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friday, february 1, 2013

the long road back Not again The Longhorns are determined to return to the postseason.

Lineup packs a punch A wealth of upperclassmen could mean a spike in the offense’s numbers.

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Man on fire Corey Knebel’s heater can reach 97 mph. But can he revert to his freshman form?

One last shot Acclaimed softball seniors want to make it count on the way to OKC.

Holy, Hoagland Taylor Hoagland owns the school home run record. What will she do next?

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Friday, february 1, 2013

Staying healthy a must for Horns this season By Christian Corona Sports Editor

Friday, February 1, 2013

STAFF Editor Christian Corona

Pu Ying Huang | Daily Texan file photo Augie Garrido, the all-time winningest coach in NCAA baseball history, is entering his 17th season at Texas. The Longhorns missed the NCAA Tournament last year for the first time since 1998.

Photo Editor Elisabeth Dillon

Longhorns leaving last year’s disappointment in the past

Design Editor Natasha Smith Copy Editor Trey Scott Writers Evan Berkowitz Jori Epstein Sara Beth Purdy Peter Sblendorio Editor’s Note Both the Texas baseball and softball teams fell short of their goals last year. First Pitch is here to fill you in on everything you need to know about how they’re trying to bounce back this year before their seasons begin later this month and the Alumni Game is played on Saturday.

COVER PHOTO NO. 6 ERICH WEISS Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan file photo

By Sara Beth Purdy To say that 2012 was a disappointment would be an understatement. The Longhorns finished 30-22 on the season and 14-10 in the Big 12 in what proved to be, statistically, the worst campaign for the Longhorns since 1998. The similarities between that 1998 season and the one experienced in 2012 are striking. In 1998, the Longhorns finished 23-32 on the season and 11-18 in conference play. In 2012, the Longhorns lost three straight conference series to Texas A&M, Missouri, and Baylor late in the season. The last time that happened was in 1998. Before the losses, the Longhorns had won their past 12 conference series dating back to a series loss to Oklahoma State in 2011. In addition, the pitching staff, which traditionally

carried the light-hitting Longhorns, underperformed. The team’s ERA in 1998 was an astonishing 6.36. In 2012, the team ERA was lower at 3.43, but still too high for the Longhorns. The main similarity between the two squads is the most noticeable, and perhaps the most painful: The Longhorns failed to reach the NCAA postseason in both 1998 and 2012. From 1999 to 2011, 14 years, the Longhorns appeared in the NCAA Tournament every year. They traveled to the College World Series in Omaha seven times and brought home two national titles. After that dismal 1998 season, the Longhorns rebounded in 1999 with a 3626 season record and 17-13 Big 12 conference record, followed by an appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Although the Longhorns were eliminated in the first round, it was an improvement. In

2000, the Longhorns took it one step further and made the trek to Omaha for the College World Series. Four seasons later? The Longhorns were bringing home a national title. There is hope for the 2012 squad to see redemption this season. It is easy to blame last year’s struggles on injuries, player suspensions and poor hitting, but the fact remains that it is a season most just want to forget. After the Big 12 tournament in 2012, the Longhorns held on to a little bit of hope as they waited for the NCAA Tournament bracket to be released. In 2011, Baylor reached the tournament with a record of 29-26, beneath the 30-win mark. However, it just was not meant to be. “We don’t really talk about it,” sophomore pitcher Parker French said. “For the returning guys it is a

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Just about everything that could have gone wrong for Texas last year did go wrong. Ace Sam Stafford was lost for the season before it began. So was leadoff hitter and center fielder Cohl Walla. Parker French, John Curtiss and Taylor Stell also suffered season-ending injuries. Without them, the Longhorns did not reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998. “Was it Murphy, the Irish guy, that they named a law after?” head coach Augie Garrido asked. “Murphy’s law? Boy, does that suck. That’s what happened. That was it.” For the second straight year, Texas has lost a likely member of its rotation before its season opener. Curtiss underwent Tommy John surgery over the offseason and won’t pitch again until 2014. But other than a recent Mark Payton concussion that shouldn’t keep him from missing any games, the Longhorns are relatively healthy. If they want to bounce back from last year’s 30-22 debacle, they’ll have to stay that way. That starts with their starting rotation, which will be led by sophomore Parker French. He started his freshman season a year ago as a middle reliever and earned a spot in the weekend rotation before becoming the team’s ace Friday night starting pitcher. French gave up one run on one hit in four and onethird innings of a 6-4 win over Missouri last May, his

