San Antonio–The term “we don’t rebuild, we reload” has rarely been more appropriately used then when talking about the St. Mary’s University softball team.

With eight starters and their top three pitchers returning for the 2008 season, head coach Donna Fields has high expectations for an eighth straight Heartland Conference Tournament Championship and eighth consecutive berth into the NCAA South Central Regional.

St. Mary’s will get an early look at how good they can be when they host the St. Mary’s NCAA Division II College Classic this Friday through Sunday at the San Antonio ISD Fields. Among the field are three NCAA Regional Tournament teams from 2007 and two teams that finished in the top 25 in the nation.

Leading the way for the Rattlers is All-American pitcher Malissa Magee (Sr., Houston). The three-time Heartland Conference Pitcher of the Year is coming off her best season to date and is looking to become the first player to earn Heartland Pitcher of the Year honors four times. In 2007, she went 30-10 with 15 shutouts, a 0.75 ERA and a school-record 295 strikeouts.

Magee already owns many of the Rattlers single-season and career pitching records and is a two-time All-American honoree, including second team honors last season. In her career she is now the Rattlers all-time leader in shutouts (30), innings pitched (713.1) and strikeouts (725). Her career record of 83-26 is second on the Rattlers all-time list as well.

Behind Magee is Brittany Kettinger (Sr., Azle), who has been one of the top pitchers, but often is overshadowed by Magee. Kettinger went 12-7 with a 1.73 ERA, seven shutouts and 13 complete games last season. In her career she is 45-26 with a 1.92 ERA, 14 shutouts and six saves in 473.0 innings of work.

Taryn Munoz (So., Bulverde) saw limited action in her first season with the squad, but Fields has high expectations for Munoz in her second year. Adding depth to the rotation is Arlynda Flores (So., Uvalde), a transfer from Ohio State, who will also play in the field.

Offensively the Rattlers are led by returning All-American Kelcy Walker (Sr., San Antonio), who led St. Mary’s in nearly every offensive category last season. She hit a team-best .384 with 10 homeruns, 15 doubles, 49 RBI and 51 runs scored. As the Rattlers starting catcher, she was strong defensively, fielding .978 in 363 chances.

Right behind Walker is catcher/designated hitter Lindsay Barnes (Sr., San Antonio), who led the Rattlers in homeruns with 15, and in RBI with 58. She earned first team All-Heartland honors, as well as All-South Central Region recognition.

Mary K Pederson (Sr., Houston) helped to give the Rattlers stability at the hot corner and was St. Mary’s leadoff hitter last season. She responded by hitting .284 with 12 doubles and 41 runs scored. Second baseman Jenna Saucedo (Jr., San Antonio) had to play much of 2007 with an injury, but still was second on the team with a .345 batting average.

Sade Moore (Jr., Angleton) was forced to move from the outfield to the infield at midseason after an injury ended Heather Monroe’s (So., New Braunfels) season. Moore responded by becoming one of the top hitters in the Heartland Conference over the second half of the season. She was the second leading hitter on the team from midseason on with a .356 average, four triples, seven RBI and 17 runs scored. Monroe smacked four homeruns and drove in 18 runs in just 89 at-bats before her injury. She will add another powerful bat to a Rattler lineup that smacked 32 homeruns last season.

Joining the Rattlers for this season are four newcomers who should add depth in the infield, while making a push for starting time as well: Alyssa Alfaro (Fr., Eagle Pass), Kelly Baker (Fr., Arlington), Arlynda Flores, Amanda Martinez (Fr., San Antonio) and Chelsea Wenske (Fr., Shiner).

Alfaro is a second baseman that earned all-district honors twice at Eagle Pass High School and helped EPHS to four district titles. Baker is the heir-apparent at catcher with Barnes and Walker in their final season with the Rattlers. Baker was a three-time all-district selection at Martin High School and set school records for doubles, extra base hits and batting average as a senior.

Flores saw limited action at Ohio State last season, playing in seven games, but was an all-state honoree at Uvalde High School in the field as well as on the mound. As a senior, she hit .573 with 18 extra base  hits, including nine triples. Her speed and athleticism should help the Rattlers this season both on the mound and in the field. Martinez was a four-time all-district honoree at Incarnate Word High School and was named all-state twice. She helped lead IWHS to four state tournament appearances, while playing shortstop and second base.

Nieto was a five-sport athlete at Pearsall High School, participating in softball, track, cross country, basketball and power lifting. On the diamond, she was a three-time all-district honoree and earned all-state honors twice.  Wenske hit .427 with 32 RBI as a senior, earning all-state honors at St. Joseph’s High School for the third time. She helped the school to three district titles and three trips to the state tournament.

The outfield remains intact with Sarah Cooper (Sr., Houston), Nikki Flores (Jr., Friendswood), Kettinger and Munoz all returning. Cooper earned second team All-Heartland Conference honors, hitting .319 with eight doubles, 21 RBI and 26 runs scored. Flores earned a starting spot in the outfield and responded by hitting .254 with eight doubles, 16 RBI and 18 runs scored.

Three newcomers will push for playing time this season in the outfield. Juanitta Guerrero (Fr., Crystal City), Lauren Miller (Fr., Baytown) and Lia Provence (Fr., Bastrop) all will have a chance to earn time this season.

Guerrero was a two-time all-district honoree for Crystal City High School and helped the squad to an area championship and district title during her time there. Miller was a strong overall athlete, playing softball, soccer and basketball for San Jacinto Christian Academy. She was also a standout on the Texas Aces Gold team the last two years. Provence earned all-district honors four times and was an All-CenTex standout at Bastrop High School.

The Opposition
The Rattlers will have 27 home games this season, plus they will host the Heartland Conference Tournament for the third straight season after winning the title in 2007. They will host the annual St. Mary’s Invitational on Feb. 1-3 at the San Antonio ISD Spring Sports Complex. The Rattlers will open fall play with the St. Mary’s Fall Classic at Rattler Field on Sept. 15. Among the teams in the tournament will be perennially ranked teams such as Central Oklahoma, Southeastern Oklahoma State and Midwestern State, who finished the 2007 season ranked 31st in the nation.

After the St. Mary’s Invite., they will head to the Abilene Christian Tournament, which features Emporia State (#11), Northeastern State (2007 South Central Region team), Southeastern Oklahoma State and Cameron, as well as host ACU. The toughest challenge in the preseason may come at the Schutt Sports//Division II Lead-Off Classic on Feb. 14-16. Included in that field is many of the teams in the final 2007 national poll, including Humboldt State (#9), who is in the Rattlers bracket.

St. Mary’s will also take on Angelo State (#5, 2007 College World Series team) four times and St. Edward’s (#17, 2007 South Central Region team) six times. After a down year in 2007, Incarnate Word is expected to challenge St. Mary’s and St. Edward’s for the Heartland crown. The Rattlers will host the Heartland postseason tournament for the third straight year after winning the 2007 edition.

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