UCO Softball Preview: Bronchos Enter Season Focused on Pitching, Conditioning

UCO Softball Preview: Bronchos Enter Season Focused on Pitching, Conditioning

The 2017 Bronchos softball season begins Feb. 3.

Junior Morgan Heard, 4, of the University of Central Oklahoma’s softball team, swings at the ball during a game on April 30, 2016, in Edmond, Okla. (Photo provided/ UCO Photo Services)

UCO softball returns this week following a successful 2016 campaign in which the team finished 40-20.

The Bronchos enter the season ranked 20th in the preseason coaches’ poll. Amidst preseason hype, the Bronchos remain focused and look to turn that buildup into a stronger team. “We turn that hype into a quiet confidence,” UCO’s head coach, Cody White said. “Every time we step on the field we want to have the confidence that we can go compete.”

The team’s high ranking comes from a returning core, which was one of the best hitting teams in the entire country.

Last year the Bronchos finished with the fourth best batting average in all of Division II (.351). UCO also ended up in the top ten in scoring, slugging percentage, on base percentage, home runs per game and triples per game.

With the Bronchos keeping their top six hitters, UCO seeks to top the charts once again, led by junior shortstop and reigning MIAA player of the year, Morgan Heard.

Heard, a preseason second-team All-American, hopes to duplicate her numbers from last year, which saw her finish with the 11th best batting average in the country (.463). The junior broke multiple UCO records while having a career year in all aspects of the game.

“She’s a unique leader on the field. She’s very confident and we really lean on her,” White said.

The team is also excited about the return of Lexi Watson, whose season ended early after suffering an injury late last year. The senior third baseman looks to comeback in a major way, following a season where she hit .358 and led the team in runs batted in.

While the team enters the season as an offensive juggernaut, the Bronchos put an increased focus on pitching over the off-season and also acquired new pitchers to strengthen the rotation.

Among the talent landed over the off-season is sophomore pitcher Jayden Chestnut. Chestnut is a transfer student from the University of Oklahoma who helped the Sooners win a national championship last season. Chestnut appeared in 23 games, where she accumulated a 9-1 record to go along with a 3.23 ERA. Chestnut is a power pitcher, whose strong arm looks to lead the team to a deep postseason run.

Peyton Walker, Abbie Lancaster and Jessi Walker wrap up a talented and diverse pitching rotation, allowing the coaches to throw multiple looks at opposing teams.

“The good thing about our staff is every one of them throws differently,” White said. The Bronchos’ versatility on the mound is a result of the hard work the pitching staff put in over the offseason.

Last year the team had trouble in games where the bats weren’t hot, as the Bronchos finished 0-9 in games where they scored 0-2 runs. With a higher emphasis on pitching, the team anticipates winning games even when they are struggling at the plate.

An aspect the team focused on away from the field during the off-season was strength and conditioning. Coach White believes the hard work his team completed during the off-season will provide needed stamina for a long postseason outing.

Another vital part of the off-season included building team chemistry. The group grew closer during the offs-eason and considers their team chemistry fundamental to their success. “The closer we come together, the better we are,” White said.

As the team readies for the regular season, White’s tightly nit unit is ready to brave the storm together.

UCO opens their season on Feb. 3 in the Southeastern Oklahoma Classic against Eastern New Mexico. The Bronchos will debut their new field on March 6 against Washburn.

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