Morgan Price | Staff Writer
North Texas softball is going somewhere only one player on its current roster has been.
The Conference USA tournament.
The Mean Green missed out on the Conference USA tournament last season after finishing 22-33, but clinched a berth in the tournament this year with an 11-13 conference record. Freshman catcher Nicole Ochotnicki is one of 14 players ready to make her postseason debut.
“Conference [tournament] play is definitely different,” Ochotnicki said. “There’s a lot of pressure, but it’s a fun experience because we know the games mean more.”
For senior pitcher Jessica Elder, playing in the conference tournament in her final season has proven all her hard work has paid off.
“I am very excited to go to the conference [tournament],” Elder said. “Last year was a huge upset for us. For it to be senior year and for us to have a spot in the tournament, I’m going to give it my all.”
North Texas, Louisiana Tech University, the University of Alabama-Birmingham, Marshall University, Florida International University, Florida Atlantic University and Western Kentucky University have all clinched tournament berths. As it stands now, North Texas would be the No. 6 seed in the bracket.
Depending on the outcome of a few games, the Mean Green could potentially climb to the fifth seed if UAB loses a few of its final games.
The University of Southern Mississippi’s playoff fate is in the hands of Charlotte University. While Southern Mississippi has ended its season conference play, should Charlotte get swept in its final three games, the Golden Eagles would take the final spot in the C-USA tournament.
It would only be in North Texas’ best interest for Charlotte to drop its final three games and miss the tournament, especially considering the 49ers are one of three conference teams to have swept the Mean Green this season.
“When you’re familiar with what the teams are capable of doing with their pitching and their style of play [it helps us prepare for the tournament,]” head coach Tracey Kee said. “Getting it on a neutral site is helpful, instead of playing someone at home or, in our case, away.”
North Texas was swept on the road by Florida International, Louisiana Tech and Charlotte at various points throughout the season. The Mean Green lost its three-game series against UAB and won its three-game series against Southern Mississippi and Florida Atlantic.
Currently, each of the top four teams in C-USA, Marshall, Louisiana Tech, Florida International and Florida Atlantic, all have three more conference games to play, but could not fall below North Texas in the standings. Since the Mean Green will be in the bottom half of the bracket, they will play a single elimination game in the first round of the tournament.
In 2015, the last time the Mean Green were in the C-USA tournament, North Texas lost to Florida Atlantic in the first round. Should North Texas make it to the second round, they would play in a double elimination scenario, meaning if they lose their first game, they move to the loser’s bracket where every game becomes an elimination game.
The Mean Green will play four games this weekend in the Florida Tournament, including three against the No. 1 softball team in the country, Florida.
Kee hopes that series, although challenging on paper, will give her team some momentum heading into the tournament.
“Going on the road and getting this opportunity to play the No. 1 team in the nation a few times will be a challenge, but we’ll utilize the opportunity to compete and face live pitching,” Kee said.
Featured Image: Before the start of the seventh inning in game one versus UTEP on Saturday March 11, 2017, Senior Kelli Schkade practices her throws with other teammates. Schkade spent 3 times at-bat with 1 hit and 1 run during game one. Katie Jenkins