A year ago, the UT Tyler softball team was so close to a national championship, the team could feel it, taste it or at least see it.
On the final day of the 2015 season, the Patriots were matched up with Tufts University in a best-of-three series for the national title. However, the Patriots came up just two wins short of capturing that ultimate prize, losing twice to Tufts and settling as the national runner up.
“Last year was amazing, to be so close to something, both heartbreaking and amazing all at the same time,” said Patriots head coach Mike Reed, who begins his 12th season as head coach after beginning the program in 2005. “That fuels us a little bit but this is a new group and I am excited to see them come together.”
The accomplishments of the 2015 team will go down as some of the best in school history. The team went 50-5, won both the American Southwest Conference regular season and tournament titles and finished the season ranked No. 2 in the nation.
They went 29-1 in conference play, losing only to East Texas Baptist. In fact, of the team’s five losses last season, three were against their rival from Marshall and two to Tufts at the end of the national tournament.
The Patriots have been picked to win the ASC again by media members and sports information directors. Their season begins Wednesday when they host Texas Pacific Lutheran at Suddenlink Field. First pitch is slated for 3:30 p.m.
The team only lost four seniors, which means they return almost the entire national runner-up team. That group is highlighted by returning All-Americans pitcher Kelsie Batten, utility player Vanessa Carrizales and catcher K.K. Stevens. Stevens was named the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Diamond Catcher of the Year for NCAA Division III.
Stevens batted .448 with six home runs and 44 RBIs last season.
“Last year was incredible,” Stevens said. “It was a great run for all of us. We had a great couple of months and we wish we could have won it but now we have turned the page and we are focused on this year.”
Batten earned All-America honors for the third straight season after going 29-5 with a 1.26 ERA while Carrizales batted .442 with seven home runs and 47 RBIs.
Batten and Alaina Kissinger make up one of the best 1-2 pitching combinations in the nation. Kissinger was 18-0 with a 0.62 ERA.
“In the game of softball, you have to be set in the circle,” Reed said. “To have that back, what Kelsie and Alaina did last year, to have that comfort back is a big thing so we are excited about that.”
Also returning for the Patriots are all-region selections outfielder Lexi Ackroyd, first baseman Jackie Mendez and shortstop Raven Rodriguez. All of the players mentioned already also earned all-conference honors last season.
Despite all the returning talent, Reed also has some newcomers that have mixed well with the team and he expects to contribute to another successful season.
“We return a lot and then we have a good group that really brought a really diverse skill set, to really fill in the areas that we lost” Reed said. “Our newcomers have pushed returners so I think they really brought what we needed to go along with the experience that we return.”
Last season’s team set several school records, including victories (50), batting average (.371), runs scored (428) and hits (542) as well as on-base percentage, doubles, RBIs and total bases.
Kissinger’s ERA was the lowest in school history while Batten’s 29 wins and 147 strikeouts were also program bests.
According to this year’s teams, those numbers and accolades from a year ago, were just momentum leading into another season, one they hope will result in a national championship.
Beginning with Wednesday’s season opener, they plan to take it one game at a time.
“Last season was last season and we are really concentrating on this season,” Batten said. “We are concentrating on taking it one day at a time, one practice at a time and one game at a time.”
UT Tyler Softball Roster
1 - Rose Sullivan, sophomore, UTIL, Pearland (Dawson HS)
2 - Cheyenne Thompson, freshman, OF, Mexia
3 - Raven Rodriguez, senior, IF, Houston (Waltrip HS)
4 - Kaylee Prather, junior, UTIL, Elysian Fields (LSU-Alexandria transfer)
5 - Kailey Henderson, sophomore, OF, Baytown (Stering HS)
6 - Abby Hall, freshman, IF, Tomball (Tomball Memorial HS)
7 - Hannah Moore, sophomore, UTIL, Cy Fair
8 - Bianca Van Vlerah, junior, IF, Austin (Kilgore College, transfer)
10 - Emilee Burkhardt, senior, OF, Flower Mond (Northeast Texas CC transfer)
11 - Jackie Mendez, senior, IF, San Antonio (Wagner HS)
12 - Kelsie Batten, senior, P, Huntington
14 - Britney Bledsoe, senior, UTIL, College Station (Navarro College transfer)
15 - Vanessa Carrizales, senior, UTIL, Austin (St. Michael’s HS)
16 - Jade Green, freshman, IF, Mineola
17 - Jaiden Rawls, junior, UTIL, Beaumont (Blinn College transfer)
18 - Kyla Simmons, sophomore, IF, Wylie (Abilene Christian transfer)
19 - Lexi Ackroyd, junior, OF, Frisco (Lone Star HS)
20 - Kelsie McEachern, sophomore, IF, Huffman (Huffman-Hargrave HS)
21 - KK Stevens, junior, IF, Plano (Plano East SH)
23 - Alaina Kissinger, junior, P, Telephone (Sam Rayburn HS)
24 - Kursten Jaime, sophomore, OF, Baytown (Lee HS)
25 - Kristin Lopez, senior, UTIL, Houston (Navarro College transfer)
28 - Alli Ramsey, freshman, UTIL, Aledo
32 - Mle Hinojosa, junior, IF, Houston (La Porte HS)
44 - Madison Phillips, freshman, UTIL, Lake Jackson (Brazoswood HS)
Head Coach - Mike Reed
Assistant Coach - Whitney Wyly
Assistant Coach - Coby Gipson
Assistant Coach - Christa Hartnett
Assistant Coach - Sarah Gipson
Patriots 2016 Schedule
Feb. 3 - Pacific Lutheran, 3:30 p.m.
Feb. 12 - Hardin-Simmons, 4 p.m.
Feb. 13 - Hardin-Simmons (DH), 1 p.m.
Feb. 19 - at Belhaven (DH), 1 p.m.
Feb. 20 - at Belhaven, noon
Feb. 26 - LeTourneau, 6 p.m.
Feb. 27 - LeTourneau (DH), 1 p.m.
March 4 - at Mary Hardin-Baylor (DH), 3 p.m.
March 5 - at Mary Hardin-Baylor, 1 p.m.
March 11-13 - NFCA Lead-Off Classic at Columbus, Georgia
March 18 - at Howard Payne (DH), 1 p.m.
March 19 - at Howard Payne, noon
March 24 - at UT Dallas, 5 p.m.
March 25 - at UT Dallas (DH), 1 p.m.
March 29 - East Texas Baptist (DH), 4 p.m.
March 30 - East Texas Baptist, 6 p.m.
April 1 - Concordia, 5 p.m.
April 2 - Concordia (DH), noon
April 8 - at Ozarks (DH), noon
April 9 - at Ozarks, noon
April 15 - Louisiana College, 6 p.m.
April 16 - Louisiana College (DH), 1 p.m.
April 22 - at Sul Ross State (DH), 3 p.m.
April 23 - at Sul Ross State, noon
April 28-30 - ASC Championships, TBA
May 13-16 - NCAA Regional, TBA
May 20-21 - NCAA Super Regional , TBA
May 26-31 - NCAA College World Series at Salem, Virginia