first start in the new role, before discovering he had suffered a stress fracture in his right elbow. His season was over. “I think I had a renewed sense of what baseball meant to me, what kind of work ethic I need to bring,” French said. “I just realized that this game can be taken away from you at any moment. Thankfully, I’ll be out there again. That’s one of my goals this year, to get through the whole year healthy.” If Texas is going to have a chance at returning to Omaha for the College World Series, that’s a goal that all of French’s teammates will have to meet. Walla, who batted .316 with eight home runs, 40 RBIs and 14 stolen bases as a freshman in 2010, has not been the same since. A knee injury cut his sophomore season short and a torn ACL before his junior year kept him out for all of the 2012 campaign. Walla will come back this year, but won’t start the season in the outfield. When he does return, it could be as a designated hitter before he makes a full-fledged return as an everyday player. “He’s not up to form,” Garrido said. “He’s running a little bit, wearing a brace. He’ll be OK. I know anything’s possible, so I know he can [return to his freshman form]. He’s done a good job with the rehab. He’s certainly competing for a job.” The Longhorns are better than they were last year, but not good enough to overcome another series of season-ending injuries. As long as they stay healthy, they could find themselves in Omaha in a few months.

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Texas bringing plenty of pop back to the lineup By Peter Sblendorio Coming off a season in which they missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 14 years, the Longhorns are hopeful that an offensive resurgence will lead them back to prominence in 2013. As a team, Texas hit .263 and scored 250 runs in 2012, good for seventh and eighth among Big 12 teams, respectively. They were among the worst marks the Longhorns have posted since Tommy Harmon was hired as hitting coach in 1989. Harmon was replaced by Tommy Nicholson, a former Texas second baseman who played under Garrido, during the offseason. The Longhorns have the potential to improve at the plate this season, as several promising new players are expected to join returning key veterans in the everyday lineup. One of the players that will be counted on most heavily is catcher Jacob Felts. The junior is poised for a big season after starting every game behind the plate for last season, when he often batted in the cleanup slot and recorded a .282 batting

average with eight doubles and 21 RBIs. Another key player for the Longhorns will be freshman shortstop CJ Hinojosa, who could start immediately after being ranked as the nation’s No. 32 prospect by Perfect Game. Despite high expectations to produce early on, Hinojosa is confident that he will be up for the task. “I don’t feel any pressure,” Hinojosa said. “It’s the same game that I have played since I was 3-and-a-half years old. So I’m just coming out here and having fun with it. You know, this has been a dream of mine ever since I was a kid to come and play at the University of Texas and now I get the chance. I’m going to take every advantage I get.” Joining Hinojosa in the infield will be a number of holdovers from last year’s squad. Junior Erich Weiss, who will play third base, was the team’s leading hitter last season with a .350 batting average, and he recorded five home runs and 38 RBIs. Also returning are sophomore second baseman Brooks Marlow, who hit a pair of home runs and drove in 29 base runners last season, and junior first baseman Alex Silver, who batted .267 with 19 RBIs in 2012.

It’s always in the back of your mind how last year ended, and the bad taste in your mouth that you want to get rid of as soon as that first game starts. — Alex Silver, Junior first baseman

Converted shortstop Codey McElroy could also see time at first base in 2013. Leadoff hitter Mark Payton will lead the outfield this season after a productive campaign last year. The junior was second among regulars with a .322 batting average, and he hit five home runs to go along with eight stolen bases. Sophomore Taylor Stell could see a spike in playing time after batting .333 with six stolen bases in 25 games in 2012. Also expected to make an impact in the outfield will be junior Cohl Walla, who missed all of last season with an ACL tear. Walla will look to return to the level of

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Lingnan Chen | Daily Texan file photo Junior outfielder Mark Payton, who reached base in each of Texas’ first 34 games last year, was the team’s only player to walk more times he struck out (27) in 2012.

production of his freshman year, when he hit .316 with eight home runs and 40 RBIs en route to earning Baseball America Freshman All-American second team honors. While many of the Longhorns remember last season’s disappointments, the players are happy to turn the page and begin a new season. “It’s always in the back of your mind how last year ended, and the bad taste in your mouth that you want to


get rid of as soon as that first game starts,” Silver said. “I feel for the most of us, it’s in the back of our minds, but it’s not something that we dwell on or think about a lot. It’s a new season. It’s a new opportunity and we want to take advantage of it.” The Longhorns are eager to show they have improved since last season’s shortcomings and a productive season from the batting order will go a long way in proving this.

