North Texas Daily

Hard work, faith and success define Wagoner’s first year with softball

Hard work, faith and success define Wagoner’s first year with softball

Hard work, faith and success define Wagoner’s first year with softball
April 27
12:00 2023

For junior right-handed pitcher McKenzie Wagoner, faith has guided her to where she is now. 

Wagoner started her career at Liberty University in 2021, basing her decision to attend the university on its Christian culture. After pitching for two years with the Flames, Wagoner entered her name into the transfer portal prior to the 2023 campaign.

“After two years, I decided that it wasn’t the place for me — it didn’t feel like home anymore,” Wagoner said. “I felt like God was calling me to go somewhere else and that’s how I chose North Texas.”

Head coach Rodney DeLong and his staff had an eye on Wagoner in her high school days in Newcastle, Oklahoma. A standout from Newcastle High School, Liberty recruited the pitcher early, picking up an early commitment her freshman year and retaining Wagoner’s loyalty through high school.

When Wagoner entered the portal, DeLong was quick to make contact. 

“I watched her play when she played at Newcastle High School and travel ball,” DeLong said. “I knew she was always talented, but she committed to Liberty a long time ago. The second she got in the portal, I knew that was one we’d try to go after.”

Wagoner has led the Mean Green in pitching this season alongside senior left-handed pitcher Ashley Peters. Both pitchers have a sub-two earned-run average — with Wagoner holding the advantage at a 1.74 mark — and rank in the top five of Conference USA in overall pitching

Peters said Wagoner has raised the pitching staff’s competition level. 

“She has helped us out as a bullpen as a whole,” Peters said. “She pushes us all to be better and she’s just really competitive.”

Wagoner’s main skill is pitching, but she brings a dual threat to the Mean Green as a productive batter. She pitched and hit before college, but never took an at-bat in a competitive game before playing at North Texas. 

DeLong was adamant in saying while Wagoner could hit, she would have to earn a spot in the lineup before the season started. As North Texas’ lineup hit a bump in the road at the end of March and early April, Wagoner began getting more at-bats as the team searched for offensive production. 

“[Wagoner] didn’t get a whole lot of at-bats early,” DeLong said. “We were struggling and looking for a spark and gave her the opportunity and she ran with it — it’s a reflection of her, and hopefully she’ll continue to hit.”

Since recording her first career hit on April 1 versus the University of Alabama-Birmingham, Wagoner has raised her average from .000 to .206 as of April 25. Pitching is her main focus, but Wagoner said she wanted to go to a school that gave her the “opportunity to pick up a bat.”

“I knew I could hit the ball — I just needed an opportunity,” Wagoner said. “I got that here at North Texas.”

The right-handed pitcher has had two key moments at the plate this season. Wagoner picked up her first career home run in a game she started in the circle against the University of Texas-El Paso on April 7.

“I was seeing the ball really well that weekend, and I think I had the pitcher’s number pretty well,” Wagoner said. “It came down to a full count and you just have to breathe, get in the right mindset and say, ‘just hit it hard somewhere,’ and that’s what I did.”

Facing the University of North Carolina-Charlotte on April 15, Wagoner singled in the winning run in a come-from-behind victory for the Mean Green. Wagoner said her faith got her through the walk-off at-bat. 

“I knew I wanted to do this for my team ­— I knew they were relying on me,” Wagoner said. “I was just praying to God — all glory to him, he got me through it.”

During the week, Wagoner has one of the busier training schedules on the team. As a pitcher and batter, she throws bullpens and takes batting practice, switching between the two in practices throughout the week. Her battery mate, junior catcher Kalei Christensen, said she admires Wagoner’s hard work.

“It’s tough on her because she’s having to do it on both sides,” Christensen said. “She’s having to go into the circle and be successful on top of being able to get it done in the lineup — that’s a testament to her.”

With North Texas winning five of its last six conference games, Wagoner is a key part of the team’s recent success. In her first year in Denton, she has made an impact on DeLong, who said he believes Wagoner could have a future in a position similar to his own. 

“I want to know what [Wagoner] is doing with her future,” DeLong said. “I think the kid could be a coach, she’s extremely smart — I’d want to know if she’d have an interest in coaching, because I’d like to hire her.”

Featured Image Junior pitcher McKenzie Wagoner throws a pitch in the first inning against the North Carolina-Charlotte on April 14, 2023. Matt Iaia

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Reed Smith

Reed Smith

sports editor

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