Lesley Hirsch was just one player in a large group of veterans North Texas leaned on last year, when the Mean Green enjoyed one of its best seasons.
When UNT opens its 2013 campaign today and plays a high-profile nonconference game, the senior will take on a larger role as one of the Mean Green’s few veteran leaders.
Hirsch is expected to start in the outfield when UNT travels to Austin for games against Memphis and Texas at the UT tournament.
The Mean Green will face Memphis at 12:30 p.m. before taking on Texas at 6 p.m. in a game that will be televised on the Longhorn Network.
“Everyone has been talking about how excited they are to go play at Texas,” UNT shortstop Brooke Foster said. “It’s our first tournament, and one of our games is going to be televised. It’s going to be an experience.”
Experience is exactly what UNT needs after a cast of veteran players led the Mean Green to a 28-26-1 finish a year ago. UNT advanced to the semifinals of the Sun Belt Conference tournament before falling to perennial national power Louisiana-Lafayette.
The 28 wins UNT posted were the second-highest total in program history.
If UNT is to make a run at another winning season, it will need several young players to produce. Of the 19 players on the roster, 11 are freshmen or sophomores. Hirsch and pitcher Brittany Simmons are the team’s only seniors.
“I feel pretty good,” coach T.J. Hubbard said of UNT’s prospects this season. “We have a strong pitching staff that is healthy, our offense has really progressed the last two weeks and our defense is pretty solid.
“We lost some key hitters and offensive players, but I feel like we replaced them with some good players. We will have to see how they progress.”
UNT was picked to finish fifth in the Sun Belt’s preseason coaches poll and did not have a player among the 17 selected for the preseason all-conference team.
ULL, the five-time defending Sun Belt champion, was a unanimous pick to win the conference title and enters the season No. 11 in the USA Today/NFCA Division I poll.
Hubbard said he believes UNT is capable of finishing among the top four in the Sun Belt standings with ULL, Florida International and South Alabama.
He also feels like he has all-conference players. ULL had six players on the preseason all-league team, including All-America shortstop Nerissa Myers.
“Considering what we have done the last few years and the players we have had who have been all-conference players or players of the week, it was kind of odd to not have anyone,” Hubbard said.
Foster hit .319 with seven home runs last season and arguably is UNT’s top returning player.
UNT is hoping that a few of its young players will emerge and establish themselves as top talents in the Sun Belt by the end of the season. Hubbard and his players have been encouraged by how the team is developing so far.
“We seem to be coming together,” Hirsch said. “Our freshmen are talented and will help us reach our goals. We all want a championship and a ring. That will help us because we want it so bad.”
The first step toward that goal will come today, when UNT will open the season in Austin, where the Mean Green will be on a big stage in a televised game against the Longhorns.
“We have nothing to lose and have a chance to get off to a great start playing Memphis and Texas,” Hirsch said. “We have a chance to prove ourselves and make a statement.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
NORTH TEXAS ROSTER