The Lamar University softball team will welcome Kansas, Tulsa, Northern Illinois, South Dakota State and Alabama A&M to Beaumont, February, today through Sunday, as the Lady Cardinals host the second-annual Cardinal Classic tournament at the Lamar Softball Complex.
The 15-game event serves as the team’s home opener, and features one game today, followed by five on Friday, five on Saturday, and four on Sunday. The Lady Cardinals play a total of five games, including the opener at 4 p.m. against Alabama A&M.
Head coach Holly Bruder said the tournament started not only to get the team some early home games, but also to attract northern schools.
“I got some northern teams trying to get down to Texas,” she said. “I thought, ‘Why not?’ I have a beautiful batting cage, I have a beautiful facility. Why don’t I play at home?”
Leading the Cardinals this season are senior catcher Brynn Baca (.321 batting average), junior infielder Sable Hankins (.287, six home runs), junior outfielder Brittany Rodriguez (.393, 14 stolen bases), and sophomore infielder Kelly Meeuwsen (.324, 22 doubles).
“The power and the athletic ability Sable has is ridiculous — you need to come out and watch,” Bruder said. “Kelly is a first team all-conference player, this kid hits for power. “Brittany, as the fastest in our conference, her ability to get on base is going to be essential against the big teams. The kid gets on base, she’s gonna score.
“I think (Baca) is a catcher behind the plate who knows the game like nobody else. The knowledge she has stems into the other players.”
The pitching staff will be anchored by preseason all-Southland Conference selection Ciara Luna (17-8, 2.61 ERA, 112 strikeouts in 2016), and Laura Napoli (9-8, 3.00 ERA, five saves — a school record).
“Ciara Luna was newcomer of the year last year, probably our biggest accolade at Lamar University,” Bruder said. “In Laura’s freshman year, she one-hit the University of Texas, on national television — we beat them 9-1 in five innings. So with those two, I have the best one-two in the conference.”
Lamar led the Southland Conference with five 2017 preseason all-conference selections. Baca, Hankins, Luna and Rodriguez were named to the first team, while Meeuwsen was named to the second team.
“Being an all-conference player is an honor,” Rodriguez said. “It’s also tough. Everyone knows me, knows how I play. So it will be tougher for me this season, but I am always up for a challenge.”
Hankins said the recognition is a huge honor.
“I’ve worked very hard at my game and it’s good to be recognized,” she said.
The Cardinal Classic will be the third of four non-conference tournaments the Lady Cardinals play. Their non-conference schedule includes high-profile opponents such as Baylor (ranked 14th nationally), Texas A&M (17), Nebraska (34), Ohio State (40), Tulsa (41), Texas State (42), Kansas (48) and Arkansas (71).
“I think when you’re playing the consistent RPI of 50, 40 or higher, I think your team gets accustomed, too,” Bruder said. “We gotta step on the gas a hundred percent. If we dial that gas back to 90 percent, we’re gonna lose.”
Rodriguez said the tough schedule will set the team up for conference play.
“Facing such highly-ranked teams will get us ready for the season, and, more importantly, it will give us so many opportunities to upset some teams,” she said.
Game time today is 4 p.m. as Lamar faces Alabama A&M. Lamar goes up against South Dakota State, Friday, at 4:45 p.m. On Saturday, the Lady Cardinals meet Kansas at 4:45 p.m., and will face Northern Illinois, Sunday at 11:15 a.m., before closing out the tournament against Tulsa at 3:45 p.m., Sunday.
For ticket information, call 880-1715, or visit lamarcardinals.com.