Patriots' platoon paying big dividends

UT Tyler's Carli Wheeler (left) and Lauren Robenalt have worked well together in a platoon situation for the Patriots softball team this season. (Clay Ihlo | Tyler Morning Telegraph

Carli Wheeler and Lauren Robenalt may not bat clean up, lead the team in slugging percentage or drive in tons of runs, but together they have helped the UT Tyler softball team reach the NCAA Division III regional tournament for the fifth straight year.

“Both have split playing center field at different times of the year,” Patriots coach Mike Reed said. “Both have kept great attitudes, both continue to work hard … and have symbolized what great teams are about. They have a great relationship and have combined to play a great center field.”

Both players bring something different to Reed’s lineup, which is what makes the tandem so difficult to play against.

“Depending on who we’re playing and what they do defensively dictates (which one plays),” Reed said. “Robenalt is a speed kid and Wheeler is a tremendous presence defensively … what field we’re on makes a difference and we make a decision between the two based on what we think we need that game.”

Robenalt’s speed has helped the Patriots sophomore garner 12 stolen bases in 12 attempts this season and score 27 runs, while Wheeler ranks second on the team with five home runs and first in triples.

“If (Wheeler’s) doing well, I’m happy because the team’s doing well,” Robenalt said. “It’s been a good lesson to learn that it’s not about how much you play; it’s how the team does. I’m glad that whenever I’m not playing well, she can go in and take my place.”

Wheeler echoed Robenalt’s thoughts about it being a team effort and not about personal gain on the field.

“We’re two different players, but it works out together for us,” Wheeler said. “We’re all ready whenever our name is called. It takes all 21 of us to win a game, not just nine players (on the field).”

Both players know that they can be subbed in or out at any point of the game, which they say keeps everyone fighting for a spot.

“I can never relax because I know I have a spot secured,” Robenalt said. “(Reed) works (the lineup) so that we’re always working for a spot … he makes sure we’re all trying our hardest and working extra hard to get a spot so when the lineup changes we’re ready for it.”

This weekend Wheeler, Robenalt and the rest of the Patriots will have more to worry about than just lineup changes, as six other teams convene at UT Tyler Ballpark for the regional tournament with a bid to the College World Series on the line.

“We’re ready to play hard on our own field,” Robenalt said. “I think we’re ready for whoever we face.”

Wheeler is playing in her third straight regional, but first with the Patriots. The junior was a part of the Louisiana College team that fell to UT Tyler in the regional finals last year.

“It would mean the world to me if we won regionals,” Wheeler said. “Not just for my sake, but for the team. All the girls that haven’t been to a regional tournament and for (seniors) Katelyn Thomason and Ashlee Johnson … it’s the team’s goal to go to the World Series.”

UT Tyler begins its quest at defending its regional championship at 6:30 p.m. Friday. The Patriots are set to face the loser between Louisiana College and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps.

2012 NCAA Division III Softball Tournament

Tyler Texas Regional

UT Tyler Ballpark

Seeds

No. 1: The University of Texas at Tyler Patriots (Tyler, Texas) (36-7)

No. 2: Pacific Lutheran University Lutes (Tacoma, Wash.) (37-11)

No. 3: University of Redlands Bulldogs (Redlands, Calif.) (31-11)

No. 4: Louisiana College Wildcats (Pineville, La.) (28-13)

No. 5: Claremont McKenna-Harvey Mudd-Scripps Colleges Staggs (Claremont, Calf.) (28-13)

No. 6: Birmingham-Southern College (Birmingham, Ala.) (34-9)

No. 7: Huntingdon College (Montgomery, Ala.) (28-13)

Friday’s Schedule

Game 1: Louisiana College vs. Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, 11 a.m.

Game 2: Redlands vs. Birmingham-Southern, 1:30 p.m.

Game 3: Pacific Lutheran vs. Huntingdon, 4 p.m.

Game 4: UT Tyler vs. Loser Game 1, 6:30 p.m.

Saturday’s Schedule

Game 5: Loser Game 2 vs. Loser Game 3, 11 a.m.

Game 6: Winner Game 2 vs. Winner Game 3, 1:30 p.m.

Game 7: Loser Game 4 vs. Winner Game 1, 4 p.m.

Game 8: Loser Game 6 vs. Winner Game 5, 6:30 p.m.

The remaining schedule to be determined

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