North Texas Daily

Softball team needing to improve in C-USA play as season winds down

Softball team needing to improve in C-USA play as season winds down

April 15
13:30 2016

Reece Waddell | Senior Staff Writer

@ReeceTapout15

Despite receiving votes in the USA Today/NFCA Division I softball coaches poll for the first time in school history back in February, North Texas softball has struggled as of late.

The Mean Green began the season on a high note, knocking off nationally ranked Baylor University twice to win the Getterman Classic. Head coach Tracey Kee and company followed up by sweeping the Mean Green Spring Fling two weeks later, winning their second tournament in as many weeks.

Since then, however, North Texas has floundered. The Mean Green was swept by the University of Texas at San Antonio to begin Conference USA play and are currently 3-9 in conference. To make matters worse, North Texas has lost eight of its last 10 games to drop to .500 in overall play.

“It’s very concerning to us,” associate head coach Natalie Kozlowski said. “Everybody is beating everybody in conference. We have a sense of urgency right now.”

After going 13-6 in non-conference play to start the year, expectations were high as the Mean Green ramped up for C-USA competition. North Texas outscored its non-conference opponents by an average of 4.84 to 4.64 runs per game and was frequently able to manufacture runs.

Unfortunately, that trend has not continued against C-USA foes.

C-USA opposition is outscoring the Mean Green by an average of 5.58 to 3.92 runs per game. In 12 conference games, North Texas has scored fewer than three runs on five separate occasions and is 0-5 in those contests.

“Sadly, that’s been our calling card,” Kee said. “If you’re in the top 20, we’ll give you a fight. Sadly, we don’t bring that fight every game. With this young team, we’re still trying to figure things out. I still believe in the talent we have.”

Notorious for scheduling tough opponents in non-conference, Kee has said multiple times she wants to challenge her team every chance she gets. North Texas is 2-2 against opponents ranked in the top 25 this season and has four games remaining against Big 12 schools that include the University of Oklahoma, University of Texas at Austin and Texas Tech University.

“I think we come out expecting to win,” junior infielder Kelli Schkade said. “Instead of coming out guns blazing and having that chip on our shoulder, I think that we come out just expecting to win and expecting the other team to roll over and just give us the game. That doesn’t happen.”

Even though the team has struggled against teams in C-USA with similar records, Schkade was not willing to use the rigorous non-conference schedule as an excuse for the team’s recent slump.

“In the beginning of the season it got us ready,” Schkade said of the non-conference schedule. “We faced good pitching before the season started. I think it was a good decision by Coach Kee to schedule those hard games. I have no doubt in her technique in that at all.”

During North Texas’ turbulent C-USA schedule, opponents have lit up the scoreboard. In 12 C-USA games, the Mean Green have surrendered 67 total runs. In C-USA games where North Texas gives up five runs or more, the Mean Green is 1-5.

But even before the 2016 campaign began, North Texas knew it would have to rely on a shortened pitching staff. With only three pitchers in its arsenal, the Mean Green have leaned heavily on its upperclassman. Junior pitchers Stacey Underwood and Jessica Elder have pitched a combined 225.2 innings this year, and there are still 15 games remaining.

“We’re not tired,” Underwood said. “It’s just sometimes we aren’t on our game. We also don’t have six or seven pitchers to come in.”

Last week North Texas had its bye weekend and traveled to Lawrence, Kansas to participate in the Kansas Round Robin. With no C-USA opponents on its slate, the Mean Green hoped to recharge its batteries and hit the reset button.

Instead, North Texas was rocked in its first three games, gave up a combined 21 runs and lost each contest. The Mean Green was able to salvage the weekend by defeating Georgia Tech University 10-2 on Sunday before departing, but still feel as though their backs are against the wall.

“We’re giving up too many runs early where it puts us back on our heels,” Kozlowski said. “And when you’re trying to play catch up from your first at-bat, it takes a lot out of you physically and emotionally. We’re all feeling the pressure from top to bottom.”

Featured Image: Junior infielder Kelli Schade (9) drives a ball to the outfield against Sam Houston State in the Mean Green Spring Fling Tournament. Dylan Nadwodny | Staff Photographer

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