot with 211 career hits. .. The Longhorns' 15-player roster has 10 players from Texas and five from California. ... The Longhorns have six defensive players boosting a 1.000 fielding percentage and only one Longhorn has more than two errors on the season - shortstop Taylor Thorn with eight.