Sometimes in the game of softball and baseball, it really does not matter how you get on base, just as long as you are there.
That is the mindset North Texas softball has adopted this season.
The Mean Green have upped their walk numbers and hit by pitch numbers from last season, and have taken a more patient approach at the plate. Head coach Tracey Kee has been quite impressed by her young squad and their mature approach when they step into the box.
“Our hitters have really listened,” Kee said. “We’ve been working on pitch selection and kids understanding their strike zone and what pitches they can handle. It’s worked. Our hitters are not chasing too many bad balls out of the zone anymore.”
A more balanced approach from the Mean Green hitters has led to more runners on base and more chances to scratch across runs. With one more series left in the season, North Texas has already eclipsed its walk total from this past year’s season. The Mean Green reached base on balls 132 times last season.
But this season, North Texas ranks sixth in Conference-USA in walks, reaching base on a free pass 136 times. Freshman Hanna Rebar leads the squad with 20 walks in just 115 at-bats, one of the lowest totals on the team.
Despite the Mean Green walking more, the team on-base percentage has gone down by a tenth of a point. North Texas is getting on base at a team mark of .340 compared to .353 last season, which has also led to a dip in batting average.
North Texas is hitting .252 as a team this season compared to .279 last season. The minimal drop has not necessarily been noticed, as the Mean Green have already posted a better record compared to last season.
But at times, the team has struggled moving runners over and bringing them home.
“There’s sometimes when you don’t want to chance an out on a steal that we’ll sacrifice them over,” Kee said. “If the next kid draws a walk they move the runner. We’ve got all kinds of way to move runners, we just have to execute.”
Not all free passes are free, however.
Just ask sophomore infielder Rhylie Makawe. She leads the team in hit by pitches with nine. As long as she’s getting on base, she doesn’t care. Kee put an emphasis for hitters to adjust in the batter’s box to the pitch type they were seeing.
Makawe adjusted to crowding the plate a bit more.
“I’m not going to move out of the way,” Makawe said. “If you’re going to give me a free base I’m going to take it. I’m going to take advantage of an opportunity. But I think it varies by player. Not everyone is going to get beat up by pitches.”
Kee just wants her runners on base.
“We will do anything we can,” Kee said. “We’ll wear it, walk it or hit it to get on base. Our whole motto is get them on, get them over and get them in. I want to get them on second, because then you’re just one hit away from getting a run home.”
As the season begins to wind down, the Mean Green will have to sharpen what they have done well going into the Conference USA tournament. Senior infielder Kelli Schkade, the team’s leader in batting average, is ready to wipe the slate clean.
Schkade reaches base the most out of any Mean Green player with a team-leading .423 on-base percentage. She’s been hit by four pitches. When she gets on base, she has stolen the most bases of any North Texas player and the gap is wide.
The senior has attempted 21 steals, and only been caught once. The next most attempted steals is nine held by freshman speedster Camille Grahmann.
Schkade knows the Mean Green need to plate more runners.
“We need to focus on what we’ve done well,” Schkade said. “We need to worry about the regular season once the tournament starts and we’re ready to do that.”
With a young squad that features just four graduating seniors and a core that surrounds freshmen and sophomores, Kee thinks her squad can just keep growing at the plate. She has already seen a growth in her freshman class from last year to this season.
The walks are proof.
“I think as you mature you learn you have to shorten your swing sometimes,” Kee said. “Across the board we worked on our two strike swing. It’s not about driving the ball over the fence, it’s about getting the ball in play. Most of the kids have bought into that now.”
Featured Image: On Wednesday April 5, Sophomore Harley Perella (3) hits the ball and runs for 1st base in the 2nd inning. Katie Jenkins