PROJECTED BATTING ORDER 1. Mark Payton, RF .322 2. Taylor Stell, LF .333 3. Erich Weiss, 3B .350 4. CJ Hinojosa, SS .500* 5. Alex Silver, 1B .267 6. Jacob Felts, C .282 7. Brooks Marlow, 2B .214 8. Landon Steinhagen, DH .214 9. Weston Hall, CF, N/A 2012 season batting averages *denotes high school batting average

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little extra motivation just because that is not the tradition of Texas baseball. I think it has made us hungrier, work a little harder.” But despite all of the misfortunes from 2012, the Longhorns aren’t dwelling on the negatives and are ready to start the 2013 season. They don’t feel like they are underdogs and they don’t feel like they have something

to prove. “I feel for most of us it is in the back of our minds, but it is not something we dwell on,” junior infielder Alex Silver said. “As soon as wee started working hard in the offseason, it was gone out of our minds. It is a new season with new opportunities.” After the annual Alumni Game on Saturday, the Longhorns look to open

up their 2013 campaign at home against Sacramento State ready to go and with 2012 almost gone from their memories. “As soon as we started working hard in the offseason, it was gone out of our minds,” Silver said. “Maybe just a small reminder, but nothing that we dwell on. We are a strong team, ready to fire.”

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Friday, february 1, 2013


Options aplenty for Longhorns, but players’ roles remain unclear By Sara Beth Purdy The Longhorns will rely on a few returning pitchers along with a multitude of new faces to try to erase the unacceptable finish to 2012, in which the Longhorns earned a collective 3.43 ERA, fifth-best in the conference. Sophomore Parker French has been tapped as the Friday starter and will lead a healthy Texas pitching staff into 2013. As a freshman in 2012, French made nine starts while appearing in 21 games. He posted a 6-2 record and two saves with a season ERA of 2.84, thirdbest on the team behind current junior Corey Knebel and former Longhorn Hoby Milner. Thanks to several unfortunate and untimely injuries, including one to the projected ace Sam Stafford, along with the dismissal of freshman Ricky Jacquez, French found himself as the No. 1 starter. However, French sustained an elbow injury against Missouri, ending his season. This year, he is back to 100 percent. His experience on the mound from 2012 will help him lead a young pitching staff. “Everything is looking really well,” French said. “We have a great mentality, we throw to the mitt, let our defense work. We are not going to beat ourselves, you are going to see a really steady pitching staff.” Although French has

Pu Ying Huang | Daily Texan file photo Junior Nathan Thornhill began last season as Texas’ ace but may or may not be in the Longhorns’ rotation when their season starts on Feb. 15. He was 4-5 with a 3.87 ERA in 2012.

been given the nod by head coach Augie Garrido and pitching coach Skip Johnson to start on Fridays, the rest of the starting rotation is still unknown. The list of possibilities is endless. Sophomore John Curtiss is listed as out for the 2013 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery this past fall. In 2012, Curtiss posted a 3.50 ERA with a 2-3 record in 28 appearances. He started a few games on the mound but spent most of his time in relief. Junior Nathan Thornhill

is looking to fill the role of one of four main middle relievers this season, despite a few starts in 2012. After Stafford was ruled out for the season, Thornhill got the chance to start until French took over the Friday spot. He went 4-5 as a starter in 11 games last season with a 3.87 season ERA. Although nothing is concrete yet, Thornhill is expected to pitch from the bullpen as a middle reliever. Sophomore Dillon Peters also has a chance as a starting pitcher. Last season, Peters

went 4.1 and had a 3.18 ERA season. Peters was primarily seen on Tuesday nights and racked up 43 strikeouts. After a brief stint in the starting rotation in 2012, Knebel, a junior right-hander from Georgetown, is back to doing what he does best. When Texas opens up its season, Knebel will act as closer for the Longhorns. “The starter is obviously a valuable person, but you can’t win the game,” Garrido said. “The games are going to be close … and you need the pitcher to throw a

