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Behind the plate with freshman catcher Nicole Ochotnicki

Behind the plate with freshman catcher Nicole Ochotnicki

Freshman catcher Nicole Ochotnicki stands for a portrait at Lovelace Field. Clay Massey

Behind the plate with freshman catcher Nicole Ochotnicki
February 27
17:00 2017

Crouched behind home plate, the catcher puts her glove up to receive a pitch from a former foe standing in the circle just 35 feet away.

Before freshman catcher Nicole Ochotnicki was framing pitches for sophomore Lauren Craine, she was hitting them.

In 2015, Ochotnicki played for Vista Ridge High school and went to the class 5A state title game where she took on Aledo High School. Now two years later, Ochotnicki is teammates with Craine and first baseman Rhylie Makawe, both of whom were members of the Aledo team that won the 2015 state title.

“It’s really cool being teammates now,” Ochotnicki said. “It’s interesting to see how Lauren has grown as a pitcher.”

Even though Aledo beat Vista Ridge in the championship game, and the two are now battery mates, there is one thing Ochotnicki won’t let Craine forget.

“As soon as she came to North Texas she was like ‘I hit a double off of you in the state game,’” Craine said.

But Ochotnicki was hitting doubles long before that state championship game, and got her start playing softball at an early age.

When she was 9, Ochotnicki was playing third base for her recreation league softball team when she was thrust behind the plate after the catcher had gotten injured. It was a whirlwind, but Ochotnicki embraced the challenge.

Once she sat behind the plate with all the pads and mask on, she was hooked.

“I love being catcher,” Ochotnicki said. “I always get the ball. I’m a part of every play and it has a lot of tricky details that could change the game. If I’m behind the plate and I frame a ball and make it look like a strike, that could be the difference between someone getting a walk or someone getting a strikeout.”

Catchers play a big role on the diamond and have to take in a lot of information quickly. They are usually the captain of the infield and relay signals from the dugout. When she’s behind the plate, Ochotnicki has to be aware of the pitcher, hitter, runners on base, count, score and inning.

And she can’t stay focused on one thing too long.

At any given moment, a runner could attempt to steal or make a move on the base path, even while she is framing a pitch or performing another task.

“She never looks rattled,” head coach Tracey Kee said. “She doesn’t miss pitches in regards to what’s being sent in. Just rookie mistakes you typically see as a catcher, she hasn’t been making those in games. Her focus, her demeanor and quiet confidence have been something that I’m pleased with.”

In 14 games this season, Ochotnicki has started 13 at catcher. While she hasn’t hit the ball well, with a batting average of .206, Ochotnicki has been a force on defense. In her first game behind the plate for North Texas, Ochotnicki threw out a University of Arkansas player attempting to swipe second.

Catching runners stealing was Ochotnicki’s main focus in the offseason and getting her first one out of the way quick was a confidence booster.

“It made me feel like I can maybe make it in college softball,” Ochotnicki said. “I used to throw from my knees in high school, but now with the more advanced pitching, you need to throw from your feet. Just getting that footwork down was a challenge for me.”

College softball plays at a more advanced level in every aspect of the game, and making the jump from high school to Division I was no easy task.

“I don’t think it’s ever an easy transition,” Kee said. “She logged five games this week behind the plate, which a lot of catchers can’t do, and a lot of that goes back to her athleticism and her training. I have all the confidence in her in regards to her framing and her ability to lock and keep the ball in front. She’s a quality catcher.”

Along with polishing her own mechanics, Ochotnicki has studied up on all the pitchers she catches. This includes learning the intricacies of how each one throws so she can frame pitches to play to their strengths.

By putting in countless hours with her battery mates, she’s earned the trust of the entire pitching staff despite being only a freshman.

“She’s really bought into what Coach Kee has taught her,” Craine said. “She’s really helpful for us pitchers. If we’re doing something wrong, she knows exactly what we’re doing and helps us make adjustments.”

Even though she has only played a handful of games for the Mean Green, Ochotnicki’s teammates are already rubbing off on her.

“They’re all great players and they work really hard,” Ochotnicki said.  “Seeing them on the field makes me want to work harder.”

Featured Image: Freshman catcher Nicole Ochotnicki stands for a portrait at Lovelace Field. Clay Massey

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Morgan Price

Morgan Price

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