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Softball: TWU picked to win conference crown

With TWU’s softball season slated to start at the beginning of February, the Pioneers have been projected to repeat as Lone Star Conference champions.

TWU earned 13 of the 24 first-place votes for a total of 166 points from the league’s head coaches, sports information directors and media representatives.

Behind TWU was West Texas A&M with eight first-place votes and 159 points. Midwestern State (146) earned one first-place vote and came in third ahead of Angelo State (145), which took the other two first-place nods. Tarleton State (95) was followed by Cameron (76), Eastern New Mexico (40) and Texas A&M-Kingsville (37).

TWU seniors Katie Hines and Brandie Lander were named the preseason player of the year and pitcher of the year, respectively.

Hines set LSC and TWU records with 25 home runs and 85 RBIs in 2013. She finished the season with a .393 batting average, 18 doubles and 48 runs scored while also pitching in 24 games and earning a 11-3 record with a 3.12 ERA and 56 strikeouts.

Hines was named second-team All-America by both the National Fastpitch Coaches Association and Daktronics, LSC player of the year, first team All-LSC and first-team Capital One Academic All-America last season. She also made the LSC all-tournament team.

Lander led the LSC with a 1.94 ERA, racking up 22 wins and 160 strikeouts. Lander was named first-team All-South Central Region by the NFCA and Daktronics, LSC pitcher of the year and LSC co-newcomer of the year.

This is the third straight year TWU has earned preseason player of the year honors, with shortstop Bailey Vrazel taking the title in 2012 and 2013.

The Pioneers are fresh off their most successful season since the program was reinstated in 1997, climbing to No. 6 in NFCA Division II poll.

Amassing a school-record 51 wins with 14 losses, the Pioneers stormed into the LSC tournament by taking two of three from then-No. 5 West Texas A&M. TWU earned the top seed and defeated Cameron and Midwestern State before defeating West Texas in the final to win the tournament.

TWU then hosted the NCAA South Central regional and the super regional at Pioneer Field, where they knocked off St. Edward’s in the super regional to advance to the NCAA tournament in Salem, Va.

The Pioneers will open the season at St. Mary’s Division II College Classic on Feb. 1-3 in San Antonio against Texas-Permian Basin, St. Mary’s, St. Edward’s and Texas A&M International.