strike. You’ve got to have the right personality and Corey has that.” Thanks to the mounting number of injuries, Knebel started three games late in the season. He posted a 2.08 ERA, the lowest on the team. Despite this, Knebel has already been named as the team’s closer, leaving open three spots in the starting rotation. Other returners include juniors Kirby Bellow, Josh Urban and Justin Peters, who each saw limited action scattered throughout the 2012

season. The Longhorns welcome freshmen Chad Hollingsworth, Holden Helmink and Travis Duke to the roster for 2013. Hollingsworth is the most anticipated of the freshmen. As a starter for Robinson High School, Hollingsworth posted a 0.50 ERA and compiled a 13-2 record with 139 strikeouts. He also has a fastball of more than 90 miles per hour. “It is still too early to tell,” Garrido said. “We have many guys that could step up over the next two weeks.”

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corey knebel W-L



























Pu Ying Huang | Daily Texan file photo Junior Corey Knebel, whose fastball reaches speeds of up to 97 mph, tied Huston Street’s single-season school record with 19 saves as a freshman in 2010. He will continue his role as the team’s closer this season.

Knebel proving valuable as lights-out closer By Peter Sblendorio

Few players have had as immediate an impact with the Texas Longhorns as closer Corey Knebel did in his first two seasons. Knebel burst onto the scene as a freshman in 2011, posting a 1.13 ERA and tying the Texas saves record with 19. Behind his dynamic fastball that reaches speeds of 97 mph, he struck out 61 batters in 55 and

two-thirds innings on his way to earning Louisville Slugger/Collegiate Baseball and NCBWA Freshman of the Year honors. The right-hander followed up his standout freshman campaign with an impressive sophomore season last year, as he went 4-5 with a 2.08 ERA and nine saves in 72 and two-thirds innings. Despite making three starts upon a request to move the starting rotation last year, Knebel will return to full-time duty as the Texas closer in 2013, a posi-

tion where he feels more comfortable and he believes his mentality will be better suited. “I like going in knowing that I can mess up the game, and I can close the game, so it’s a win or lose situation,” Knebel said. “I like to have the pressure. I feel good with it. Starting is a lot different for me, I’m more relaxed and it’s not what I like.” Texas head coach Augie Garrido likes the idea of Knebel filling the ninth-inning role, as he believes that a dependable closer gives his

team the best chance to win. Early on in the season, Garrido plans on using his starters for five innings before turning the game over to the bullpen, and he is confident Knebel has the skills and the mindset to shut down opponents in the ninth, and sometimes eighth inning, as he has in the past. “You’ve got to have the right personality and Corey has that,” Garrido said. “Right now he is very comfortable and knows it is in the team’s best interest, which is always

his concern, to be the closer.” The Texas players shared this faith in Knebel, as his track record has given them reason for assurance. The success of the pitching staff will be critical for the Longhorns to win games, and the players feel comfortable turning the ball over to their closer with a late inning lead. “If we have the lead going into the eighth or the ninth, you shorten the game to seven innings basically because you know that Corey is going to come in and do what

he does best and close the door,” junior pitcher Nathan Thornhill said. “He’s nails whenever he’s in that situation and you kind of sit back and relax when you’re at that part of the game.” The Longhorns know they will have to be able to win close games in order to reach the NCAA Tournament this season, something they didn’t do last season for the first time in 14 years, and right now there is nobody they would rather have on the mound late in the game than Knebel.

