Blinn softball take aim at fifth consecutive trip to nationals

Six sophomores who helped the Buccaneers place fifth at last season's national tournament will look to lead them back to the promised land in 2013.

The Bucs are looking to reach the NJCAA National Championships for the fifth consecutive season after the squad won the Region XIV Conference championship and won 51 games in 2012.

"That's our whole goal, is to make it five straight trips to nationals," said head coach Rick Church. "Every year it gets tougher, but our goals never change. People want to see that Blinn uniform at nationals. There just might be some different people in them."

Pitcher / first baseman Caitie Carney (Giddings), catcher / third baseman Kristina Davila (Oak Ridge), outfielder Christa Hartnett (Cypress Fairbanks), outfielder Tiffani McKnight (Elkins) and catcher / first baseman / outfielder Shelbe Sterling (La Grange) and sophomore shortstop Kristina Riley (Westchester Academy) each return from a team that won two games at last season's national tournament.

This year, the Buccaneers will rely on a pair of freshmen to help carry the pitching load.

Shannon O'Connor comes to Blinn after earning district MVP honors last season at Dobie High School. O'Connor posted 253 strikeouts and a 1.31 ERA in 181 1/3 innings her senior season, leading Dobie to the second round of the playoffs.

"Shannon has a good rise ball that was her primary pitch when she came to us, and she also has a curveball and a screwball and she's developing a good change-up," Church said.

Katie Castillon comes to Blinn from San Antonio Churchill, where she was the district MVP in 2011 and the defensive player of the year in 2012. She went 12-0 and threw five shutouts as a senior, including two no-hitters and five one-hitters.

Carney, who has committed to St. Edward's University, appeared in nine games for the Bucs last season, going 6-0 with a 2.07 ERA. She struck out 31 and walked 16 in 40 2/3 innings.

"Between those three we'll have a very respectable pitching staff," Church said. "I suspect we'll have a fairly equitable amount of innings to spread out during all those five-game tournaments we play in February, then we'll see where we're at."

Davila, who earned NJCAA and National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-America honors at third base last season, will move behind the plate for the Bucs this season. Davila batted .388 with 13 doubles, one triple, 11 homers and 62 RBIs in 183 at-bats last season.

Sterling, who can also play first base and the outfield, will also handle some of the catching duties after she hit .293 with 10 doubles, seven homers and 30 RBIs last season.

Mackinsey Yoes, who comes to Blinn from Coppell High School, will be the team's third catcher. Yoes was a three-year letterman at Coppell and earned all-district honors as a senior. She was academic all-district as a junior and a senior.

"She made a lot of progress through the fall and she works well with all our pitchers," Church said.

When she isn't pitching, Carney will see some time at first base after she hit .219 with five doubles, one triple, two homers and 10 RBIs last season. Sterling will be an option at first base, as will freshman Sydney Wellmann (Brenham). Wellmann was named first-team all-district, first-team all-Brazos Valley and all-state as both a junior and a senior.

"Sydney Wellmann is a fantastic defensive first baseman and she started hitting well at the end of the fall," Church said. "We've got three quality options at first base and all three of those could DP."

Second baseman Allison Artz comes to Blinn from Jersey Village High School, where she earned first-team all-district honors in 2011 and 2012, leading her team to the second round of the playoffs each year. Artz could also play shortstop or the outfield for the Buccaneers.

"She's a left-handed slap hitter with good speed," Church said. "She's also a very good bunter."

Riley returns after taking over the starting job midway through the 2012 season. She finished with 17 runs scored and nine RBIs while batting .237.

"She had a really good regional tournament and a good defensive showing at nationals," Church said.

Freshman shortstop Marissa Purcell comes to Blinn from Galena Park, where she earned all-district honors from 2009-11. Purcell can play both middle infield positions.

"We are asking her for a solid defensive contribution and to help us move base runners on offense," Church said.

Third baseman Peyton Webb is a Montgomery High School product who transferred to Blinn after redshirting at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette last season. Webb was named to the all-state team as a senior and was the Conroe Courier's all-county infield MVP.

Sophomore Christa Hartnett will take over in center field after she batted .259 and scored five times in 27 at-bats in 2012. Hartnett will be flanked by sophomore Tiffani McKnight in left field and freshman Tara Bowers in right. McKnight, who is committed to the University of Houston, hit .379 with nine doubles, two triples, nine homers and 51 RBIs last season. Bowers earned all-district honors as a junior and senior at Hargrave High School.

Taylor Guidry, who comes to Blinn from Jersey Village, will lend depth to the outfield after she earned all-district honors all four years in high school.

The Buccaneers will open the season ranked No. 2 in the nation by the National Junior College Athletic Association. Blinn makes its season debut Friday with three games at the Galveston College Invitational. The Bucs play Kilgore College at 9 that morning, followed by a 1 p.m. game against Seminole (Okla.) State College and a 5 p.m. contest vs. McLennan Community College.