Blinn College softball coach Rick Church has added athleticism and depth to the roster as the Buccaneers pursue a return to the national championships in 2019.
"Our goals remain the same every season, and that is to win the Region XIV South Division and finish as one of the top two teams in the Region XIV Tournament to play in the NJCAA National Championships," Church said.
Last season, the Buccaneers placed second in the South Division, one game behind first place, with an overall 32-18 record.
The pitching depth begins with first team all-conference and second team all-region returning starter Meghan Morris (Brenham). Morris led Blinn with 18 wins and 90 strikeouts. She finished 2018 with an 18-11 record and a 2.59 earned run average.
"Meghan pitched a lot of innings for us and became tougher throughout the year," Church said. "She has the potential to be one of the top pitchers in the entire region."
Joining Morris in the circle are incoming freshman Ashley Richardson (Corpus Christi) and Alysa Torres (Deer Park, Texas). After leading Calallen High School to the fourth round of playoffs in 2018, Richardson was selected to the Coastal Bend Coaches Association All-Star team. Torres helped lead Deer Park High School to the state semifinals in 2017 and the second round of playoffs in 2015 and 2018.
"Richardson and Torres had good movement and composure against the top four-year schools we played this Fall," Church said. "Richardson throws a good curve and screwball, Torres throws more up, and Morris is more of a down pitcher, so that staff of three each brings a different spin and a dominant pitch to the mix."
The Buccaneers return six position players, including last season's first team all-conference and second-team all-region selection Tori Alvarez-Lopez (Cypress), as well as Amber Langston (Manvel), Sarah Cedillo (Humble), Courtney Ogle (Cedar Park), Maria Garcia (Mission), and Darby Jones (Bryan).
Starting middle infielders in Alvarez-Lopez (.395) and Langston (.301) finished the 2018 season with two of the top batting averages. Alvarez-Lopez was third on the team with 34 RBIs, while Langston tied for second on the team with 15 doubles.
"Alvarez-Lopez battled some injuries last year and was out this Fall, so we are hoping she can take over from where she left off because she is a big piece of the puzzle," Church said. "Langston has Division I ability, so I expect her to have an even better season than last year."
Cedillo transitions from a starting outfielder to the infield this season after batting .302 and scoring 29 runs in 2018.
"She has a lot of utility and can play shortstop, first, and third base," Church said. "She will serve as our shortstop until Alvarez-Lopez is ready."
Ogle steps into the starting catcher role after splitting time behind home plate last season. She finished the season with a .333 batting average and recorded 20 RBIs in 57 at-bats. Garcia is a utility player who played in six games, while Jones returns as an outfielder after playing in nine games in 2018.
"Ogle is an all-around good and smart player," Church said. "Garcia has one of the stronger arms in the outfield and can play first and third base, while Jones is a hard-working outfielder."
New to the infield are sophomore transfers Kimber Cortemelia (Lake Jackson) and Kelsey Lowke (Austin), and incoming freshmen Clarissa Hagler (Vidor), Emelyn Coussou (Beaumont), Julissa Llanos (Eagle Lake) and Lexi Harris (Marquez).
The University of Louisiana at Lafayette transfer Cortemelia plays first base and third base, and is a good designated player possibility for the Buccaneers. She had some of the best at-bats for Blinn this Fall, and is a good power hitter, Church said. Lowke, a catcher, transferred from Nicholls State University and holds Hyde Park High School's record for career hits with 215 after leading the Panthers to the playoff all four years.
Ten incoming freshmen join the Buccaneers as position players.
"We wanted to add good athletes with speed," Church said. "We now have a total of seven lefties, the most we have ever had, and that will give us options in our lineup. We want to make the opposing pitcher work both sides of the plate to hit their spots."
Hagler is a middle infielder who picked up first-team all-district honors in 2018 after leading Vidor High School to the playoffs all four seasons. Coussou will share time behind home plate with Ogle after winning back-to-back state championships in 2016 and 2017 with Southwest Louisiana HomeSchool. Llanos is a "spark plug" who plays second and third base, while Harris has a lot of speed and can play in the outfield or at second. She was named Class 2A Player of the Year and earned all-state honors in after leading Normangee High School to the state championship game in 2018.
In the outfield, freshmen Mackenzi Crews (Cypress) and Anna Pisaro (Cypress) played together at Cy-Fair High School and took the Bobcats to the playoffs all four years of high school. Crews is a good all-around player, while Pisaro had the most consistent Fall on the team and will see a lot of time in the outfield. Freshman Mayela Fernandez (Cypress) is a lefty with good power as a hitter, while Kristin Kaiser (College Station) is a lefty slapper who puts a lot of pressure on the infield when she makes contact. She also could see time as a designated player.
Incoming freshmen Bailey Zibelin (New Braunfels) and Kindle Gault (Austin) are utility players. Bailey has good power as a hitter, has one of the best arms in the outfield, and can play first base. Gault is a hardworking outfielder who can play left or right and can be a pinch runner.
"We have a big roster, but I like the cohesiveness of this group of players and have been happy with what I have seen in the Fall," Church said. "This is a very likable team and we want to see their chemistry translate into some quality wins on the field."
Blinn will open the 2019 season at the Galveston College Invitational on Friday, Jan. 25. The Buccaneers will open the tournament against Lake Land College at 11 a.m. before facing the University of Houston-Victoria at 3 p.m.
Blinn has competed in intercollegiate athletics since 1903 and captured 38 NJCAA national championships since 1987.