San Antonio – St. Mary’s first baseman Jared Gonzalez put her head on her pillow on the eve of the Heartland Conference Softball Tournament on Wednesday night, feeling every bit like someone set to make her debut in the NCAA Division II softball playoffs.

“The night before, you’re a little nervous, thinking about all the possibilities,” Gonzalez said. “But you just have to give your best.”

And her best proved plenty good enough.

Gonzalez drove in five runs on a 3-for-4 day at the plate, leading the top-seeded Rattlers to a 9-2 rout of No. 4-seed Newman in Game 1 of the Heartland Conference Tournament on Thursday.

No. 2-seed Texas A&M International followed with a dramatic 4-3 victory over third-seeded St. Edward’s, getting a walk-off, two-run blast from Heartland Conference Co-Player of the Year Victoria Beltran to cap off a three-run seventh inning that stunned the Hilltoppers.

Watch Jared Gonzalez talk about St. Mary’s victory over Newman.

TAMIU’s victory sets up what should be a thrilling game against St. Mary’s (34-17) in the second round of the tournament. They will play at 11:30 a.m. Friday at St. Mary’s Softball Fields, followed by a St. Edward’s-Newman pairing in the loser’s bracket.

For Gonzalez, a sophomore first baseman from San Antonio who transferred to St. Mary’s from Alvin College, she liked the tempo the Rattlers brought to the field Thursday.

“Our coaches pushed us really hard to get us to where we’re at,” said Gonzalez, who blasted a two-run home run in the first inning and drove in at least one run on all three of her hits. “For me, it was just a lot of hard work. It’s just a taste of what the rest of the conference tournament will feel like, and hopefully regionals. Hopefully, we can come with this much energy for the rest of the games.”

Leading 2-1, St. Mary’s broke open the game with a five-run fourth inning before tacking on two more in the sixth. In the fourth, third baseman Chelsea Wenske (Sr., Victoria, Texas) doubled down the left-field line to drive in the first run.

Moments later, leading 4-1 at that point, Gonzalez drove in her second run of the night, and centerfielder Katie Nichols (So., San Marcos, Texas) followed with a two-RBI single to left field.

Gonzalez struck again in the sixth, driving in a pair of runs on a single up the middle.

“We want to show we’re the top seed,” said Gonzalez, the Heartland Conference Co-Newcomer of the Year. “That showed today. It’s important the other teams you play respect you in that manner. If we keep playing like that, every team will respect us in that way.”

Freshman ace Emily Brittain, a Corpus Christi, Texas native, picked up the victory to improve to 21-8, while Crystal Keller (So., LaCoste, Texas) pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings in relief.

Wenske went 3 for 4 with an RBI and two runs scored, while senior leftfielder Lauren Miller (Sr., Baytown, Texas) recorded three hits in four at-bats and scored three times. Nichols went 2 for 4 on the day.

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