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Mean Green softball evaluating talent and newcomers in fall play

Mean Green softball evaluating talent and newcomers in fall play

The softball team warms up before their three-hour practice. The team is preparing for their first home game against Weatherfod on Oct. 20.

Mean Green softball evaluating talent and newcomers in fall play
October 19
14:33 2016

Fall is normally reserved for cold-weather sports like football, basketball and hockey.

But North Texas softball has already begun its march towards the 2017 season with the beginning of fall ball.

The team played five scrimmages against West Texas A&M University, Texas Women’s University and the University of Oklahoma, and has three games remaining on its schedule. The Mean Green will meet Weatherford College and North Central Texas College later this month.

While the games don’t mean much on the record sheet, it is a crucial time for head coach Tracey Kee and and her staff to evaluate their team.

Kee only added four new freshman and a walk-on in the offseason – outfielder Camille Grahmann, utility players and twins Lindsay and Lacy Gregory, walk-on outfielder Victoria Blagg and catcher Nicole Ochotnicki. Before the 2016 campaign, Kee added 11 new players to the squad, so she was excited to get back on the field to see what she would be working with.

“It felt good,” Kee said. “You don’t know what your strengths are [and] what your weaknesses are when you’re scrimmaging each other. To actually see a quality team I felt was important.”

The softball team warms up before their three-hour practice. The team is preparing for their first home game against Weatherfod on Oct. 20.

The softball team warms up before their three-hour practice. The team is preparing to continue fall ball play. Hannah Breland

North Texas posted a 22-33 mark last season with a 5-19 record in Conference USA play. One issue that plagued them all last year was timely hitting, and it’s something the Mean Green worked diligently on over the summer and into the fall.

“We were able to produce some runs,” senior infielder Kelli Schkade said. “Having hits back-to-back-to-back and putting runs up so our pitchers are more comfortable was a big focus.”

Schkade is a key returner for the Mean Green and was far and away the team’s most valuable player last year. Schkade hit at a .393 clip with 13 home runs while driving in 42. She led the team in nearly all offensive categories.

To begin their scrimmages, North Texas hosted West Texas A&M in a doubleheader at Lovelace Stadium. The Lady Buffs finished last season as the No. 1 team in the NCAA Division-2 South Central Region rankings. In a close game, the Mean Green fell in extras of game one 10-9 after both sides traded home runs.

North Texas bounced back though and dominated game two, winning 13-1 later in the afternoon. Grahmann, who dons double zeros on her back, impressed for the Mean Green. She batted lead-off in both contests and reached base on multiple occasions while milking pitches from the West Texas A&M pitchers.

Kee hopes Grahmann can be an important cog for the team moving forward.

“She causes havoc,” Kee said with a laugh. “We let her do her thing. If she wants to bunt her way on [or] slap her way on it doesn’t matter. She has an unbelievable eye. We needed a table-setter early, and I wanted to get Schkade out of that lead-off [spot] and get some people on in front of her.”

Overall, Kee was pleased with how her freshman performed across the board.

“I thought Lindsay and Lacy put some great hits on the board,” Kee said. “The new additions have made some nice offensive contributions.”

The Mean Green then went across town to face TWU in a doubleheader. North Texas lost game one 4-3 but took game two 5-3. They then went north to Norman to face the Sooners, and Oklahoma knocked off the Mean Green by multiple runs in both games.

The injury bug bit the Mean Green pitching staff over the fall, leaving seniors Jessica Elder and Stacey Underwood hobbled. This also meant sophomore Lauren Craine was the only pitcher at 100 percent.

But the pitchers are not the only ones dealing with injuries. Sophomore utility player Rhylie Makawe has been sidelined due to shoulder surgery but should be back for the regular season in the spring.

Thrust into the top of the depth chart, Craine started both game ones against West Texas A&M and TWU, and started game two against the Sooners. Underwood started both game twos against WTAMU and TWU, and game one against the Sooners on a bum ankle. Elder made her fall debut in the second game against Oklahoma.

Craine gave a “valiant effort,” according to Kee, throwing 128 pitches in game one against West Texas A&M. And despite the injured ankle, Underwood looked like herself and racked up the strikeouts.

“It felt good,” Underwood said. “Obviously the pain wasn’t too great, but it felt good going out there and just pitching because I haven’t been able to practice too much.”

The Mean Green will wrap up fall play before October comes to a close, and will then turn their attention to the regular season. The schedule for the spring has not been released yet, but the anticipation is palpable for both the players and coaches.

“The thing I’m most excited about is the hitting,” Kee said. “I don’t think we have any holes one through nine in our lineup. Freshman are getting their opportunities and capitalizing. The excitement of our depth will hopefully help us in the long run.”

Featured Image: The softball team warms up before their three-hour practice. The team is preparing for fall ball play. Hannah Breland

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Clay Massey

Clay Massey

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