March 1, 2018
DENTON - Riding a four-game win streak, the Mean Green softball team prepares to host the North Texas Invitational at Lovelace Stadium this weekend. The Mean Green open tournament play against Tulsa at 1:30 p.m. Friday.
The participants include UT Arlington and Nicholls, and North Texas will face each team twice on Saturday and Sunday. The Mean Green are a combined 21-17 all-time against their scheduled opponents, including a 14-6 mark against metroplex foe UTA.
Tulsa is the reigning American Athletic Conference champion and one of four schools on North Texas' schedule that made last year's NCAA tournament. Mean Green head coach Tracey Kee is a firm believer in building up her program through a tough schedule.
"But it's not about who you play," Kee said. "It's who you are and how you play. We need to stay dialed in and not get locked up on one team over another. Anybody can beat anybody on any given day."
"I'm looking forward to playing a little better competition this weekend," sophomore outfielder Katie Clark said. "This will be more like what we'll see in conference. Every time you play a better caliber team, it tests you as a team and gets you prepared for the long run."
North Texas went 4-0 in last weekend's Schutt Classic, defeating Grambling and Prairie View A&M twice each. The Mean Green's freshman pitching staff was clicking on all cylinders, combining for 27 strikeouts and a 1.35 ERA in 26 innings pitched.
"Last weekend, we really got to see our strengths and weaknesses as a staff," freshman pitcher Hope Trautwein said. "Now we know what to work on."
"The thing I'm most proud of with this group is that every week they're getting better," Kee said. "Every week they're being thrown in situations you can't emulate in practice. To sit back and watch them work their way out of it is encouraging."
As the pitchers get ready to face higher-quality hitters, Trautwein credits her own offense with adequately preparing the staff for this weekend.
"We have to pitch against our own batters, which I think are the best around."
The offense displayed that in the Schutt Classic, hitting .365 with 15 extra-base hits while outscoring opponents 27-6. Leadoff hitters have been key to that success, reaching base 65.2 percent of the time. Clark, who has occupied the top spot in the batting order the last seven games, got on base in five of her seven leadoff at-bats this past weekend.
"It's all about setting the tone and scoring early," Clark said. "Whoever scores first usually has the most momentum throughout the game."
The strike-early-and-often gameplan has been the bread-and-butter for North Texas in the first 11 games. The Mean Green are 6-1 when scoring first, 3-1 when scoring in the first inning and have scored 22 of their 62 runs in the first two innings.
North Texas also prides itself on its versatility on offense and defense as Kee has yet to field the same defensive alignment twice and each weekend has seen a different hitter breakout.
"That's the type of team we want to put on the field," Kee said. "We want a lineup where if you shut one kid down, the others are going to step up and carry that load. We talked about that athleticism and versatility on the very first day, and they're seeing that first hand now. We're just trying to put quality defense out there with as many sticks as we can."