North Texas Daily

‘We’re tough as anybody:’ Softball heads into first NCAA regional riding conference triumph

‘We’re tough as anybody:’ Softball heads into first NCAA regional riding conference triumph

‘We’re tough as anybody:’ Softball heads into first NCAA regional riding conference triumph
May 18
13:48 2022

A victory over Western Kentucky University last Saturday in the Conference USA tournament championship clinched softball’s first trip to the NCAA regional round.

In the days prior to the tournament, head coach Rodney DeLong said the championship depended on “which teams get hot.” DeLong’s statement proved true as North Texas (35-14, 17-7 C-USA) rode a three-game winning streak to the tournament title, outscoring its opponents 26-4.

The team gathered in the Apogee Stadium press conference room Sunday night to watch the NCAA Softball Selection Show. With all eyes in the room looking at the ESPN broadcast, it was announced that the Mean Green would be playing in the Stillwater Regional in Oklahoma. North Texas’ first game in the double-elimination tournament will be on Friday against Big Ten Conference champions the University of Nebraska (40-14, 17-5 Big Ten).

“If you’re a conference champion in a power five conference, you’re probably playing good softball,” DeLong said. “[Nebraska] is definitely going to be as talented as anybody, so I bet they’re not much different from anyone else we’ve seen.”

With DeLong and five players on the squad hailing from Oklahoma, the regional round is a homecoming for some of the team. Sophomore second baseman Mikayla Smith, originally from Moore, Okla., said playing the regional round in her home state allows many of her family members to attend the games.

“It’s exciting — I get to go back home and play in front of my family,” Smith said. “A lot of my family hasn’t been able to make it [to games] because it’s a drive — we always travel, so being in Oklahoma [means] most of my family and friends are going to be able to come out and watch.”

Senior Tayla Evans is in her fourth and final season for North Texas. A four-year starter for the Mean Green, she has been a part of two conference championship teams but had never won the C-USA tournament or made the NCAA regionals prior to this season. In the C-USA tournament, Evans was a main producer at the plate as she went 3-for-8 with two home runs and five RBIs to help keep her final season going.

“I feel like we really deserved it,” Evans said. “I felt like this season has been a little up and down with not clinching as many series as I felt we should have. I’ve never seen us play like this before.”

Nebraska, North Texas’ first opponent, won the Big Ten similar to how the Mean Green won C-USA. Entering as the No. 2-seed, the Cornhuskers defeated Pennsylvania State University, Ohio State University and No. 23 the University of Michigan. Nebraska will be the sixth Power Five team North Texas faces in 2022 after a non-conference slate full of Big 12 Conference opponents.

Against regional hosts Oklahoma State University (41-14, 14-4 Big 12) on March 15, the Mean Green lost 4-2 in a game that was tied after five innings. Freshman outfielder Sydney Ingle said the team’s Power Five slate has prepared it for facing opponents with the caliber of the Cornhuskers and Cowgirls.

“Just being on the field with those [teams] and seeing what [they’re] about — we know what it’s going to look like,” Ingle said. “I think that just takes off a lot of pressure on knowing with them and their fanbase and the way they swing the bat and pitch it.”

The Stillwater Regional opens at 5:00 p.m. Friday as North Texas faces Nebraska with the victor playing the winner of Oklahoma State and Fordham University (30-20, 15-7 Atlantic 10 Conference). The loser faces the loser between the Cowgirls and Rams.

“We’re worried about ourselves and how we prepare, how we carry ourselves and how hard we play,” DeLong said. “I feel like when we’re good like that we’re tough, tough as anybody.”

Featured Image: Junior catcher Karina Falkstrom waits to bat during practice on March 8, 2022. Photo by Maria Crane

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Reed Smith

Reed Smith

sports editor

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