North Texas Daily

Softball builds chemistry, prepares for 2023

Softball builds chemistry, prepares for 2023

Softball builds chemistry, prepares for 2023
October 14
12:00 2022

As summer heat shifts into the autumn breeze, the distinct ping of a metal bat can be heard again from Lovelace Stadium.

Four months removed from breaking onto the national stage at the Stillwater Regional, softball has begun its seven-game fall slate. Sept. 27 marked the first time the squad practiced officially as a team since its program-best 2022 season ended.

“It’s a marathon right now, you know, there are a lot of things we have not even covered in practice,” head coach Rodney DeLong said. “We are just worried about our overall progression. We are hitting, fielding, we will work on some of the smaller details — right now, we are just trying to get back into it and get comfortable with play.”

Commonly referred to as “fall ball,” the short autumn season is less of a competition and more of a chance for teams to fine-tune before spring. The brief but exhibition schedule is the first time newly added players can acclimate to competition with their new teammates. 

While upperclassmen transfers adjust to playing for a new university in fall, freshmen are getting their first in-game collegiate experience. Junior first baseman Kailey Gamble has held roles from freshman infielder to team leader.

“Our freshmen are very talented and it is good to introduce them to the winning mentality,” Gamble said. “Whenever my class came in, we were the young class and now we are this ‘senior’ group — it is good to help them through that and show them how it really is.” 

Former third baseman Tayla Evans, who graduated in the spring, is the only non-returning starter from last season’s Conference USA championship team. The four-year starter at third base ran out of eligibility, leaving her position vacant heading into fall.

In North Texas’ game versus North Central Texas College on Oct. 5, DeLong started freshman infielder Jodie Epperson at third. Against the Lions, Epperson picked up two hits and two steals. Her corner infield partner on the night, Gamble said Epperson has impressed her so far.

“[Epperson] is a little firecracker,” Gamble said. “She is good, I am excited to see what she can do.”

The duo of sophomore right-handed pitcher Skylar Savage and left-handed pitcher Ashley Peters pitched a majority of the Mean Green’s innings in spring. Injuries to a majority of the team’s pitching staff resulted in Savage and Peters being the only options. 

In the offseason, DeLong addressed this issue with the addition of three pitchers to supplement its two predominant starters. Two freshman pitchers joined the squad along with junior right-handed pitcher from Liberty University, McKenzie Wagoner. Against North Central Texas, five pitchers took the circle for the Mean Green. More than two pitchers had not taken the circle for North Texas since February.

“All of them are a little different — we’ve added two up ballers [when] we had two down ballers last year,” DeLong said. “The depth definitely helps and we have to keep them healthy. They know how to pitch, they know how to win.”

Peters — who led the Mean Green in a majority of pitching stats last season — fought through a knee injury in her driving leg late in the 2022 campaign. In the offseason, she underwent knee surgery. Against North Central Texas, she pitched in a game for the first time since her operation. 

“It felt good to get back in the groove of things, especially for myself after surgery over the summer,” Peters said. “It has been feeling pretty good — [I] have not had any issues.”

Freshmen right-handed pitchers Mackenzie Childers and Kayleigh Smith took the circle versus North Texas Central. Both pitchers combined for three runs surrendered on the night. Peters, who is the oldest pitcher on the roster, said she and Savage will assist in the underclassmen pitchers’ development. 

“The younger girls have some work to do, but I think they know and have been working hard every day,” Peters said. “It helps having some experience under me and Skylar [Savage] to push them to do good things. Overall as a staff, I think we should be pretty good.”

At fall ball, North Texas is preparing for its final season in C-USA next year. With a majority of players from last season’s team returning, DeLong has a group of veteran players leading the way. 

“We go from being a young team the last two years [to] now more of a veteran club,” DeLong said. “We have not had a talented veteran club. I’m definitely excited about that.”

Image Source: Mean Green Sports

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Reed Smith

Reed Smith

sports editor

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