North Texas Daily

Senior pitcher Stacey Underwood finding success after altering mental approach in offseason

Senior pitcher Stacey Underwood finding success after altering mental approach in offseason

March 27
17:42 2017

As she takes the mound, it’s almost like a new person is wearing the No. 15 for the Mean Green softball team. She may have the same pink highlight in her hair, but her approach has changed dramatically.

That’s because pitching, whether it be in softball or baseball, is a mental game. You stare down your opponent every time you face them from the pitching circle. Each pitch is meticulously thought out and requires precise execution.

And after last season’s conference collapse, senior right-hander Stacey Underwood completely overhauled her mental approach. Her biggest hurdle was understanding herself, and being comfortable in her own skin alone in the circle.

“After last year I really know my body,” Underwood said. “I think I changed my approach mentally. I try to come out strong every game, and stay that way every time I step in the circle.”

Underwood proved it this past weekend against the University of Texas at San Antonio to complete the sweep of the Roadrunners.

After throwing 102 pitches in game one on Saturday, she was tasked with starting the finale of the three-game series Sunday, less than 24 hours later. Underwood gave up four straight hits to open the ballgame, and allowed the Roadrunners to push across two runs.

The Underwood of old might have gotten down on herself, but 2017 Underwood kept her head high and, with the help of her offense, went on to pitch a complete game. Over 7.0 innings, she allowed four runs across 10 hits to keep North Texas undefeated at home in conference play.

Head coach Tracey Kee is happy to have one of her seniors lead by example.

“In the past Stacey would have gotten down in the first inning when they got runs on her,” Kee said. “But this is a completely different pitcher.”

In her final season in a Mean Green uniform, Underwood has taken on a big role in a pitching staff that is just three members deep. For the other senior on staff, southpaw Jessica Elder, Underwood’s elevated level of play brings an energy that North Texas feeds off of.

“It builds a lot of confidence,” Elder said. “When she does so well, we want to do better. It really pushes me and [sophomore] Lauren [Craine] to do better. I think it will really help late in the season, especially with the way we’ve grown together as a staff from last year.”

Underwood has been the workhorse for North Texas this season, pitching 96.1 innings so far. Despite throwing heat, Underwood is able to remain in games late due to her efficiency. Her 2.47 ERA and .275 opponent batting average against has carried her deep into ballgames.

It’s a far cry from last season when Elder was the main pitcher on staff who worked into the late innings.

Through three conference series in 2016, Underwood had only pitched 74.2 innings and sported a 4.03 ERA. In comparison, Elder had hurled seven complete games while Underwood only pitched four.

This season, Underwood has already tossed nine complete games while Elder has just produced two in 46.1 innings pitched.

“It’s a matter of working against the tough schedule we’ve had so far,” Elder said. “I think it was a rough start for me. She came out really strong in the beginning. I think now that we’ve come into mid-season we’ve all gotten a lot stronger and she’s been a much better pitcher.”

Although she pitched well in non-conference play, Underwood has really shined as of late.

Her 1.50 ERA in 32.2 innings of Conference-USA play puts her near the top of the conference and makes her an even more valuable weapon for Kee. Even though her numbers are quite similar to last season at this point, her ERA has been nearly halved despite pitching almost double the innings.

A personalized offseason workout designed by Kee put Underwood in more game situations, allowing her to sharpen her mind.

“It was all mental,” Underwood said. “Everything we did individually was pressure situations. Now in a game I can think that I’ve seen this.”

With her days at Lovelace Field dwindling, Underwood knows her clock is ticking.

“I’ve got nothing to lose,” Underwood said. “There’s no reason to feel the pressure because I don’t get another chance.”

With the meat of North Texas’ schedule coming up, Underwood will be expected to continue her elevated level of play. The Mean Green play five games this week, with two on back-to-back days.

With the defending national champions the University of Oklahoma Sooners coming to town and a crucial conference series against the University of North Carolina at Charlotte lingering, Underwood is keeping things upbeat.

After all, pitching is a mental game.

“I just try to find a positive even if I don’t have a good game,” Underwood said. “That’s how I keep this going. Look for the positive. Dwelling in the past isn’t going to help.”

Featured Image: Senior Stacey Underwood pitches the ball against UTSA on March 25. Sara Carpenter

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Clay Massey

Clay Massey

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