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Short rotation not phasing softball’s pitching staff

Short rotation not phasing softball’s pitching staff

The Mean Green softball team congratulates each other after a half inning against Sam Houston State in the Mean Green Invitational. Dylan Nadwodny | Staff Photographer

Short rotation not phasing softball’s pitching staff
March 03
00:57 2016

Clay Massey | Staff Writer

@Clay_FC

Despite junior Stacey Underwood being the only returning member from the 2015 pitching staff, the Mean Green added only two new pitchers in the off-season, seemingly leaving the team short-handed on the mound.

But the apparent lack of depth in the pitching rotation has not held head coach Tracey Kee and company back. Off to an 8-6 start, North Texas has only allowed opponents to post a .287 batting average.

Kee said her three-pitcher staff of Underwood, junior lefty Jessica Elder and freshman righty Lauren Craine keeps things simple, whereas five or six pitchers can sometimes muddy the picture.

“We face numerous teams who have five or six pitchers and run them all at us,” Kee said. “Sometimes I think that complicates things. Our three know they have to eat up innings, our three know they’re going to get the ball, and our three know they have to work together.”

Underwood and Elder have feasted on innings for the Mean Green in 2016. Underwood has started seven games, going 38 innings with a 3.32 ERA, while Elder has posted a 3.89 ERA in 45 innings split between six starts and multiple relief appearances.

Elder’s success partially comes from accepting the pressure while having pride in knowing Kee trusts her with the start.

“It’s pretty awesome to start the game,” Elder said. “You get the full confidence of going out there and throwing out the first pitch. It’s a really important role on this team.”

According to Kee, the staff keeps opponents on their toes with different styles of pitching. While both Underwood and Craine are hard throwing righties, Elder is the yin to their yang with her off-speed left-arm. On the other side, Underwood’s fastball has been untouchable at times, averaging nearly a strikeout per-inning.

“When you have the pitchers that we have, they all complement each other well,” Kee said. “We have a mix of stuff. I think it’s a matter of myself picking the right pitches to start game.”

Freshman pitcher Lauren Craine winds her arm around for a pitch against Sam Houston State in the Mean Green Invitational. Dylan Nadwodny | Staff Photographer

Freshman pitcher Lauren Craine winds her arm around for a pitch against Sam Houston State in the Mean Green Invitational. Dylan Nadwodny | Staff Photographer

Of the three, Craine has had the slowest start on paper with a 4.94 ERA in just 11.1 innings. She was also chased from her first and only start in a Mean Green uniform after giving up three runs on four hits  against Southern Utah University while recording just one out.

But Craine’s skillset has still shown in tight spots. She played a crucial role against then No.21 Baylor, as she worked 3.1 innings of two-hit softball against the Bears. North Texas won that game 8-7 in extra innings, giving the freshman her first win of her career. 

While the stats look concerning on paper, Kee is not jumping to conclusions and said she has full confidence in the youngster, citing growing pains for the Aledo native.

“I don’t think she’s stumbling out of the gate,” Kee said. “I think she’s pitching like a freshman. I feel incredibly comfortable putting her out there in a bases loaded situation when I need an out, and that says a lot.”

Inning counts will begin to pile up down the stretch, especially for Underwood and Elder, who are both on pace to throw over 150 innings in regular season play. To put that in perspective, no Mean Green pitcher exceeded 120 innings for the season last year, and Underwood threw just 93 innings last season.

Both Elder and Underwood said they had not experienced any out-of-the-ordinary fatigue thanks in part to the intense conditioning that was done in the off-season. Kee even described Elder as having a “noodle-arm,” meaning she does not get sore and can eat innings – a trait the Mean Green will need towards the end of Conference USA play.

“In the fall we worked our butts off,” Underwood said. “We did conditioning every day because we knew this was a marathon and not a sprint. We’re obviously putting in the work here, and we all have good arms and are in good shape. So I think we’re good.”

With 42 games left in the season, the three have quite the marathon in front of them. Regardless, Kee is ready to hit the remaining games full-speed with her pitching staff.

“They’re going to have great days and they’re going to have bad days,” Kee said. “I think as a coach it’s up to us having them trust what they can and cannot do.”

Featured Image: The Mean Green softball team congratulates each other after a half inning against Sam Houston State in the Mean Green Invitational. Dylan Nadwodny | Staff Photographer

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