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Softball feeling Ochotnicki’s presence on both sides of plate

Softball feeling Ochotnicki’s presence on both sides of plate

April 20
08:51 2018

This season, Nicole Ochotnicki has been a different player both at the plate and behind it.

It shows in her numbers, but it goes beyond that for this year’s resurgent softball team.

Ochotnicki — or “Ocho”as the team calls her — has established herself as the backbone of the squad according to her teammates and coaches throughout the season. A role that goes past her .297 batting average, which is up from the .202 average she had as a freshman.

With head coach Tracey Kee being a former catcher herself, Ochotnicki has perhaps the largest burden to bear when it comes to her head coach. An expectation she has thrived on in her sophomore season.

“Ocho is one of the best catchers I’ve ever coached,” Kee said. “I’m incredibly hard on catching when it comes to technique, demands and just taking leadership.”

Much like a couple of Kee’s other players, discovering Ochotnicki was somewhat of an accident.

Kee attended a local tournament in the Dallas-Fort Worth area in hopes of acquiring a different player she had her eye on. While waiting to see that recruit play, Kee decided to watch a different game that featured Vista Ridge high school, a school she had never heard of.

That’s when Ochotnicki just happened to draw attention to herself with something she does everyday.

“I remember seeing her behind the plate, throwing from her knees with her great arm strength,” Kee said. “It’s amazing because I basically just stumbled upon her. It just one of those, ‘Well, we found one’ situations.”

Ochotnicki was more than excited for the offer, as playing collegiate softball was something she had been striving toward since her sophomore year of high school.

“I really wanted to play at a Division I or Division II and hopefully get some money and get to go to school,” Ochotnicki said. “When North Texas came up and I had my visit and meeting with the coaches, I knew this was going to be a good fit for me.”

In her freshman season for the Mean Green, Ochotnicki struggled to produce offensively. Despite playing in 49 games, she only totaled just one home run and seven RBIs while ending with the second most strikeouts (36) and the second least amount of walks (8) on the team.

This year, Ochotnicki is currently top five on the team in batting average, hits (38), home runs (5) and RBIs (21).

“She’s a completely different player as a sophomore,” Kee said. “I think her confidence and understanding the expectations in what her roles are have really just allowed her to settle in.”

Not to mention, Ochotnicki also has a pair of walk-off hits to her name, as well as some big at-bats that contributed to North Texas’ two wins against Florida Atlantic University back in March.

“If I go up there nervous, it really doesn’t help the situation at all,” Ochotnicki said of her late game mindset. “I just go up there with the mindset of, ‘I just need to get a hit or anything to score a run.’ But I know if I don’t do it, then I’m confident someone else behind me will.”

Kee views Ochotnicki’s background as a catcher as an advantage at the plate, especially when it comes to the close game situations.

“When you’re catcher, you see and receive a lot of movement, and Ocho is just one of those who utilizes her experience behind the plate and carries it over,” Kee said. “As for handling the pressure, it’s just hard to get her upset, and that’s just her personality.”

Ochotnicki is also the lone player on the North Texas roster to start and play every single game up to this point in the season, and she has done it all while working with three brand new freshman pitchers on the mound.

“Ocho works her tail off back there to get our pitches called strikes and block for us really well,” freshman pitcher Maria Priest said. “She’s just a great teammate. If you’re struggling, she’s always there to encourage you and pick you up.”

Having a tight relationship with the pitchers is one of the main keys to Ocho’s success, and it is something she prides herself on.

For Ochotnicki, Priest and the rest of the pitching staff, that is one thing that has been in progress since the fall.

“I try to just talking to them and figuring out what they need from me,” Ochotnicki said. “While they’re learning how to work on their game, it’s important that I’m also learning to understand whatever is happening. I think learning alongside them helps build the relationship.”

Ochotnicki still has two years in a Mean Green uniform left after this season, but hopes to make an impression on the program with the kind of player she is, rather than the numbers she puts up.

“I want to be known as a hard worker,” Ochotnicki said. “I hope to be someone that others look up to and say, ‘I want to work as hard as her.’ The freshman already come up to me for advice, and the only thing I can tell them is to just keep improving.”

Featured Image: North Texas sophomore Nicole Ochotnicki slides into third base. Jake King

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Luis Diosdado

Luis Diosdado

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