High expectations greet the UT Tyler softball team again this season; and coach Mike Reed and his Patriots wouldn’t have it any other way.
Reed has guided the Patriots to five consecutive NCAA Regional appearances — each year UT Tyler has been eligible — and two NCAA Division III World Series bids. The Patriots finished fifth in 2009 and third in 2011.
This season the Patriots are again favored to win the American Southwest Conference East Division and are ranked No. 9 in the preseason National Fastpitch Coaches Association top-25 poll.
The Patriots open their season today, traveling to Belton to meet ASC West favorite Mary Hardin-Baylor. The first game of the doubleheader is scheduled for 1 p.m.
UT Tyler’s home opener is Feb. 24 against Trinity. The first game of the DH is slated to begin at 1 p.m.
Fourteen players return from the 2012 team that finished runner-up in the NCAA West Regional to eventual national champion Pacific Lutheran.
Five All-ASC performers are back, including senior Joey Cronin, who was named a Capitol One CoSIDA Academic All-American, as well as NFCA All-West Region. Cronin has been named All-American twice, and All-ASC in each of her three seasons with the Patriots. She finished last season hitting .384 with 46 runs, 56 total hits and 15 doubles.
Another All-Region member returning is senior pitcher/infielder Heather Abshire, who was stellar in her first season in the circle for the Patriots, going 22-4 with a 1.39 ERA, totaling seven shutouts and striking out 62 batters. Abshire was also a force at the plate, batting .387 with 10 doubles and 34 RBI.
Senior Ashley Endsley, last season’s conference leader in home runs (10) and Newcomer of the Year, will man third base. Endsley, another NFCA All-Region and All-ASC performer, hit .420 at the plate and knocked in 50 runs.
Rachel Howell and Lauren Robenalt were both named All-ASC last season. Howell finished with five home runs, hitting .321 in 42 starts while the speedster Robenalt hit .347 in 44 games, totaling 34 hits and 12 stolen bases out of 12 attempts.
The Patriots will take part in the NFCA Leadoff Classic March 8-10 in Columbus, Ga. The tourney features some of the top D-III teams in the nation.
UT Tyler also gets a rematch with top-ranked and defending national champion Pacific Lutheran on March 27.
The ASC Tournament is April 25-27 in Farmers Branch.