North Texas Daily

Fresh faces look to carry softball in 2016 and beyond

Fresh faces look to carry softball in 2016 and beyond

February 11
08:18 2016

Clay Massey | Staff Writer

@Clay_FC

As the calendar inches closer to spring, the echo of a softball pinging off of an aluminum bat can be heard in Mean Green village.

The North Texas softball team has been hard at work preparing for the 2016 season, with its first pitch coming on Friday, Feb. 12 against The University of Arizona. Coming off of a 19-31 season in 2015, head coach Tracey Kee and her staff have been getting a young squad into shape with hopes of returning to the Conference USA tournament. With 13 players leaving, Kee has had a lot to observe over the past couple of weeks with a practically brand-new team.

“It was really an entire environmental change,” Kee said. “We wanted to really up the intensity and up our expectations. We knew we were bringing in a large class, and from day one we wanted to set the tempo that they were going to work hard, out-work people and be smart ball players.”

Only four players return from last year’s squad: junior pitcher Stacey Underwood, senior catcher Bryana Wade, junior infielder Kelli Schkade and senior utility player Karly Williams. Because of so many departures, Kee hit the recruiting trail hard, adding eight freshmen and three junior college transfers.

Wade knew coming into the offseason that she would have to increase her production from last season with the loss of players. Wade batted .250 with 18 RBIs and 28 strikeouts in 72 at-bats in 2015.

“Because we had lost so many people, my mindset was to help provide for this team,” Wade said. “Because we had so many young ones, I felt for me, I need to be more of an RBI hitter and provide extra base hits.”

Senior utility player Karly Williams fields the ball near home plate during practice. Dylan Nadwodny | Staff Photographer

Senior utility player Karly Williams fields the ball near home plate during practice. Dylan Nadwodny | Staff Photographer

One of the most notable losses for the Mean Green is left fielder Taylor Schoblocher. A junior last year, Schoblocher led the Mean Green last season in almost all offensive categories with a .389 average, .833 slugging, 17 homers and 42 runs batted in.

She left the softball program despite having a year of eligibility left and remains enrolled as a student at UNT.

“The way I look at it, kids that want to be here, kids that want to play hard and kids that want to be challenged will be here,” Kee said. “For us, yeah we lost a lot of power, but on the other side we lost pitching that gave up 30 plus home-runs. That’s really a plus.”

One of the greyest areas on the team lies in its pitching staff. There are only three pitchers on the roster, meaning there will be higher inning counts compared to already high totals from last year’s staff.

North Texas said goodbye to last season’s leading innings eater, Monique Garcia, who pitched 117.2 innings in 2015. Underwood, the team’s only returner, was second on the list by pitching 93 innings and finished with a team-leading 3.99 ERA and 22 strikeouts. The drop off after Underwood in innings pitched from last season is sharp, with Kenzie Grimes logging 61.1.

Filling the void in the back of the rotation will be freshman Lauren Craine and junior transfer Jessica Elder. Craine won back-to-back state titles in 2014 and ’15 with Aledo High School and was named the 4A and 5A Texas Sportswriters Association Player of the Year in back-to-back seasons. Elder was named to the Western Junior College Athletic Conference all-conference team two years in a row during her time at Howard College.

“We just have to bear down and get it,” Underwood said. “Having three of us doesn’t really change our mindset.”

It will be sink or swim for most of the young squad, as the schedule opens with a game against Super Regional finalists Arizona, who lost to Louisiana State University to miss out on a trip to the Women’s College World Series last season. In all, the Mean Green is scheduled to face six teams who advanced to the regional round of postseason play last season.

North Texas will also face opponents from the Big 12 eight times on the season, with notable match-ups at the University of Texas, Baylor University, Oklahoma University and a home double-header against Texas Tech University.

Junior infielder Kelli Schkade swings for the ball during practice. Dylan Nadwodny | Staff Photographer

Junior infielder Kelli Schkade swings for the ball during practice. Dylan Nadwodny | Staff Photographer

The Mean Green shocked the nation last season when it beat then No. 7 Baylor, the highest ranked team North Texas has ever defeated, in Waco.

“I’m a firm believer in scheduling hard,” Kee said. “We could easily pad our schedule just for wins, and for us that’s not going to move this program forward. Sometimes I feel like I’m in the Big 12, but for us those are the games we want to get on our schedule.”

With such a fresh and young squad, Kee said she wants to raise expectations for Mean Green softball and set a precedent for the future. Dubbing themselves “Team 13,” in reference to being the thirteenth team in program history, the team is embracing the idea of starting a new era of North Texas softball.

“We’ve talked about that [being a new era],” Kee said. “We respect what the other teams have done before us, but we understand it’s time to try and raise expectations and raise what we want to achieve. It starts with this group.”

Featured Image: Freshman utility player Harley Perella cocks her arm back to throw a ball to first base during practice. Dylan Nadwodny | Staff Photographer

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