Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Senior Taylor Thom has carved out her place in Texas Softball history, ranking in the top five in career hits, doubles, home runs, runs batted in, runs scored and stolen bases—and her career isn’t over yet.
Coming off an All-American junior campaign, Thom is one of four senior captains attempting to get the Longhorns back to Oklahoma City for Texas’ sixth Women’s College World Series appearance.
“Being at Texas for four years has been an amazing experience,” Thom said. “I have definitely grown into a young woman. I have some great coaches and I wouldn’t be where I am without them today.”
The shortstop has taken command of the infield and used her experience to lead a Longhorn team comprised of 13 underclassmen, including seven fresh faces on the Forty Acres.
“Having senior captains at primary positions like catcher, shortstop, center field and first base builds the team and makes it that much stronger,” senior catcher Mandy Ogle said. “Taylor takes control of the infield and does a great job.”
Prior to every pitch and situation, Thom is calling out plays like a seasoned quarterback, calming down pitchers and preparing the defense.
“Her leadership is huge for us,” assistant coach Corrie Hill said. “Her work ethic instills a lot to the younger players. She not only leads by example, but she is not afraid to go grab a player and say, ‘We’re going to go hit today’ and she’s going to drag them along.”
In 2013, Thom was the catalyst and power behind the Texas squad that advanced to the semifinals of the WCWS, leading the Longhorns to their highest final national ranking ever (3rd).
The shortstop had a career year, leading the Longhorns in nearly every batting category, including setting a program record 66 RBIs in a single season. Along the way, Thom matched NCAA single game records for grand slams (two vs. Houston, Feb. 16, 2013) and doubles (3 vs. Utah State, Feb. 23, 2013) en route to an NFCA Third-Team All-American selection. She was also one of three Longhorns selected to the All-Big 12 First Team.
Thom played with Team USA over the summer and entered the 2014 season with lofty expectations. She picked up right where she left off, smashing a home run in just her second at-bat of the 2014 campaign, but her power numbers soon leveled off. The Texas record-holder for total bases in a single season (132) recorded mild numbers for her standard, collecting two home runs and 20 RBIs over Texas’ next 34 games.
“I had a breakout year last season, so I had high expectations for myself this year,” Thom said. “I think I was just pressing too much and overworking myself.”
Hill, who coaches the offense and sets the lineup, shook up the batting order for the start of Big 12 play and the results have been staggering.
Since moving to third in the lineup, Thom has broken out and regained her All-American form. Nine games into the switch, the senior is hitting .591 (13-for-22) and leads Texas in hits, home runs, RBIs, walks, and runs scored. In the last seven games, Thom has smashed five home runs, including two grand slams, and driven in 17 RBIs, fueling Texas to 74 runs and a 6-1 mark. Thom’s recent play has earned her back-to-back Big 12 Player of the Week honors for the second time in her career and fourth overall.
“We told her that she is just a great athlete and her numbers would come,” Ogle said. “Now that she is more comfortable, the results are showing up more.”
Thom is back in her comfort zone in the lineup and her numbers are taking off with each game.
“I like the three-hole [in the lineup] because I have a specific job and that’s to hit runners in. I absolutely love that,” Thom said. “I feel more at home. I’m more relaxed and I definitely think that’s showing in my hitting right now.”
“Her hitting has stayed consistent, but now there are runners on base,” Hill said. “Her thought process of being in the first to the third spot is different for her. Once that confidence gets instilled in the hitter, it does wonders.”
Thom, who had two multi-home run games last season, belted a three-run home run and her fifth career grand slam in a 19-7 defeat of Texas State on April 2. Thom’s seven RBIs were one shy of her career high, propelling the Longhorns to the second-most runs in program history. In the series opener against Iowa State on April 11, Thom went 1-for-1 with a grand slam, drew a career-high four walks and scored four runs in the Longhorns’ convincing 19-6 victory.
The senior similarly rebounded in 2013, bouncing back from a sophomore slump that followed Big 12 Freshman of the Year honors in 2011.
“To be able to learn how to grow from those struggles going into my junior season, I think that’s made me a stronger person,” Thom said.
Taylor Thom has manufactured a storied career in Austin and will go out as one of the best hitters to don the burnt orange and white. If Texas makes another postseason run, it will be a credit to not only her offensive prowess, but her continued guidance and leadership on and off the field.