The Sam Houston State University softball team is looking to build on last year’s season which included a trip to the NCAA Tournament where they upset the University of Texas in the opening round.
The Bearkats claimed the top spot in the Southland Conference after winning the regular season and the conference tournament to advance to the Austin Regional in the NCAA Tournament. The Bearkats are returning 14 players from last year’s successful squad with most of them in starting roles.
“I don’t feel pressure,”second-year head coach Garrett Valis said. “And I don’t think the kids do yet. I think at some point there may be that hurdle that we have to jump through because I think they are going to realize that people are coming after them a little more. So I think the pressure may come, but this group is experienced and I think they will handle it well.”
Despite losing SLC Pitcher and Player of the Year Lindsey Mcleod, Valis thinks the team is ready to step up as the pitching rotation is still very intact. Valis said he thinks it is a blessing that teams did not get to see much of pitcher Karina Sanchez last season, who is now heading into her senior year.
“Karina is somebody who is going to take a huge step in a role for us this year,” Valis said. “She’s a kid who is used to pitching in pressure games.”
Senior infielder Tiffany Thompson and senior outfielder Megan McDonald are a pair of veterans that are also ready to lead the way. Last season Thompson had a team-best batting average of .308. She was also the team leader in hits (57) and in runs scored (34). Both of these landed her in the top-10 of the Southland Conference.
“Tiffany is willing to do whatever we need her to do,” Valis said. “Somedays she’ll play a huge roll and others she’s happy to play a complimentary roll. The thing that I love most about Tiffany is she is so humble in everything she does.”
McDonald picked up where Thompson left off as she was second on the team with a .299 batting average and a .354 on-base percentage.
“McDonald has been underappreciated in every step of the way during her time here,” Valis said. “She has been just as big of a rock as Tiffany has been on and off the field. Her and Tiffany have been rocks at shortstop and centerfield for all three of their years.”
Some new additions to the team come from freshman infielders Ellie Grill and Emily Telg who are both expected to make an impact on this roster. Grill led Angleton High School to a 5A state championship while being selected to the all-state team. Telg hit .512 with nine homeruns as a junior in high school and received Newcomer of the Year as a freshman.
One thing that Valis is looking forward to the athleticism from this team. Valis said that the depth of this team could make them better than last year.
Another strong point this season is the home-field advantage. SHSU has 23 home games compared to the 17 from last year. With these games, Valis hopes that the Bearkat fan-base shows up to support this program.
SHSU will begin its season on the road in Florida for the Stetson Classic Feb. 7-9. The Kats will play at home for the first time Feb. 12 at 6:30 p.m. against the University of Houston who beat SHSU in the Austin Regional last year. Following that, the team will host the first of two tournaments in Huntsville Feb. 14-16 before conference play gets underway March 6.
This team is ready to prove that last year wasn’t a fluke. Last year was the start of something that is going to continue.Garrett Valis