Texas royalty Janae Jefferson ready for her debut on college softball's biggest stage
Not long after Texas had secured its spot in the Women’s College World Series last Saturday, Janae Jefferson checked her phone. The senior second baseman had texts to sift through and Instagram comments to read. Her Twitter mentions included a shout-out from Longhorns legend Cat Osterman.
When did she finally make it through all that avalanche of applause?
"Probably when we got back to Austin," Jefferson said. "Leaving the game, getting on the flight, taking off. Yeah, it was a lot. Even that night, I had to put it on 'do not disturb' just because it was blowing up so much."
Saturday's 3-0 win at Arkansas in the third game of their super regional series advanced Texas to the WCWS for the first time since 2013. Jefferson scored the decisive run in the sixth inning and earlier had made a diving back-shoulder catch on a ball that had drifted into right field.
Texas (43-19-1) will meet UCLA (48-8) on Thursday morning, the first WCWS game scheduled at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City. Up to this point, an appearance on college softball's biggest stage was really the only thing missing from Jefferson's lengthy résumé:
• With 357 career hits, Jefferson is Texas' all-time hits leader. She set that record last season; since then, she has put 103 more hits worth of distance between herself and second place.
• Jefferson also is Texas' career leader in batting average (.431), doubles (53) and starts (262). She either owns or is quickly closing in on eight single-season records.
• Jefferson also is the Big 12's career hits and batting average leader.
• Earlier this year, she was one of five college players who earned a spot on Team USA.
• On Wednesday, Jefferson was placed on the second team of the NFCA's All-American team. Texas pitcher Hailey Dolcini earned a third-team nod. Jefferson and Osterman are the only four-time All-Americans in UT's history.
"It's on the record books," Texas coach Mike White said of Jefferson's legacy. "She's worked really hard, she takes a lot of pride in her game."
In her career, Jefferson has tagged 71 teams and nearly 200 different pitchers for at least one hit. She's 2-for-7 against UCLA star Megan Faraimo, who she'll likely see in the Bruins' circle Thursday.
"I have to respect her bat as a slapper and a hitter, I think mostly a hitter," said Faraimo, who was the Pac-12's pitcher of the year. "My goal is to just throw the best pitches I can, make the ball move and hopefully she won't hit one off of me."
Four of Jefferson's career hits have come against future teammates. She went 1-for-2 in a 2018 game against Oregon's Miranda Elish, who pitched at Texas from 2019-20. She earned two hits against Ole Miss' Molly Jacobsen before Jacobsen joined UT as a graduate transfer in 2021. Dolcini beat the Longhorns while pitching for Fresno State in 2020, but Jefferson was 1-for-3 in that contest.
Jefferson was "one of the toughest outs I've ever had to face," said Jacobsen, now a UT graduate manager. What makes Jefferson such a tough out? This week, Jacobsen assessed that it's Jefferson's ability to adjust between at-bats as well as pitches.
Dolcini praised her teammate's instincts and intelligence. To illustrate her point, she pointed to one particular at-bat in the second game against Arkansas in the super regionals. To lead off the third inning, Jefferson fouled off Mary Haff's first pitch and then showed bunt on a pitch that was a ball. On Haff's third pitch, Jefferson hit the go-ahead homer.
"You can't predict what (she's) going to do," Dolcini said.
Jefferson must now shift her attention to doing something that was last done in 2013. It has been nine years since Lindsey Stephens — who was a childhood hero of Jefferson's — became the last Longhorn to record a hit at the Women's College World Series.
Before the season started, the super senior stated that her main goal was to lead the Longhorns to Oklahoma City. That mission has been accomplished. White, however, said that "now we've got to get over that fact and go say hey, you need to make noise at the College World Series."
Texas is one of three unseeded teams in the WCWS field. The Longhorns are looking to win their first-ever national title.
"We're still that Cinderella story and who knows what noise we'll make when we get out there," Jefferson said. "We're not done yet."
Texas vs. UCLA
11 a.m. Thursday, Oklahoma City, ESPN, 105.3