North Texas Daily

Surprise softball season looks to regain momentum into C-USA tournament

Surprise softball season looks to regain momentum into C-USA tournament

May 02
15:53 2018

On Feb. 9, a fresh North Texas softball team consisting of 12 underclassmen stepped onto the field in Monroe, Louisiana and lost back to back games, starting off 0-2. Nearly three months later, a 24-24, 10-10 record does not show how far head coach Tracey Kee and her young bunch have come since that opening weekend.

With one final weekend series left before the Conference USA tournament, the Mean Green have the potential to finish the season with a record above .500 for the first time the 2013-2014 team went 31-22.

It is no secret that perhaps the biggest surprise of this season has been the Mean Green’s ability to hit home runs. During their 2-0 victory over the University of Southern Mississippi this past Sunday, the Mean Green hit their 53rd team home run, setting a program record for the most in a single season.

“If anyone would have told me at the beginning of the season that we would hit this many home runs, I wouldn’t have believed it,” Kee said. “But I think that just shows how hard our kids have been working on the offensive side.”

But as mentioned throughout the season, home runs always come second to getting bunts down when it comes to Kee. Not only does North Texas lead C-USA in home runs, but they are also second in sacrifice hits with 58.

Sophomore outfielder Katie Clark views that as an equally important factor to winning games.

“It definitely has been extremely beneficial to us,” Clark said. “It’s just the game of softball. We’ve executed the small ball game style, and it has worked out well for us.”

Clark has been the spark of the offense throughout the season. The first year transfer leads North Texas in batting average (.385), hits (57), runs (37) and stolen bases (17). Her five home runs is also good for fourth best on the team and is currently riding a 20-game streak of reaching base safely.

But even as hot as Clark has been, the rest of the offense has had a tough time against opposing pitchers recently. The Mean Green have lost seven of their last nine games heading into the final games of the season, and the lack of offense has played a big a role in that.

“We need to turn around our mindset,” Clark said. “Once you get into a slump, it’s hard to get out of it, but it’s just something we need to do so we can get back to where we were a couple of weeks ago.”

Luckily for Kee, she’s had a some help on the defensive side. With three freshman pitchers starting the season, Kee knew it was going to take time for them to adjust. However, she has been impressed with the improvement made throughout the entire pitching staff.

“It has definitely gotten better,” Kee said. “A large part of that just came with the experience and getting on the mound more.”

Freshman pitcher Hope Trautwein has led that charge and emerged as one of the top pitchers in the conference. Her 2.58 earned run average is the lowest on the team, and she currently sits in third place in C-USA in strikeouts with 152, inching closer to Ashley Kirk’s record of the most strikeouts by a North Texas freshman pitcher (158).

Trautwein herself has seen herself and her fellow young pitchers grow as the year goes on.

“I think we all now know that every single pitch has a purpose now,” Trautwein said. “We’re always trying to beat the batter every single pitch. Our mindset has developed so much further than we ever thought it could going into the season.”

Trautwein headlines the class of 2021 and demonstrates the patience Kee’s underclassmen have taken in for them to get to the level of play they are at now.

“My confidence is through the roof with this group,” Kee said. “I think sometimes they fail to see the positives in things, and they understand they have to continue to work their weaknesses, but this has been a special group. I think they have overachieved and really shocked some people in conference.”

“Shocked” seems to be a pretty accurate word when it came to the team’s hot start to conference play before they got on their losing skid. The Mean Green started off with a strong showing by sweeping the current C-USA leaders, Louisiana Tech. Not long after, they took two games from second place team Florida Atlantic University.

Now, they head into the postseason with looking to regain that form they showed early in the C-USA season and it will only help them going into 2019.

“There were zero expectations for us heading into the season,” Kee said. “I know for a fact we have caught the attention of people in conference. To me, I think if this team can continue to work, the upside will be huge in the future.”

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Luis Diosdado

Luis Diosdado

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