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Friday, february 1, 2013

After falling just short in 2012, Horns eye trip to 2013 WCWS By Evan Berkowitz Texas could feel it. One more win. On its own home field. That was all the No. 8 Longhorns needed to knock off No. 12 Oregon for a Women’s College World Series berth — something Texas softball hadn’t done since former star Cat Osterman led the team there in 2006. But after losing 10-4 to the Ducks, following a heartbreaking 5-4 extra inning loss, the Longhorns’ dream was crushed, and Oregon celebrated on Red and Charline McCombs Field. “It motivates us tremendously,” senior Kim Bruins said. “We were one game away from that dream we’ve had from when we were 10 or 12 years old, so we’ve been pushing ourselves as hard as we can in the weight room and on the field. We always tell the freshmen about that Oregon game and how intense it was. Bringing back those memories fire us up.” Now, ranked No. 9 in this year’s USA Softball Preseason Poll, the Longhorns are hoping for another chance to get to Oklahoma City for the WCWS. “Us seniors are hungry to get to the World Series,” senior ace Blaire Luna, who the Longhorns will rely heavily on, said. “It’s our last go-round, so we are pushing as hard as we can to get to that next step.” Despite losing first team All-Big 12 players Nadia Taylor, Courtney Craig and Lexy Bennett, the Longhorns have returning stars in Luna, Taylor Hoagland, Torie Schmidt and Brejae Washington. The Longhorns also add six freshmen, including standouts Stephanie Ceo, Erin Sherman and Holly Kern. “We have really good balance with our upperclassmen,”

Lawrence Peart | Daily Texan file photo Junior center fielder Brejae Washington rounds second base during a game last season. Washington hit .324 and scored 43 runs last year after stealing a schoolrecord 38 bases as a freshman in 2011. Washington has stolen a school-record 65 bases during her Texas career and believes she can steal 50 bases this year.

head coach Connie Clark said. “The upperclassmen are walking the walk and setting the tone, and the freshmen are an amazing class mentally. They are mature enough and talented enough that they are pushing everybody.” But despite the returning stars and incoming freshmen, the Longhorns have their work cut out for them if they want to bring home their fifth Big 12 championship. After losing in the WCWS championship last year, No. 2 Oklahoma returns its entire defensive lineup including its two best players: senior player

of the year Keilani Ricketts and sophomore Laura Chamberlain, who, as a freshman, set the Big 12 record for home runs in a year, and could very well be the best power hitter in the nation. But at the same time, the conference gets noticeably weaker without powerhouses Texas A&M and Missouri, who bolted for the SEC. “Losing [Missouri and A&M] hurt,” Clark said. “But Oklahoma is still here and will be the main target. Losing the other two, from an RPI standpoint, means we have to go out and play a

difficult non-conference schedule, and that’s in place.” The difficult non-conference schedule is definitely in place as the Longhorns take on seven ranked teams before conference play even gets under way. In conference play, the Longhorns are going to be tested by No. 22 Baylor, Kansas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, in addition to Oklahoma. For Texas to take that next step to compete for the Big 12 crown and for a WCWS berth, it needs to shore up its fielding, where it finished

with a .968 fielding percentage last year, second-worst in the Big 12. And in preparation for their season opener Feb. 7, when the Longhorns host Texas A&M-Corpus Christi at 7 p.m., Clark is making sure her team is paying attention to detail. “We are looking at communication and synergy,” Clark said. “Are they working together? We want to make sure they understand the flow of the game.” And the players are ready. “I’m hungry because it’s my last year,” Luna said. “I want to go out with a bang.”

games to watch vs. No. 18 Louisville* March 1 (Kissemmee, FL) vs. No. 22 Hofrsta* March 1 (Kissemmee, FL) vs. No. 11 Louisianna-Lafeyette March 6 vs. No. 4 Arizona State* March 14 (Fullerton, CA) vs. No. 16 Washington* March 15 (Fullerton, CA) @ No. 22 Baylor, March 23 vs. No. 2 Oklahoma, April 19-21 @ Oklahoma State, May 3-5 *Games at neutral locations

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Hard-hitting Hoagland assumes leadership role By Jori Epstein

“Taylor!” A yell rings through UT’s Red and Charline McCombs Field, as the breeze sweeps through the hair of women’s softball players during practice. Lined up in pairs to warm up arms, no team member flinches. “Tay!” Finally, a response: “Yes?” Taylor Hoagland asks. Although she shares a name with fellow Taylors — Thom and King — Hoagland, a senior, has no trouble distinguishing herself when she steps up to the plate. Hoagland smacked 18 home runs last season, bringing her career total to 44, a school record and 12 shy of the Big 12 record. Her .674 career slugging percentage stands at eighth all-time in the Big 12. Her 59 runs scored ranked second last season in the Big 12 and 12th in the league. It’s a career just about any player would be satisfied with, but Hoagland didn’t stop hotothere come summer. Claiming she “took a break,” Hoagland’s few months off organized softball helped her train in atypical ways:

