Texas versus Oklahoma. Just the mention of those two programs in the same phrase can polarize players and fans, no matter the sport.
This weekend, the Texas-Oklahoma softball series likely will decide the Big 12 championship. Oklahoma (37-2) is ranked No. 1 in the country. Texas (38-4) is No. 6. And with three weeks left in the regular season, both the Longhorns and Sooners are undefeated in conference play. And Baylor, in third place, already has five league losses.
Both sides have marquee players. But the difference might just be Texas’ freshman second baseman, Stephanie Ceo, who enters the biggest series yet of her college career as a stabilizing force for the Longhorns and a key part to Texas’ middle-of-the-field defense.
Ceo, who signed with the Longhorns out of California, is the Longhorns’ best hitter during Big 12 play, with a whopping .474 average.
Given that Texas has hit a combined .321 as a team while winning its first eight Big 12 games, standing atop such a lofty perch is certainly a very high spot.
Ceo has played in all 42 games this season, starting 38 of them, and her .414 batting average is second-best on the team. Of her 36 hits, only three have been for extra bases, and she has scored 26 runs by getting onto base for when Texas’ run-producers come to the plate.
“I just keep trying to do my job, get the little base hits, and be a table-setter for the team,” Ceo said. “When I got to Austin last fall, I was determined to put everything I had on the table and play hard with no regrets.”
Ceo’s softball bloodline runs deep. Both of her parents are softball coaches and she has three older, softball-playing sisters. One of those, Courtney, is a junior for the Oregon Ducks — who eliminated Texas in last season’s NCAA super-regionals.
“We always wanted to be better than each other,” Ceo said. “It was a friendly competition between us, and that really helped. I was always chasing all three of them to be as good as them.”
Given that legacy and drive and Ceo’s overall moxie, Longhorns coach Connie Clark doesn’t expect her freshman infielder to be overwhelmed by the magnitude of facing top-ranked Oklahoma in a big three-game series.
“Stephanie is so even-keeled,” Clark said. “I know she will be excited, but I expect she will deliver because she is so consistent with her approach. All year, no matter the opponent, she has been able to just go out and do her thing and stay in the moment. Having her out there is almost like having an extra coach on the field. Everything that comes out of her mouth is right on the money.”
Getting on base. Scoring runs. In a critical softball series that seems to be pretty even on paper, Ceo’s contributions could be big.
“I am excited about the series and playing Oklahoma,” she said. “Being a part of this team is a special thing, and playing in series like this is what made me want to come to Texas. We work as a team and focus on having one heartbeat. I am having so much fun.”
6-TEXAS VS. 1-OKLAHOMA
4:30 p.m. Friday, 5 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday, LHN