North Texas Daily

Underwood’s path to college softball influenced by family

Underwood’s path to college softball influenced by family

April 28
04:00 2016

Clay Massey | Staff Writer

@Clay_FC

As junior right-handed pitcher Stacey Underwood stares down opposing batters from the pitching circle, she means business. She always has.

The integrated studies major with a focus on business wants to be her own boss one day, something she does every time she steps into the circle.

While she’s a businesswoman on the diamond, she also likes to have fun, illustrated by the pink stripe flowing through her bleach blonde hair.

“I like to be silly at times,” Stacey said. “But when it comes to softball, I like to be very serious. I don’t mess around.”

In the stands at just about every Mean Green home game, a pair of watchful eyes breaks down every pitch Underwood throws with precision.  The eyes belong to John Underwood – Stacey’s father and former high school head coach.

The family is from Hico, Texas, which sports a population less than 1,500.  John was assisted by his wife, Kristi during Stacey’s senior year – a year John called one of the most rewarding ever for his family.

“My dad had always been like my coach when we would go in the backyard and play,” Stacey said. “It was a really fun time to have my dad there all four years of high school. It was like a family ordeal. We were all there. I think it made us a lot closer.”

Stacey played the role of “coach’s kid” for four years, which caused some to think she was getting special treatment. But John said he knew just how hard Stacey was working to develop her craft.

“It’s a tough role sometimes,” John said. “Really they don’t think about the hours she put in and the time we spent. They also don’t think about the time she had to spend when Dad couldn’t be there because I’m working with somebody else’s kid.”

Growing up in small-town central Texas, Stacey was a standout in both softball and basketball. She was one of the better players on her 2-A high school team and shined in a town that features just two main two-lane highways and a Sonic drive-in. After graduating high school, she became one of only two Hico athletes to ever play Division-I sports.

The journey started in first grade, when John immediately put Stacey into fast-pitch softball. He then put her in travel softball after Stacey excelled locally, and she eventually found a team in Dallas – a long way from Hico.

Stacey’s talent continued to develop up until her junior year of high school, when she hit an unexpected speed bump. Stacey tore her ACL playing basketball and was sidelined for her entire junior softball season. 

“It was horrible,” Stacey said. “I missed a whole year of sports, but it was kind of motivating. Sitting out, I got to see a lot of details in the sport you don’t see when you’re playing.”

After a speedy recovery, she led her team to its first district title in history her senior season.

Junior pitcher Stacey Underwood (15) lets a ball go towards home plate in a game against Creighton. Dylan Nadwodny | Staff Photographer

Junior pitcher Stacey Underwood (15) lets a ball go towards home plate in a game against Creighton. Dylan Nadwodny | Staff Photographer

But the injury still had its repercussions, negatively impacting Stacey’s chances of earning an offer from a bigger school right out of high school. Fortunately for her, she was offered a spot at McClennan Community College not too far from home in Waco, where she still had the support of her tight-knit family.

“It was kind of like a small town, so the culture-shock wasn’t really there,” Stacey said. “Plus my grandparents live in Waco, so it was really like I was back at home.”

In just one year at McClennan, Underwood shined with a 20-4 record, 131 strikeouts and a mind-boggling 0.94 ERA. She even dominated against North Texas in a fall game, which is what caught the eye of Mean Green head coach Tracey Kee.

“I think she struck out 12 of our batters that day,” Kee said with a laugh. “Her power, her size, her everything looked really good.”

Stacey was finally able to pack up and officially move away from her family, something she was not necessarily looking forward to, and move to Denton.

It’s been two years, and Stacey has established her role at the center of the Mean Green’s rotation – a fitting role, as Kee jokingly said Stacey loves to be the center of attention. As the only returning pitcher from last year’s squad, she has posted a 4.29 ERA in 23 starts.

According to Kee, being the only returner combined with her sociable personality made her a perfect fit to be a leader for the squad.

“I think Stacey would admit [that] last spring, she felt like a freshman,” Kee said. “We didn’t have any time to work together. I think now when you look at her she’s a completely polished pitcher because of how diligently she’s worked.”

The work Stacey has put in is nothing new to her father, who spent countless hours sitting on a bucket catching for Stacey. After coming home from coaching Stacey and her high-school teammates during the day, he would coach just Stacey in their backyard.

“It’s probably one of my greatest accomplishments,” John said. “As a dad, as a human [and] as a coach, the fact that somebody that is yours, that person you’ve guided, has built the work ethic and the dedication and the desire to accomplish this. As a dad, it’s one of the greatest things I’ve ever done. I’ve got three kids, and they’re all my greatest accomplishments. But to see this and watch this, it’s so fulfilling. The fact that I got to be a part of her career, that’s as special as it gets.”

The support does not go unfelt by Stacey. She knows at least one of her parents will try to make every game she plays as long as they are not with one of her two siblings.

“It means a lot to me,” Stacey said. “My parents have missed two series this year, and I felt like an orphan. It means a lot just to see my family in the stands and know they care enough to come down here.”

After Stacey finishes her degree, she plans on staying at UNT to get her masters degree. The biggest reason, according to her, is how Kee and the rest of the Mean Green helped foster the family environment she was used to growing up in Hico.

“It’s been awesome,” Underwood said. “At McClennan, I didn’t really end on good terms there, which I hate because I like to get along with everyone. The fact that Coach Kee was willing to take me midseason was awesome. I’m so thankful for that.”

Featured Image: Junior pitcher Stacey Underwood (15) prepares to go into the windup of her pitching motion against Nicholls State. Dylan Nadwodny | Staff Photographer

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