While finishing third in the nation last year and being ranked No. 2 in preseason polls, the UT Tyler softball team has another number on their mind — one.
Patriots coach Mike Reed has built the program into a national contender and they love the pressure of expectations.
UT Tyler opens its season on Saturday when the Patriots play host to the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor. The first game of the doubleheader is scheduled for 3 p.m. at UT Tyler Ballpark. The DH was originally scheduled to begin at 1 p.m., but was moved to the later starting time because of the possibility of rain.
“I think our goal always stays the same around here,” said Reed, whose club was 40-13 last season. “We are fortunate to be at a place we can have high goals each year. I think we also do a good job of understanding that it is a new journey each year. We have a new group of players and a new mix. Each year the journey starts over; so it’s great for the national recognition for our team, but we know we can’t carry over wins from last year.”
Once again the Patriots are in perhaps the toughest division in the country, the American Southwest Conference East. The Patriots are picked to win the league, but will face the usual suspects in Louisiana College, East Texas Baptist and Mississippi College. Also, LeTourneau, under former UT Tyler standout Kate Bell, is expected to be much improved.
The Patriots are expected to be one of the top teams despite graduating such standouts as Whitney Wyly (who is an assistant coach while working on her master’s degree), catcher Brittani Hanna and pitcher Stacey Shepherd.
Reed said the Patriots had a solid recruiting class with an influx of standout transfers.
Among the transfers include Carli Wheeler, a pitcher and outfielder from Louisiana College; pitcher Victoria Combs from Division II Delta State; utility player Heather Abshire, who helped LSU-Eunice win a national juco title; infielder Ashley Endsley from Paris Junior College; and catcher Taylor Sells from Angelina College.
While the Patriots have been known for their home run bashing (the team hit 53 last year and outscored opponents 351-175), Reed said his 2012 team is more athletic and should find other ways to score.
Last season, the squad had a team batting average of .339 and a combined ERA of 2.78.
Some of the returning leaders include Celina junior Joey Cronin (first-team All-America honors at third base), Huntington junior Brittney Batten (finished third on the team with a .393 batting average and 11 HRs), Spring senior Katelyn Thomason (started 41 games, 18 as pitcher), Texarkana senior Ashlee Johnson (started all 53 games and had a fielding percentage of .922 at shortstop) and San Antonio sophomore Robin Robenalt (second on the team in hitting at .394).
Cronin, who is the Co-East Division Preseason Player of the Year, is expected to play right field this season. Cronin led the team in batting average (.405), runs (57), doubles (14), triples (4) and home runs (13) last season.
Batten will likely play catcher or first base, while Thomason will be relied on both in the circle and in the field.
Thomason, a transfer from Southeastern Louisiana, batted .336 with 22 RBIs. In the circle, she was 13-7 with a 2.88 ERA and 75 strikeouts.
Robenalt was named All-ASC first team and second team All-West Region.
UT Tyler 2012 Softball Schedule
Date Opponent Time
Feb. 18 Mary Hardin-Baylor (DH) 3 p.m.
Feb. 23 at UT Dallas (DH) 4 p.m.
Feb. 26 Southwestern (DH) 1 p.m.
ASC First Pitch Tournament (Oran Good Park)
March 2 vs. Mary Hardin-Baylor 12:30 p.m.
March 2 vs. Southwestern 5:30 p.m.
March 3 vs. Hardin-Simmons 10 a.m.
March 3 vs. Concordia (Texas) 3 p.m.
March 6 at Mississippi College (DH) 2 p.m.
March 10 Centenary (DH) 2 p.m.
March 13 at Trinity (DH) 1 p.m.
March 17 LeTourneau (DH) 2 p.m.
March 21 at Centenary (DH) 5 p.m.
March 24 at Louisiana College (DH) 2 p.m.
March 26 at LeTourneau (DH) 4 p.m.
March 29 Pacific Lutheran (DH) 4 p.m.
March 31 Mississippi College (DH) 1 p.m.
April 3 East Texas Baptist (DH) 5 p.m.
April 7 UT Dallas (DH) 2 p.m.
April 11 Louisiana College (DH) 4 p.m.
April 14 at East Texas Baptist (DH) 2 p.m.
April 20 at Ozarks (DH) 2 p.m.
April 21 at Ozarks (DH) 1 p.m.
April 26-28 at Lewisville