San Antonio – It looks like the St. Mary’s University softball team will be able to carry a little chip on its shoulder this spring.
The Lady Rattlers, last year’s Heartland Conference Tournament champion, were picked No. 2 in the conference’s preseason poll that was released this week. St. Edward’s University topped the poll, which was voted on by the league’s head coaches and sports information directors.
St. Mary’s went 34-21 last year, including a 16-5 mark in conference competition, en route to advancing to the NCAA Division II South Central Region Tournament in coach Donna Fields’ 13th season at the helm.
Bringing back plenty of experience this year, the Rattlers return six fielders to go along with pitcher Crystal Keller (So., Castroville, Texas), who went 5-5 over 25 appearances as a freshman.
Also back are four of the Rattlers’ seven All-Heartland Conference honorees from last season, including outfielder Lauren Miller (Sr., Baytown, Texas), outfielder Katie Nichols (So., San Marcos, Texas), second baseman Alyssa Alfaro (Sr., San Antonio) and catcher Kelly Baker (Sr., Arlington, Texas).
Nichols led the Lady Rattlers with a .352 batting average in her first season, while Alfaro had a team-high nine home runs last year. Miller drove in 30 runs and hit .328, while Baker tallied 32 RBIs and 11 doubles.
In all, the Lady Rattlers return six starting fielders from last season, plus utility player Shelly Lee (So., San Antonio), who started 16 games in 2010.
St. Mary’s begins the season with its annual St. Mary’s Invitational from Feb. 3-5 at the San Antonio Independent School District Spring Sports Complex. The Rattlers open up against Cameron University at 3 p.m. on Feb. 3.