Women's Professional Fastpitch: Texas Smoke Preview
Women's Professional Fastpitch: Texas Smoke Preview
Saddle up and prepare for the Smoke – who must not be ignored. They’re trying not to be denied in their debut season of Women's Professional Fastpitch play.
Is it getting a bit hazy outside, or is it just the Texas Smoke (sending softballs) in the air?
Sure, the sports landscape of Texas is massive, with some of the biggest brands, names and fandoms you’ll find anywhere in the sports world, making it a bit imposing to butt in and try and garner some of that spotlight.
But the softball in Texas already is about as good (and high-stakes) as it gets, making the Smoke’s addition as the state’s professional softball team one that fills a rare void in Texas sports.
The Lone Star State has produced legendary players, such as Cat Osterman, Megan Gibson-Loftin and Christa Williams-Yates, among many others, and in line with that legendary lineage, the Smoke are out to try and set a statement that they are the standard-bearers and ones to be chasing in the first official Women’s Professional Fastpitch (WPF) season.
Full of experience, both in prior professional leagues and in winning collegiate championships, Texas could add to the state’s long list of sports titles, if everything clicks. Early on this summer, plenty is going right with the team already.
Saddle up and prepare for the Smoke – they must not be ignored, and they’re trying not to be denied in their debut season.
Here’s a look at what the Texas Smoke bring to the table in the first official season of Women’s Professional Fastpitch.
Based in the softball hotbed that is the Lone Star State, Austin’s Tornado Softball Field (located on the Concordia University Texas campus) will play host to the Smoke in their inaugural season.
The team is owned by a high-profile, athletic couple – former Cincinnati Reds All-Star and Gold Glove second baseman Brandon Phillips and professional wrestler Jade Cargill, a former champion in the All Elite Wrestling promotion.
They’ll be the newest pro sports team in a fast-growing Austin market that’s gradually adding pro sports in combination with its long history of high-level college athletics as the home of the University of Texas, looking to replicate some of the fandom gained immediately by the addition of Austin FC in Major League Soccer two years ago.
Tori Tyson, the head softball coach at Howard and former dugout leader of the Chicago Bandits of the defunct National Pro Fastpitch, was named Texas’ first coach when the team’s formation was announced in March, and she brings pedigree with her, having taken the Bison to a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament title in 2022 and the subsequent NCAA Regional appearance that came with it.
The Smoke will be just the second fully professional sports team in Austin – which just crossed a population of 1 million people this year – giving the club a unique opportunity to expand and grow in Texas’ capital, a city that’s doing so right along with them at a rapid rate.
The Smoke probably couldn’t truly claim themselves to be Texas’ team in the WPF if there wasn’t some home-state flair on the roster, which was taken care of immediately, when Janae Jefferson was the first athlete signed for the inaugural season.
Following a decorated career nearby at UT, in which she finished as the Big 12 Conference’s all-time hits leader and helped take the Longhorns to the championship series of the 2022 Women’s College World Series, the multiple-time All-American from the Houston area will almost certainly be one of the Smoke’s main contributors throughout the summer, especially if their hot start – at 4-0 following Monday’s games – continues.
Our pros deserve the best in uniforms and protective gear, Wilson took care of me during my career, and so I knew I had to work with Wilson to take care of my players and executive my vision.— The Texas Smoke (@thetexassmoke) June 15, 2023
- Brandon Phillips
We're honored to be able to carry on the legacy as we defend the 512 pic.twitter.com/KT4ZrcwlbC
Of course, Texas’ depth of talent doesn’t end with Jefferson, and with every squad in the four-team league loaded to the brim with elite players, the Smoke have their own arsenal to show off.
Former Arizona State All-American Morgan Howe is back on the diamond, for instance, and former LSU standout pitcher/utility player Shelbi Sunseri, selected by the Smoke in the WPF’s expansion draft after being with the Smash-It Sports Vipers, has proven early on to be a keen selection for Texas as she has four RBIs in as many games.
Native Texan Samantha Show, who was an excellent two-way college player at both Texas A&M and Oklahoma State from 2016-2019, joined the squad in the offseason after time playing Athletes Unlimited and in the WPF with the USSSA Pride, throwing some valuable former pro experience into the mix, too.
The Draft Picks
Yes, it’s early, but of the six WPF Draft selections the Smoke made in April, one of those players is tied for the league lead in batting average, another is tied for the league lead in RBIs and another has the league’s lowest ERA.
And to make matters worse for the rest of the league, reinforcements are coming.
Ex-Washington superstar Baylee Klingler – a former Pac-12 Conference Player of the Year, league hitting Triple Crown winner and a multi-time All-American – was the second overall selection by the Smoke (and the first position player off the board), and she hasn’t disappointed.
After closing her career with the Huskies in the WCWS a few weeks ago, the Houston native has gone on to bat .417 in 14 plate appearances to start her professional softball career, evening her with the Oklahoma City Spark’s Michelle Moultrie for the WPF lead.
Texas’ fourth-round pick, Charla Echols (Florida), has come out swinging, too. Her and Sunseri hold the league lead for RBIs with four, with Echols picking up three of them in a Monday win over the Vipers, in which she went 2-for-3 at the plate with a home run.
To top it all off, the pitching has been locked down by the Smoke’s third-round choice, Autumn Pease, this past season’s Big Ten Pitcher of the Year at Minnesota. She has been lights-out to the tune of a 0.00 ERA and just five hits allowed, with six strikeouts, in 7 2/3 innings across three outings.
The Smoke’s other three draft choices haven’t had a chance to suit up yet, meanwhile, as they were busy with other things – playing for a national championship.
Florida State’s dynamic duo of Kathryn Sandercock and Mack Leonard, both of whom were integral to the Seminoles’ run to the WCWS final, was selected, and they’ll be joined by Oklahoma’s Grace Lyons, who won the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year award the past three years, along with helping lead OU to national championships in each of those seasons.
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