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Mean Green softball confident a conference collapse won’t happen again this season

Mean Green softball confident a conference collapse won’t happen again this season

February 22
13:44 2017

Last season, the Mean Green softball team got off to its second-best start in school history. With a 13-6 record and two wins against nationally ranked Baylor University, North Texas was flying high entering conference play.

Then it all came crashing down.

The Mean Green went 5-19 in Conference USA to finish the season with an overall mark of 22-33. Adding insult to injury was the fact the C-USA tournament was being held in Denton, and North Texas did not qualify.

With a relatively young team comprised mainly of underclassmen, the Mean Green learned an important lesson: it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.

“Last year we started off pretty strong and faced some really good teams,” sophomore pitcher Lauren Craine said. “But once we got to conference we kind of fell apart.”

As the softball season gets underway this year, North Texas is determined to not let its inexperience get the better of them again. Currently, 10 of the 15 players on the roster have one year or less of playing experience at the collegiate level.

But head coach Tracey Kee isn’t worried.

“Youth isn’t a bad thing,” Kee said. “They’re fresh out of the gates. Yeah, you’ll have to deal with their nerves at times, but to me, we’re just trying to put the best team on the field regardless of their age.”

In 2016, however, youth reared its ugly head.

Having knocked off No. 21 Baylor twice in Waco, North Texas appeared to be one of the teams to beat in C-USA. At seven games above .500 entering conference play, the Mean Green were swept in their first C-USA series before eventually going on a 15-game losing skid.

Pitching, hitting and fielding all became issues in the three-week stretch without a victory.

“To come out of the gates and knock off Baylor, who was No. 7, that’s great,” Kee said. “But once we hit conference play it was hard for them to transition into the fact that beating Southern Miss, UAB and [Louisiana] Tech is way more important than knocking off any other Big 12 school.”

Having a year under their belt and a better grasp at what a college season will throw at them, the returning sophomores are feeling more prepared coming into their second season. They are also hoping to avoid another second half collapse that could cost them a C-USA tournament bid.

Sophomore third baseman Harley Perella had a strong freshman campaign and is looking to build on it. Perella started all but one game in 2016 and ranked fourth on the team in batting average.

“It’s a lot different actually knowing what to expect,” Perella said. “Sometimes you think you know and then it hits you. I think it’s important to have [a year] under your belt and now that more of us have that, we’ll be better off.”

One of North Texas’ problems in the past season was pitching — or lack thereof. The Mean Green only had three pitchers on their staff and one of them was a freshman. This year, North Texas returns the same three hurlers, including Craine and seniors Stacey Underwood and Jessica Elder.

In her first season at the collegiate level, Craine went 1-6 in 28 appearances with a 5.08 ERA. And while she was the only pitcher on staff to record a save, Craine went through many struggles freshmen experience.

She put in countless hours throughout the off-season in hopes of improving her command, delivery and approach.

“Last year I mainly threw curve balls,” Craine said. “I didn’t really have any vertical pitches or off-speed, so [I worked on] getting everything I could up while trying to attack the zone. [I need to be] aggressive towards hitters.”

Middle infielder Kelli Schkade, one of only four returning seniors, understands the anxiety that comes with playing at the college level.

Like Kee, Schkade thinks having a young core of players is not necessarily a bad thing.

“There’s pros and cons,” Schkade said. “They don’t have a lot of experience under their belt, but they’re resilient and they work hard and they’re excited to be out there.”

For the 2017 season to end better than the past, North Texas will need the entire team firing on all cylinders, regardless of how much time on the diamond they’ve had.

Because to avoid an extended losing streak like the one that derailed their 2016 campaign, the Mean Green will need to grow up fast and learn to have a short memory.

“After every game you [have to] let it go and just move on for the next game, the next series,” Schkade said. “You can’t dwell on how you’re doing one week into the next because it’s always going to change. We play a sport of failure, and you just have to accept that and move on. You have to be very resilient.”

Featured Image: Sophomore right-handed pitcher Lauren Craine fields a chopper during practice at Lovelace Field on Jan. 21. In 17.0 innings this season, Craine sports a 4.53 ERA with eight strikeouts. Clay Massey

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Morgan Price

Morgan Price

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