North Texas Daily

Mean Green pitchers embrace bigger spotlight in CUSA

Mean Green pitchers embrace bigger spotlight in CUSA

Mean Green pitchers embrace bigger spotlight in CUSA
March 20
02:31 2014

Eshan Azad // Staff Writer

In the sports world the saying is “defense wins championships,” and in softball, pitching is a big part of the defense.

“I believe pitching is probably the most crucial point of a program being very average to being very good,” head coach Tracey Kee said. “If you don’t have quality pitching, you are not going far.”

Previously in the Sun Belt Conference, the team played opponents with more talented hitters than pitchers. That changed when North Texas joined Conference USA, a conference where teams are known for excellent pitching.

Kee, who coached in C-USA for the last 11 years, already had an idea of how to prepare for conference opponents and immediately placed an emphasis on pitching.

“Last year alone, the top three teams that made post-season play in Conference USA had the three lowest ERA’s (earned run average),” Kee said.

Kee said on the first day of practice, she put on her gear, went behind the plate and started personally instructing all of her pitchers to identify their strengths and weaknesses. Kee said that it was a good way to analyze what type of pitchers she had and where they would succeed.

“It wasn’t something they were used to,” Kee said. “But the best point of view for me was behind the catchers spot.”

She said as the weeks went on, the little tweaks the team made at first were showing massive improvement.

Lauren Poole

Lauren Poole

The results have worked, as the teams combined earned run average is 2.89, with senior pitcher Ashley Kirk having the best ERA at 1.95. It also helped her gain eight wins and two losses. Senior pitcher Lauren Poole has an ERA of 2.68 and has two wins and a loss.

“I think back to August, I was like ‘I don’t know where to begin,’” Kee said. “These four pitchers, all of them have come into their craft.”

Kee said UNT never takes any days off and constantly works to try to find anything new to add to its pitching arsenal. The pitchers are happy that a more pitching-focused conference helps put the attention on them and they welcome the challenge.

“It makes me want to be more competitive,” Poole said. “You want to be able to be the best, so it makes you work that much harder.”

Poole said the best way to make sure they are prepared is to constantly review their work on mechanics from the bullpen to the mound. The technique each pitcher uses to hold and throw the ball, including certain tricks, are what they believe can help set them apart from opponents

“Mechanics is what gets you through the game,” Poole said.

Pitchers also need to have work on the mental side and prepare that part of their mind before every game.

“You have to know that you are not unhittable,” Kirk said. “Even if your mechanics are great, if my mental state is not where it should be, it won’t be a great game.”

While both pitchers might have different views on what works on the mound, both credit the work Kee has put in during the off-season.

“She gives us the best possible repertoire we can have,” Kirk said. “She has really been involved and it really has helped this [pitching] staff.”

Kee said that while other teams have a single go-to pitcher to put out, the Mean Green has multiple options that helps avoid exhaustion. With four quality pitchers on hand, Kee said she’ll be happy with full effort from any of them.

“I tell them to embrace it and if they can only give me ten pitches, give me the best ten pitches you can get,” Kee said.

Feature photo: Senior pitcher Ashley Kirk launches the ball toward home plate during a home game against Nicholls State University on Feb. 14. Kirk gave up four runs, three of them earned, and seven hits in three innings of work at Lovelace Stadium. Photo by Edward Balusek / Staff Photographer

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