North Texas Daily

Softball and the art of transfer portal pitching

Softball and the art of transfer portal pitching

Softball and the art of transfer portal pitching
April 20
12:00 2023

The transfer portal has become a key asset across college athletics, changing the way athletes are able to switch programs. 

Softball is not immune to the ever-changing landscape of collegiate sports. In 2022, North Texas standout pitcher Hope Trautwein transferred to the University of Oklahoma after spending four years with the Mean Green. As Trautwein departed, head coach Rodney DeLong and his staff looked to the portal. 

“There’s an element of recruiting your own players,” DeLong said. “I think the portal was created for the right reasons, [but] I don’t think it’s always used the right way.”

Players who enter the portal are immediately eligible to play after transferring. Previously, there was a penalty for switching schools. A rule change in 2021 ushered in the current era of college sports, with players of all NCAA-sanctioned athletic programs able to transfer freely and without penalty during portal windows. 

North Texas got its first taste of success using the portal in 2021 when right-handed pitcher GiGi Wall joined the program from Texas Tech University. Paired with Trautwein, the Mean Green won a second-straight Conference USA regular season title. Following the campaign, Wall ran out of eligibility while Trautwein left for perennial powerhouse Oklahoma. 

Needing to fill the lost production, DeLong and pitching coach Jamie Allred recruited a left-handed pitcher with two years of eligibility from Purdue University, senior Ashley Peters. 

“Coach [Allred] does a great job of bringing in pitchers that she knows are going to fit in,” Peters said. “Not only in our bullpen, but our team as a whole [and] our culture as a team.”

In her first season with North Texas, Peters pitched to a 20-7 record with a 2.43 earned-run average. Her efforts in the circle were rewarded with a place on the second team All-C-USA roster. Peters was named preseason Pitcher of the Year in 2023 and is sixth in overall pitching through April 16.

In her two years with the Mean Green, Peters leads the team in every pitching stat, notably earning 30 wins and striking out 245 batters. With the success of Peters, Trautwein and the pitching staff as a whole, DeLong said North Texas has developed a reputation of a solid bullpen.

“Good pitchers that leave quality programs know [North Texas] is a good option,” DeLong said. “That’s definitely attractive to transfers, so that’s helped us — we know what good pitching looks like.”

To pick up additional pitching prior to this season, DeLong and Allred once again looked to the portal. Picking up another junior, right-handed pitcher McKenzie Wagoner joined the team from Liberty University. In 20 games with the Flames, Wagoner had a 6-3 record with a 1.95 ERA in 2022. 

DeLong and his staff scouted Wagoner in high school, but the right-hander selected Liberty. A native of Oklahoma like four of her teammates, Wagoner had a familiarity with players on North Texas’ roster, which she said influenced her decision to join the team. 

“Kailey Gamble, Molly Rainey, Tatum [Sparks] and Mikayla [Smith] — I played travel ball with all of them,” Wagoner said. “They always had high things to say about [North Texas].”

As the Mean Green’s second predominant starter with Peters, Wagoner has made an impact in her first season at North Texas. Her 1.69 ERA is first on the team and fourth-best in C-USA. Similarly to Peters, Wagoner has found success in her first year since transferring. 

“It’s not always easy to get [pitchers] out of high school,” DeLong said. “But you get them on the bounce back, get them on the transfer when possible — we’re always trying to grab up pitchers.”

The transfer trio of Wall, Wagoner and Peters have a combined 51-26 record and 1.95 ERA. Their success on the field has been matched with chemistry off the field. 

“The culture we’ve had here at [North Texas] has been one of success,” junior catcher Kalei Christensen said. “It’s been very team-like, very family-like. The coaches are able to go find people that are not only successful on the field, but they’re also great, successful people in life — that’s a big deal.”

While the Mean Green has lost and added players via the portal, DeLong said he has adjusted to what is the new normal in college athletics. 

“It is what it is, and you have to adapt to the landscape,” DeLong said. “I don’t mind it — it’s helped us certainly more than it’s hurt us, so we’ll continue to use it as needed.”

Featured Image Ashley Peters gets ready to pitch a ball toward Wichita State on Feb. 25, 2023. Maria Crane

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Reed Smith

Reed Smith

sports editor

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