North Texas Daily

Junior infielder Schkade thriving as softball’s leadoff hitter

Junior infielder Schkade thriving as softball’s leadoff hitter

February 25
00:30 2016

Clay Massey | Staff Writer

@Clay_FC

When North Texas approached the batter’s box for the first time this season against University of Arizona, it was junior infielder Kelli Schkade who faced the first pitch since last spring.

The kinesiology major and biology minor stepped in, shook off the dust leftover from last season and started to read the hand the opposing pitcher was dealing. The first card dealt was a ball.

“I try to see a lot of pitches for the whole team,” Schkade said. “The more pitches I see, the more they see. I just get in there and try to be as confident as I can and try to be aggressive. I try not to think too much in the box. If the first pitch is there, I’m going to take a hack at it.”

The first pitch wasn’t there on opening night, but the second pitch was. Schkade teed off to left field for a solo home run, which is quite the contrast from a leadoff hitter’s role of feeling out a pitcher by watching a lot of pitches.

Though it’s impossible to improve on her average after the first at-bat, the junior has continued to prove her value as the Mean Green’s lead-off hitter. She has started the season with a .444 average with 11 RBIs and four homeruns, earning Conference-USA Co-Player of the Week honors after week one. The blazing start has also played an instrumental role in the team’s 6-4, which has led to the team receiving national votes for the first time in program history.

North Texas junior infielder Kelli Schkade has a batting average of .444 with 4 home runs already in the season. Dylan Nadwodny | Staff Photographer

North Texas junior infielder Kelli Schkade has a batting average of .444 with 4 home runs already in the season. Dylan Nadwodny | Staff Photographer

With such a young group surrounding Schkade and the other very few upperclassmen players, head coach Tracey Kee welcomes the spark she brings to the table.

“She’s the catalyst which gets our offense going,” Kee said. “With our young group, she goes and so do they. It’s nice to see her setting a tempo and tone right out of the gate.”

A native of Albany, Texas, Schkade was named the consistent leadoff hitter last season in her first season at North Texas after transferring from the University of Missouri. She decided to transfer prior to her sophomore season to play next to her sister, Jami.

Softball has always been a family affair for the Schkades. All three Schkade sisters played softball, and the oldest of the three, Staci, was coached by their father.

“Me and my sister Jami just grew up with it,” Schkade said. “We just followed in her footsteps. It was always what we wanted to do.”

When Kelli came to North Texas, she had not hit lead off since her sophomore season of high school. Schkade slowly got back into the rhythm of hitting in the one spot, posting a .250 average with a .328 on base percentage in 2015.

But because of the work ethic instilled in her by growing up in a softball-oriented family, she was determined to put in work this off-season on balancing her stance and holding her hands back to be more patient at the plate – a quality required of successful lead-off hitters.

“I always had leaders growing up,” Schkade said. “I think that just the hard-work ethic I’ve seen from people, that’s what I try to model myself after. Not particularly any one aspect of the game, just hard workers and leaders as a whole.”

The work has paid off so far this season, as Schkade has already upped her home-run total from last season by one and has Kee wanting to move her to the coveted three-hole spot, which is normally reserved for a team’s best average hitter.

The success has even started to instill fear in opponents. Schkade has been intentionally walked three times this season.

“Teams are pitching around her, of sorts,” Kee said. “Teams try to avoid Kelli and put her on, and it ends up backfiring on them. Whenever that can happen, it’s always a good thing.”

The player immediately reaping the awards of Schkade’s knack to get on base is junior outfielder Danielle Gregory, who currently boasts a .394 average with 7 RBIs as the team’s two-spot hitter.

North Texas junior infielder Kelli Schkade fields a ball at shortstop during a practice. Dylan Nadwodny | Staff Photographer

North Texas junior infielder Kelli Schkade fields a ball at shortstop during a practice. Dylan Nadwodny | Staff Photographer

“I see her get a base hit, and that helps that drive to move her along the bases,” Gregory said. “It sets a standard for all of us.”

Despite her recent string of success, Schkade has dreams of being a surgical nurse after her collegiate career is over. It’s a fitting aspiration for a lead-off hitter, considering both require the patience and precision Schkade has shown on the field all season.

In the meantime, the junior still sees room to perfect her craft and help the Mean Green continue receiving national votes.

“It’s exciting to have a good start, but it doesn’t make me feel I need to work any less,” Schkade said. “I know I need to work just as hard to carry this throughout the season. I hope I can do that for the team.”

Featured Image: Junior infielder Kelli Schkade cocks her arm back to throw a ball to first base during a drill in practice. Dylan Nadwodny | Staff Photographer

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