For Softball team, the hits just keep on coming
When sophomore Desiree Williams steps to the plate, that's a cue to press box personnel to start her music and quickly McCombs Field is filled with the lyrics, "She's a bad mama jama."
Indeed, she is.
And by bad, of course, we mean good.
The Big 12 Conference recognized that by selecting Williams as Player of the Week for the final week of February. That was the first such honor for the Tucson, Ariz., native.
As March began, Williams upped her home run total to eight, three more than she had during the entire 2005 season. She put together a nine-game hitting streak, a career best for her, and the longest for a UT player since 2004.
"The ball has been looking a lot bigger," said Williams, laughing as she discussed her great start in 2006.
Williams, who is listed as shortstop/utility in the media guide (she even stepped into the pitching circle against UT-Arlington on March 1), embodies the offensive punch that is a part of the 2006 UT softball team, which won 23 of its first 24 games.
"We did so much work on hitting as we prepared for this year," Williams said. "Coach (Corrie) Hill had us on the tees for weeks. Everyone was open-minded to her approach because we all knew our hitting had to improve.
"And it's working."
To the tune of head coach Connie Clark's crew owning a 21-game winning streak -- a UT record -- and a ranking of No. 2 in the USA Today/NFCA Coaches Poll, which represents the highest in-season ranking ever for the Longhorns' softball team.
Never mind the Ides of March, the remainder of the NCAA softball world best beware of the Texas Longhorns.
"It's been great," said Clark, who made offense a priority for 2006, beginning during the off-season when she hired UTSA head coach Hill as an assistant to work with the offense.
Despite a third-place finish in the College World Series, Clark knew there had to be improvement for an offense that averaged only 2.8 runs per game, putting additional pressure even on the brilliant Cat Osterman and Meagan Denny when they stepped into the circle.
Hill's Roadrunners had won the last three NCAA home run titles and averaged 1.83 homers per game in 2004. Last season, her club was No. 2 in the nation in batting average (.335) and runs per game (6.25).
"Everyone's confidence is up," Clark said of the team's mood, "because they have seen the results offensively. Hitting is contagious."
Through the season's first 24 games, the Longhorns are averaging five runs per game. Only three times have they scored fewer than two runs and 12 times they've recorded four or more runs per game.
In 2005, the Longhorns had only five three-RBI games. Thus far this year, they have eight.
Osterman even smacked a double in her first-ever appearance at the plate earlier this year.
Contagious, as Coach Clark said.
Senior outfielder Tina Boutelle also has flourished offensively this season, recording five home runs already. She had one in 156 at-bats a year ago and nine total in her career.
Boutelle, who is one shy of equaling her previous single-season career best RBI of 18 set in 2004, was a Big 12 Player of the Week in February, the first time she has been so honored.
"We were excited in the fall to get to work with Coach Hill," Boutelle said. "We knew what she had done at UTSA."
But, the Katy Taylor High School alum admitted to a degree of reticence when Coach Hill talked about Boutelle changing her swing.
"It was like, 'I'm a senior and I am not really sure I wanted to change my swing,'" she said.
Boutelle tried it -- and she liked it.
"It was all right," Boutelle said, her face flashing a wide smile. "I'll take it. Seeing the outcome made it easier to accept.
"The chemistry in the clubhouse is that everybody is working hard and having a good time. That's good. I'm glad it is that way for my senior year."
Asked if she wished it could be June already, Clark said she did not because she wanted her team to enjoy the way and appreciate the process.
"We divide our season into thirds and we are just about finished with the first third," said Clark, who has coached this team since its inception 10 years ago.
She set an NCAA record by guiding Texas into the College World Series in only its second season in 1998 and has brought UT back to the World Series in 2003 and 2005, finishing third both times.
"The next third is the conference schedule," Clark continued, "and then the playoffs.
"We want to keep improving each game."