North Texas Daily

Mean Green softball season recap: How the program was bound to its next step despite shortened season

Mean Green softball season recap: How the program was bound to its next step despite shortened season

Mean Green softball season recap: How the program was bound to its next step despite shortened season
April 16
20:04 2020

Things looked on the up-and-up for second year Mean Green softball head coach Rodney DeLong and his squad sitting at 19-5, 2-1 Conference-USA going into a home series against Western Kentucky (20-5, 3-0 C-USA) over the weekend of Friday, March 13. North Texas stood on top of C-USA West and Western Kentucky led the East division at the time. Due to concerns of the COVID-19 outbreak on Thursday, March 12, all NCAA sporting events were temporarily suspended and officially canceled on March 16.

“It was really tough for our players to hear the news,” DeLong said. “We had a team meeting and broke the news to all of them. It was emotional and hard because there was a lot of work put in. To see the kind of steps they took and the sacrifices they made in the seniors last shot to be possibly the best team in program history, was rough seeing it taken away from them.”

Before the season began, DeLong and his coaching staff were evaluating who the potential leaders of the spring season might be and noticed the professionalism among the returners. However, he did notice an odd characteristic in his team with the group being quieter than usual.

“This team was very business-like,” DeLong said. “Heading into the fall you don’t really know the full identity of the team, so I got worried for a little bit about how quiet they were at first. It was fun to see them interact and get after it later on, but they were good at everything they did.”

Eight seniors were set to play in the spring and while being picked in the C-USA preseason poll to win the conference for the second year in a row, just after breaking a school record for wins in the 2019 season with 35. Senior outfielder Katie Clark, senior infielder Lacy Gregory and junior pitcher Hope Trautwein were named to the preseason all C-USA team including DeLong as the Coach of the Year.

“I think this season we came in with a little more confidence than before,” Clark said. “We had the belief we were going to win but at the same time tried, played our hardest every single game no matter who the other team was.”

In their first tournament over the weekend of Feb. 7, North Texas began the spring campaign at 4-1 hosted by McNeese State and Lousiana Lafayette. The weekend was highlighted by a 2-1 win over No. 6 ranked Louisiana Lafayette on the home Rajun’ Cajun’s turf.

The following weekend the Mean Green hosted their own tournament in a round-robin schedule with Creighton, Abilene Christian and Missouri State and Tennessee-Martin. North Texas improved to 9-1 after winning all four games on the weekend.

The pitching staff limited damage to opposing hitters as Trautwein, sophomore Bailey Tindell and freshman Ariel Thompson allowed one run or less each in their outings in the four games. Trautwein earned two wins on the weekend against Creighton and Missouri State, combining for 15 innings and 23 strikeouts.

A nationally televised game against No. 4 Texas on Feb. 19 was the second top-10 ranked opponent the Mean Green faced in their opening 11 games. North Texas jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning later to lose in extra innings 3-2, including an effort by Trautwein going eight innings pitched allowing two earned runs and five strikeouts.

“Even after winning our conference a year ago, our new goal this season was to run down power five schools,” DeLong said. “We wanted to take the next step in our program to play and even win a regional tournament.”

In a tournament hosted by Texas A&M Corpus Christi, Trautwein broke a school record with 21 strikeouts against the Islanders in a 3-0 eight-inning win. North Texas went undefeated in the tournament finishing (4-0) for the second weekend in a row.

The final game played at North Texas’ home stadium was a 10-1 run-rule win against Texas-Arlington on Mardi Gras. Offensively the Mean Green mustered all 10 runs in the first two innings including 10 hits.

With one week to go before conference play began, the team traveled to Norman, Oklahoma, in a tournament hosted by the No. 5 Sooners in a five-game weekend against Abilene Christian, Northwestern and Oklahoma. Game one resulted in a 9-1 loss to Northwestern, where North Texas later rebounded the Friday afternoon with a 5-2 win over Abilene Christian, the second win against the Wildcats in the season.

