San Antonio – The St. Mary’s softball team has received the No. 1 rank in Heartland Conference – and the season hasn’t even started yet.
The Rattlers have been selected to win the 2012 Heartland Conference softball championship in this year’s preseason poll, the league announced this week.
Selected by the head coaches and sports information directors of the conference, the Rattlers won the No. 1 selection with nine of 12 first-place votes. Rival St. Edward’s received the other three first-place votes.
The honor of being chosen as the preseason favorite by its peers was based on St. Mary’s performance last season, which included regaining the Heartland Conference title for the 10th time in 11 years – and its third year in a row – plus its talented squad of returning Rattlers.
Weighing heavily on the memories of the voters for the top selection was most likely the performances of Jared Gonzalez (Jr., San Antonio, Texas) and Emily Brittain (So., Corpus Christi, Texas), who each performed commendably in their first season as Rattlers.
Gonzalez quickly became the Rattlers’ top player in her first season, leading the team in almost every statistical category and going on to earn a slew of honors, including Honorable Mention All-American (Daktronics), All-Region (Louisville Slugger/National Fastpitch Coaches Association and Daktronics) and Heartland Conference Co-Newcomer of the Year. On the mound and earning just as much praise, Brittain immediately became a force from her first throw with the team-leading ERA of 1.69, going on to earn Heartland Conference Freshman of the Year and Pitcher of the Year honors.
Perhaps more reoccurring in the minds of St. Mary’s peers was the success of the entirety of the team that included 10 All-Conference players, an iconic coach, Donna Fields, reaching an historic 600th career win and a team that went 36-21 overall and fell just short of advancing all the way to the NCAA Division II South Central Region Tournament championship.
What the contenders of the conference title last season remember most, however, is that the St. Mary’s Softball Field was host to the conference tournament, earned by the Rattlers’ standout 12-3 conference record in regular-season play. Feeling a conference loss only three times made St. Mary’s ready for the regional tournament, where it faced the 12th-ranked team in the nation, West Texas A&M. Although the Rattlers were eliminated from the South Central Region Tournament, it was not without the Rattlers’ vigor that brought them there in the first place and what ultimately became the reason for the No. 1 seed selection in the preseason poll for this upcoming season.