North Texas Daily

6 to 4: Smith and Simon hold down middle infield for softball

6 to 4: Smith and Simon hold down middle infield for softball

6 to 4: Smith and Simon hold down middle infield for softball
April 08
13:00 2022

A duo of underclassman infielders takes the field for the softball team on a sunny Sunday afternoon. After fielding some practice ground balls, the pair meets at second base to exchange their ritual handshake.

Sophomore second baseman Mikayla Smith and freshman Cierra Simon occupy the middle infield for North Texas, sharing a bond that transcends the field. Smith and Simon have started every game of the season for the Mean Green, playing both middle infield positions. Both have contributed to North Texas’ being tied for the best fielding percentage in Conference USA. 

“I’m very confident in myself on the field and I give credit to our assistant coach [Jason Gwyn] for that,” Simon said. “He’s worked with us 24/7, routine ground balls [and] hard ground balls […] he helps us make plays look effortless.”

While Simon is a freshman, Smith has been the Mean Green’s starting second baseman since last season. Smith came to the team from Moore, Okla., after a four-year run at Southmoore High School where she won three all-conference honors in four years.

The Oklahoma native started 27 of 50 games as a freshman for North Texas last season, giving her experience heading into the 2022 campaign. Smith said she passes her knowledge onto Simon when she can.

“I try to help her as much as I can,” Smith said. “I’m always there helping her, giving her more information if I possibly can.”

Simon was recruited out of the East Texas city of Crockett where she played four years of sports at Crockett High School. Along with her softball accolades there, she played volleyball and ran cross country and track. She currently leads the Mean Green in stolen bases with 13 and is tied for No. 2 with 19 runs scored.

After starting the year with a .200 batting average, Simon has raised her average by 44 percentage points since March 15.

“[I’m] just relaxed and swinging how I would in [batting practice],” Simon said. “It shouldn’t be any different from practice into a game. [I’m] hitting the ball hard now.”

Smith and Simon have accounted for 95 fielding assists as a duo, a combined mark that puts them 47 assists ahead of the second-highest individual in senior third baseman Tayla Evans. The pair’s efforts in the middle infield landed them at No. 8 on ESPN’s SportsCenter Top 10 Plays of the Night on March 16. The honor came from a play against Oklahoma State University where Smith had to sprint and slide to stop a hard grounder before flipping the ball to Simon for a force out at second.

“This year we definitely have become close,” Smith said. “Not only on the field, but just as a friendship. We get each other very well and we won’t even have to say anything to each other to understand what’s going on. […] Even being a sophomore [myself], she teaches me as much as I teach her.”

Communicating prior to and during games is something Simon said is a key part of the pair’s relationship. Playing in close proximity to each other, Simon and Smith each need to know where the other is positioned on the field at all times.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been on a team where I communicated with someone so much,” Simon said. “If I’m over, she already knows she has second base and if I’ve got second she already knows [I am] there. We don’t really need to talk to each other.”

Through 28 games, North Texas (21-7, 10-2 C-USA)  is two games better than its 19-9 mark at the same point last season. With four conference series remaining, head coach Rodney DeLong and co. are trying to repeat as C-USA regular-season champions. The Mean Green currently sit a half game behind the University of Alabama-Birmingham for the lead in the West Division and overall conference standings.

“If we want to finish first or second in the regular season, we have to get some sweeps,” DeLong said. “[Alabama-Birmingham] is playing well right now, we’re a half game behind them. We’ve got to sweep [the series] to keep pace with them.”

Featured Image: Freshman shortstop Cierra Simon (left) and sophomore second baseman Mikayla Smith dance to music between innings on April 3, 2022. Photo by John Fields

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Reed Smith

Reed Smith

sports editor

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