The biggest win of the season came the next day with the Mean Green playing their first game of a doubleheader against No. 5 Oklahoma. Senior outfielder Hanna Rebar knocked a two-run home run, and fellow senior outfielder Kenzie Young drove in sophomore infielder Tayla Evans to go up 4-3 in the sixth inning. Trautwein closed out the final two innings shutting out the Sooners to clinch one of the most notable wins in program history.

Despite dropping the next game 15-8 to the Sooners, North Texas launched six home runs in the second matchup coming off the bats of Clark, freshman infielder Saleen Donohoe, senior catcher Nicole Ochotnicki, two for Rebar and junior utility player Kourtney Williams.

North Texas continued a road stretch in their first C-USA series against Texas-San Antonio over the weekend of Friday, March 6. With injuries plaguing senior second baseman Lacy Gregory since the Corpus Christi tournament, she returned to the lineup in the opening series after missing six games including the entirety of the Oklahoma-hosted tournament.

“It was exciting to get back and I was upset while missing the tournament against [Oklahoma],” Gregory said. “I think that tournament showed how well rounded the team was and anyone had the ability to step up. [Williams] played well and had a great weekend overall which proved we had depth as a team.”

The series was split at one apiece in San Antonio between the Mean Green and the Roadrunners heading into the Sunday rubber match. North Texas found themselves down 3-2 until an offensive outburst, which resulted in nine unanswered runs with a final score of 11-3 in North Texas’ favor of winning the three-game series. Six home runs came from the Mean Green offense for the second time of the year with two round-trippers coming from Clark and Evans, including one for Clark and freshman infielder Candain Callahan.

The fourth game in four days closed out the road trip for North Texas in their single nonconference game against Incarnate Word, which ended up being the last game of the season before NCAA’s cancelation of all sports.

The Mean Green found themselves down 4-0 early with Tindell in the circle with the Cardinals cashing in on the defensive miscues. The offense put up 11 straight runs in innings four through seven giving Tindell sufficient run support to earn her sixth win of the season.

“We were really excited about coming home and playing that series against Western Kentucky,” DeLong said. “The rest of the team felt like something special was coming and a possible record-breaking season.”

Within the next couple of days, the C-USA temporarily shut down competition, shortly the NCAA stepped in and officially canceled the remainder of all sporting events and competition. The announcing of the season being canceled led to an emotional response by the North Texas team and its eight seniors.

“There were a lot of tears shed in the team meeting and everyone including the coaches was sad too,” Clark said. “[DeLong] told us the best thing to do was go home and be with our families and told all of us he’s there if we needed him. Since then, he’s kept us updated on everything that’s been going on in our group chats.”

With seniors who have the opportunity to return in 2021 after an NCAA blanket eligibility ruling, DeLong appreciates the senior class on turning the program around in a short amount of time if some of the players do decide to move on from the game.

“Some of [the seniors] really emerged and helped push the culture and trust the process,” DeLong said. “With a class of multiple personalities, ultimately I’m very thankful they accepted me and my staff by buying into the things we taught. The way they played and improved our program doesn’t happen without this group of kids.”

Offensively in the 24 games played, Clark led the team in batting average (.348) and hits (28), Clark and Evans tied for the team lead in runs (20). Rebar led the team with seven home runs, including Evans lead in RBI’s with 19.

The pitching staff combined for a 2.31 earned-run average among Trautwein, Tindell, Thompson and senior Lauren Craine. Trautwein led the team in wins (11), earned-run average (1.64),  appearances (15), innings pitches (81) and strikeouts (124).

While her decision isn’t 100 percent final on coming back, Clark fell in line with the rest of the seniors, feeling this spring was a long-term investment each of the players had committed to their entire collegiate career.

“There’s so much camaraderie among all of the players and they’re like family,” Clark said. “We’ve been around each other more than our own family members and being able to compete with this group with a common goal is a feeling like nothing I can explain.”

Photos by Ryan Cantrell and Zachary Thomas

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Preston Rios

Preston Rios

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