San Antonio – St. Mary’s entered Friday’s “Battle of the Saints” series knowing one thing.
Take two games from St. Edward’s, and the Heartland Conference regular-season title was theirs.
Katie Nichols helped the Lady Rattlers get halfway there, fueling them to a 5-2 Game 2 victory in the night cap of a doubleheader at St. Mary’s Softball Fields. The Hilltoppers took Game 1 3-0 behind pitcher Paige Sandhal’s two-hitter, setting up the Rattlers (32-16, 11-3 in Heartland Conference) for an opportunity to clinch the regular-season crown with a victory over St. Edward’s on Saturday.
Nichols went 1 for 2 with three RBIs and a run scored in Game 2, driving in the go-ahead run when she was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded in the third inning. That came just one inning after she drove a two-run home run that evened the score after the Rattlers had gone eight straight innings without crossing home plate on the day.
The victory came hours after St. Mary’s University President Dr. Charles Cotrell helped honor coach Donna Fields for picking up career win No. 600 earlier in the week, presenting her a ceremonial plaque before a lively crowd of about 100 fans prior to the start of the doubleheader.
St. Mary’s and St. Edward’s will meet up again for Game 3 of the series at 12 p.m. Saturday at St. Mary’s Softball Fields.
The Rattlers will clinch the Heartland Conference regular-season title with a victory or with a Texas A&M International loss to Texas-Permian Basin on Saturday. The Rattlers and Dustdevils are tied atop the conference with matching 11-3 marks, but St. Mary’s owns the tiebreaker by virtue of a 2-1 series victory last weekend. The winner will host the Heartland Conference Tournament, held April 29-May 1.
For Nichols, Friday night marked the culmination of the hard work she had put in this week.
“I know I’ve been off for a while now,” said Nichols, a sophomore outfielder from San Marcos, Texas. “I’ve been working out hard all week. I’ve been swinging hard at everything. I told myself when I woke up this morning that I was going to swing hard at everything. Someone was telling me my swing looks better in the cage, because I swing with more confidence in there. I brought that to the game today.”
In Game 1, Nichols’ bat was the only one the Rattlers could get going.
St. Edward’s pitcher Paige Sandahl threw a two-hitter to fuel the Hilltoppers, with Nichols representing the Lady Rattlers’ only success at the plate. Nichols went 2 for 3, but no other Rattler could muster a hit after falling behind 2-0 in the first.
The Hilltoppers tacked on a third run in the third, capitalizing on Stacy Giles’ RBI to pull ahead 3-0.
Inheriting that deficit, Crystal Keller (So., Castroville, Texas) took over on the rubber in the fifth, and proceeded to give up just one hit in three innings.
Sandahl struck out eight in the game, while Bissaro (Fr., San Antonio) and reliever Keller combined to fan three for the Rattlers.
In Game 2, second baseman Sarah Perez (So., San Marcos, Texas) went 1 for 2 with an RBI, while rightfielder Shelly Lee (So., San Antonio) also drove in a run on a 1-for-3 outing. Ace Emily Brittain (Fr., Corpus Christi, Texas) improved to 20-7 with the Game 2 victory.