The Blinn College softball team is eager to return to nationals in 2018 after a two-year absence. Last year, the Buccaneers were one win away before placing third in the Region XIV Tournament and concluding the season with a 37-17 record.
"Our goal is to win regionals and go compete for a national championship," coach Rick Church said. "The last time we were there was in 2015 and it is time to get back."
With an offense that can hit for power and play small ball, and a pitching staff that brings diverse capabilities to the circle, this season's Buccaneers have the potential to return to the NJCAA National Championships.
Blinn softball has made seven trips to nationals after capturing conference and regional championships in 2003, 2006, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2015. Last season, the Buccaneers were conference co-champions before placing third at regionals.
The Buccaneers return nine position players this season, including last season's first-team all-region and all-conference selections Emily Noah (Midlothian) and Morgan Gray (Houston), first-team all-conference players Amy Alexander (Alvin) and Calli Birch (Maple Ridge, British Columbia) and second-team all-conference pick Gabriela Gomez (Bloomington, Calif.).
"We should be strong offensively since most of our returners batted over .350 last season and half a dozen in our lineup are capable of hitting home runs," Church said. "We have athletes who can hit for power, slappers who can hit for average, and we can do a combination of things well offensively."
Noah led Blinn in batting average (.430) and home runs (5), while Gray (Houston) finished the 2017 season with the second highest batting average (.417) and led the team in stolen bases (18).
Alexander will see time at first base or as a designated plater this year. She finished the season with a .356 batting average and 27 RBIs. Gomez can play strong defense at shortstop and second base, and she hit .338 as a freshman to earn second-team all-region honors.
Villareal and Armendariz can both play first base and third base, and gained experience at the plate last season with 41 at-bats each.
Gray joins Abby Olejniczak (Kingwood) and Makalah Norman (Pearland) as the Buccaneers' returners in the outfield. Olejniczak is a lefty slapper who hit .387 and can play left, center and right field. Gray and Norman show great work ethic and are team leaders. Norman can also help out in the infield as a second baseman.
Catcher Birch returns after earning second-team all-region honors last season with a .376 average and 25 RBIs
"Calli is very knowledgeable of the game, a good communicator and leader behind the plate," Church said.
Sophomore Kamryn Boucher (Tomball) is the only returning pitcher on this year's roster. She started six games and finished the 2017 season with a 5-0 record and 0.87 earned run average. Boucher will start the season rehabbing an injury and her return is unknown.
"They are young, but we saw some very good things from our pitchers in the fall," Church said. "They all bring diverse qualities into the circle."
Morris throws a screwball, drop ball and curveball and was very consistent in the Fall, while Rhoudes throws a curveball, screwball and rise ball and has good velocity. Hedger could see time as a starter, but is ideal for relief since she can move the ball well and is good at changing speeds.
Cedillo is a lefty slapper who is an excellent fielding third baseman and Langston is a second baseman with good power who can hit well against tough pitching. Alvarez-Lopez plays shortstop and is an all-around player with good speed, good power and a great sense for the game, while Gonzales can play first and third base and has home run power. University of Georgia transfer Guitierrez is a first baseman and utility player who is a good lefty hitter.
Garcia has one of the strongest arms in left field, Coerver is a good defensive outfielder with home run power, and Jones is a right fielder who swings away from the left.
Freshman Courtney Ogle (Cedar Park) is a good defensive catcher and will split time catching with Birch. She has the capability of throwing a lot of baserunners out this year.
"We want to build upon our consistency and our performance as we progress through every week of competition," Church said. "We have the ability to come together as an offense and put the ball into play while keeping our opponents off the board with our pitching. I'm excited for this season."
Blinn will open the 2018 season at Hohlt Park when the Buccaneers take on Louisiana State University-Eunice today for a doubleheader that begins at 2 p.m.
Blinn has competed in intercollegiate athletics since 1903 and captured 36 NJCAA national championships since 1987.