Winning On The Road

Feb. 3, 2017

DENTON – After a rocky road campaign in 2016, the North Texas softball team looks to rebound from a 6-16 mark from a year ago.

With 34 of its 56 games scheduled away from Lovelace Stadium, road wins will be necessary for this year’s success. But the wins won’t come easy as head coach Tracey Kee continues to push her young team, booking road contests against Oklahoma State, Baylor, Florida and Florida A&M, all NCAA tournament teams from a season ago.

“Scheduling hard, going to larger stadiums and putting your kids in a hostile environment will make them tougher in the long run,” Kee said. “I felt our team adjusted to the circumstances and pulled off some big wins on the road in the front half last season.”

Kee hasn’t shied away from facing Power Five schools in her tenure, having taken her squads to No. 13 Arizona, a nationally-ranked Baylor multiple time, Texas, No. 21 Arizona State, and No. 1 Oklahoma.

“In order to move North Texas forward, these are the games you have to play,” Kee added. “If you go on the road, you get rewarded. No. 1 Oklahoma coming to Denton this season doesn’t happen unless we go to them as well.”

North Texas has picked up multiple wins in its road contests against ranked opponents, including upsetting No. 21 Baylor twice last season, winning the Getterman Classic in the process.

Her players embrace the challenge against top-tier opponents.

“As long as we play our game, we can compete with these schools,” sophomore infielder Harley Perella said. “When we play the big teams, we step up to their level and we play relaxed. We just need to keep that mindset when we head into conference.”

Danielle Gregory agreed.

“These are the games that make us better in the long run,” the senior outfielder said. “It doesn’t matter who we are playing, we just need to go out, play our game and be confident on the field.”

The team will also need to remain consistent in all facets of the game to improve its road record.

“It’s a two-headed horse,” Kee added. “When you play on the road, it’s tougher and you are out of your comfort zone. I don’t think we did a very good job of keeping the runs off the board, but we need to get the clutch hits down the stretch as well.”

North Texas’ pitching staff posted an earned run average of 4.06 at home and 4.83 on the road in 2016.

“Anything in the 4’s is not good for a pitching staff, and we have challenged our staff to be better this season,” Kee explained.

The staff underwent a complete overhaul in its day-to-day workouts over the off-season to address that concern, and the response has been positive.

“We need to hit all of our zones this year,” senior pitcher Jessica Elder said. “We are more comfortable at home, but when it comes to going on the road we need to be sure to hit all zones and believe in the defense behind us, and the workouts helped with that.”

North Texas’ defense was No. 11 in the nation last season, fielding at a .974 percentage.

Offensively, the team had a negative 20 run differential and struck out 109 times.

“It’s important that we study the pitcher that we will be facing so we can have quality at-bats,” Gregory said. “We need to know our personal zone and remain disciplined to limit our strikeouts.”

The team hit .270 with runners in scoring position on the road, one of the key factors in the negative run differential.

“We have always been a get runners on, get them over and drive them in type of team,” Kee added. “Second base is scoring position with the athletes we have on our team, we just need to put the ball in play and put the pressure on the defense.”

North Texas missed the Conference USA tournament after posting a 5-19 overall mark last season and were picked to finish last this season. The ranking didn’t sit well.

“We are ready to prove everybody wrong,” Perella added. “We are a better team this season and won’t let last year define who we are.”

North Texas’ first road trip starts on Feb. 17 when it travels to Waco for the Baylor Tournament.

 

 

North Texas Mean Green