physically, by way of preparing for a triathlon and mentally, by coaching 18-year-old select players on Dallas’ Mizzuno Impulse softball team. “I’ve been coaching for four years and each year I come back to [head coach Connie] Clark and say, ‘Oh, so this is how you feel when you say this and this is why you do those things,’” Hoagland said. “Coaching has helped make me a better communicator and notice the small details to be able to help other people.” Clark seized Hoagland’s rounded experience to appoint her team captain this year. She also intends to adjust her role in the lineup, as Hoagland’s college outfield experience followed a high school career as an infielder. “You’ll see Taylor playing a lot of third base this year so that’s a different look for us,” Clark said. “She’s our emotional leader and plays with a lot of passion. We have a lot of young ones and a philosophy. We want them ready in two positions. We are putting the puzzle pieces together.” Clark looks to seniors like Hoagland to set the tone for the team’s younger players, believing the upperclassmen have “sold” the newcomers on

Lawrence Peart | Daily Texan file photo Seniors Taylor Hoagland and Kim Bruins share a laugh during a home game last year. Hoagland hit 18 home runs and scored 59 runs last sesaon, both school records, while her 44 career home runs and .674 career slugging percentage are also school records.

their philosophy to “go out, play hard and leave it all on the field.” Hoagland works to set that tone, fueling the fire with the sting of last year’s loss to Oregon in regionals. Yet she sees the efforts as twofold. “As seniors, we’re all hungry and it’s our last go-around — we really want to make it to the World Series,” Hoagland said. “We’ve been working all

fall and we are a young team but the young ones are ready to go. They’re really mature for a freshman class, they’ve picked up what we do really fast and they’re just as eager to learn as we are to teach.” Although Hoagland said she pays little attention to preseason polls, she feels the team has much to give. Touting freshmen Holly Kern and Erin

Shireman as strong hitters, she also mentioned Stephanie Ceo’s speed advantage. “We have speed, we have depth, small ball, long ball, power hitters, versatility hitters,” Hoagland said. “Everyone can do a lot of different things so you never know.” As the season approaches, Hoagland looks forward to twelve Top 25

opponents, especially OU, with a new approach. “I changed my hitting style a little bit so hopefully it will come around,” Hoagland said. “Seeing the ball better, loading different — no big physical changes but a whole different mental outlook. I was ready to play another game as soon as the last one ended, so I’m ready to get another start.”

players to watch Blaire Luna, P

The Austin native is unquestionably the ace of the staff. The Longhorns can only go as far Luna. The two-time USA softball National Player of the Year finalist was third in the nation in strikeouts per seven innings last year (10.7). Luna must stay in the strike zone this year. In 2012, she led the Big 12 in hit batters (26) and has issued more walks than any other pitcher in Texas history (280). If she can hit the mitt and stay in the strike zone, there is no reason she shouldn’t be able to guide Texas to a WCWS.

Taylor Hoagland, 3B/OF

The three-time First Team All-Big 12 pick is the school’s all-time leader in slugging percentage (.674) and home runs (44). Her 18 home runs last year were the most in Texas history and there is no reason to think she can’t reach the 20-homer mark. With the departure of Lexy Bennett, the Longhorns will rely heavily on Hoagland’s bat throughout the year.

Brejae Washington, CF

The speedy outfielder enters her junior year already owning the Texas record for stolen bases. With the graduation of several key hitters, head coach Connie Clark will need Washington to step up and take on a bigger role as she will bat near the top of the lineup. Washington will be key in getting on base and creating havoc. “I’m trying for 60 [stolen] bases,” she said. “But I have to get singles though. I have a really good strategy for this year: I’m going to bunt, then I’m going to steal second and then I’m going to steal third.”

Erin Shireman, C/3B

Shireman, the No. 15 player in the ESPNHS Softball 100 rankings, is a future star. She hit 10 home runs her senior year, earning her ESPNHS Softball secondteam honors. It will be interesting to see what kind of role she plays for the team this year, but given the opportunity, Shireman could be a real producer. —Compiled by Evan Berkowitz

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First Pitch 2013-02-01  

The February 1, 2013 edition of First Pitch.

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