By Garrett Martin
Once again, it’s spring-time which means that Texas State Softball is prepared and ready to compete. The team is young, but has the right experienced players returning that may be able set a great example for the up-and-coming young players. Ricci Woodard will be entering her 19th season as Texas State’s head softball coach and is coming off her team’s third straight 40-win season. Last season was tremendous for the Bobcats as they rounded out another regular season on top of the Sun Belt standings and added another championship to Woodard’s already stellar resume. The ‘Cats finished with an 18-5 conference record and a 43-16 record overall. They even had a chance to represent the University and the city of San Marcos with an appearance at the NCAA Los Angeles Regional where they fell short to the highly touted UCLA Bruins. This certainly gave a lot of confidence to a stacked Bobcats team that produced stellar numbers offensively and off the mound. However, Woodard has her work cut out for her this year after losing the programs two best career players in pitcher Randi Rupp and shortstop Ariel Ortiz.
After last year, Ortiz finished as Texas State’s all-time leader in career home runs (39), doubles (50), RBIs (164) and walks drawn (110). Also after last year, Rupp became an All-Sun Belt Conference player for the third straight year, and Sun Belt Conference pitcher of the year for the second straight season. She also holds school records in wins (110), strikeouts (1,270), appearances (187) and innings pitched (1,057.1). Both players massively contributed to the success Texas State has had over the past three seasons, and Bobcat fans will be forever grateful to those fantastic softball players. The problem that Woodard has is finding success in what remains of the conference championship team and with what she and her recruiters have brought in to contribute in 2019. Luckily, she has tremendous depth.
Randi Rupp was all kinds of trouble for opposing teams and their hitters the last four years. She averaged over 260 innings per season for the Bobcats. That alone is a lot to replace, much less a historic Bobcat legacy. There are five pitchers on staff for this season, and a couple that will be returning to pitch from the championship team last year. Sophomore Meagan King is certainly a candidate to play successor to Rupp in 2019. King saw the second most innings behind Rupp last season and has an impressive high school resume as a high-performing two way player. Consider King to be Texas State’s current top pitching threat on the roster.
The coaches will also utilize some newer arms to the Division I level with returning lefty, sophomore Maria Flores and Temple College transfer Dalilah Barrera. Both have starting experience in high school and well regarded high school softball accolades, but if King gets a majority of the starting chances this season, these two girls will pitch more in relief than at the beginning of games. However, if Woodard wants to move away from using one pitcher too much, she can. She has the option to start King in a committee with either Flores or Barrera. Either way, the Bobcats have a massive hole at starting pitching, and only coach Woodard has the answers for us.
Texas State will be returning a giant chunk of their starting lineup from last year. We’ll see who ends up replacing Ortiz at shortstop, but most of the other positions are filled. Just recently, juniors Hailey Mackay and Haleigh Davis were named to the preseason Sun Belt All-Conference list. It’s easy to understand why. Last year, MacKay showed out in her first year as a Bobcat. The former Arkansas product posted team-highs in hits (60), homeruns (12), and RBI’s (40). Davis also had a highly productive year for the Bobcats last season. She was second only to MacKay in batting average (.326) and slugging percentage (.521). Texas State is lucky to have these two as they should serve as offensive leaders this year. Two other infielders that should be as effective as they were last year include sophomore second baseman Tara Oltmann and junior third baseman Bailee Carter. Oltmann was third on the team last year with 35 RBI’s and tied for third in hits, while Carter finished the season with a dependable batting average (.300) and was third on the team in walks (24) and on-base-percentage (.407).
The outfield should be as sturdy as the infield this spring. Junior center fielder Christiana McDowell is a force to be reckoned with on the basepaths. Last year, she stole a team high 17 bases and led the team in runs (30). She’s most likely to take a leadoff role in Woodard’s lineup. Starting left fielder, senior Mari Cranek played very well when it counted at the end of last season. She was named to the Sun Belt Conference All-Tournament team for her two fantastic performances against Troy, and she went 4-for-8 with an RBI and a run scored in the NCAA Los Angeles regional. These kinds of clutch performances will come in handy this year for Texas State, especially if they want to repeat as Sun Belt champions.
Bobcat fans should have a lot to look forward to this year. They have a number of returning players from last year’s championship team, they have many players that can step into starting roles when they’re asked to, and fans might see a conference MVP candidate in Hailey MacKay. The downside is that fans of Texas State softball haven’t seen what it’s like to be without a world class pitcher in Randi Rupp and an offensive powerhouse in Ariel Ortiz in awhile. All in all, coach Woodard creates an infectious, family environment for her players. They each play for one another and for the name on the front of the jersey. Thus, the culture she has created in the 18 seasons with the Bobcats is paying off year after year.
With wins and championships to prove it, the formula she has developed is working, and there are no signs of it stopping any time soon. We can trust that Woodard has got a plan for 2019 and that she plans on executing it to the best of her and her players’ ability. The ‘Cats will open up the season against I-35 rival UTSA on Thursday, February 7th at 5 P.M. Get out to the game and support Texas State, or listen live on KTSW 89.9.
Featured Image by Peter Vives, Texas State Athletics