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Texas A&M softball team opens drills under sunny skies
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Texas A&M softball team opens drills under sunny skies

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The Texas A&M softball team picked a picture-perfect day to start spring practice with temperatures in the low 70s on Friday at Davis Diamond.

“It’s great to be out here. The weather is phenomenal,” A&M head coach Jo Evans said. “It’s fun to be out here with our kids. It’s been a long break, and just getting after it feels absolutely great.”

A&M returns its top five hitters from last season’s team that went 32-23, but sophomore outfielder Bre Warren (.308 batting average, 28 runs batted in) is taking a redshirt following shoulder surgery. The former College Station standout was a second-team pick by the Southeastern Conference coaches last season and a member of the league’s all-freshman team.

“I’m really disappointed about that,” Evans said. “She’ll be back better than ever, but it’s tough to lose an All-SEC player once she had that momentum going for her.”

Warren was part of four key freshmen who saw extended playing time last season along with shortstop Rylen Wiggins (.225 BA), third baseman Trinity Cannon (.194 BA, 3 HRs, 15 RBIs) and right-handed pitcher Grace Uribe (7-5, 3.64 ERA).

A&M expects contributions from this year’s incoming freshman class of pitcher Emiley Kennedy from Montgomery Lake Creek, catcher/third baseman Katie Deck from Parker, Colorado, and infielders Cayden Baker of Knoxville, Tennessee, and Koko Wooley from La Porte.

“Our freshman class is strong,” Evans said. “I think they’re challenging the people above them.”

The left-handed Kennedy is a key addition to the team’s trio of returning right-handed pitchers in graduate Kayla Poynter (10-8, 2.33 ERA), senior Makinzy Herzog (12-7, 2.94 ERA) and Uribe. Junior utility player Shaylee Ackerman, who also can pitch, is right-handed as well. The powerful Kennedy struck out 201 in 105 1/3 innings last season with only 29 walks, allowing three earned runs with five no-hitters.

“We’ll pitch by committee,” Evans said. “I like the pieces we have place. We have five pitchers, all who can help us win. The addition of Emiley Kennedy [is] huge. [She’s] a big lefty. I like what she does. Then everybody else has another year under their belt, so I feel real good about our pitching staff.”

Poynter said there’s no substitute for experience.

“I’ve pitched in the SEC for four years,” she said. “Just that confidence going into it, I’m not scared of anything. I’ve faced the majority of these hitters before, so I know how to pitch to them.”

A&M will open the season with the Aggie Classic on Feb. 11-13, the first of three straight tournaments at Davis Diamond. A&M will open Southeastern Conference play at Auburn on March 11-13. A&M’s first home SEC series will be against Florida on March 18-20.

A&M went 8-16 last year in the SEC, finishing 10th. The Aggies went 1-2 in the NCAA tournament at the Norman Regional, losing twice to Wichita State and beating Morgan State.

The Aggies are led by senior catcher/designate player Haley Lee and Herzog, who combined for 38 homers and 88 RBIs last year. Lee batted .422 with 25 homers and 51 RBIs, while Herzog had 13 homers and 37 RBIs.

A&M still has plenty of young talent, but the veteran leadership of senior outfielder Morgan Smith, Poynter, Lee and Herzog is a huge difference, Evans said.

“I think we had a great fall,” Evans said. “We’ve got a smaller roster. We’ve got 18 players, so everybody got a lot of good reps.”

Evans said they worked every player at two positions to give the team more flexibility, something the players responded well to.

“This team buys in,” Evans said. “There’s 18 kids who are all on the same page. I love their attitude. I love their effort.”

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