There is a sense of excitement in the air as the Sam Houston State softball team opens the 2006 season this afternoon in the Bearkat Invitational at the new stadium.

The Bearkats, along with Louisiana Tech and North Texas, will battle it out over the next couple of days, each playing four games to earn a spot in Sunday’s championship contest.

SHSU opens the tournament with the Lady Techsters at 3:15 p.m. today, and turns right around to play the Lady Eagles in the late game at 5:30. Louisiana Tech and North Texas play the first game today at 1 p.m.

“We have a bunch of new people and everybody is excited to have the opportunity to open the season on the new field,” Bearkats coach Bob Brock said. “We have two good teams coming in and are happy about that. There is going to be a lot going on. I can’t say enough words to describe how happy we are to finally be at this point.”

The Bearkats have waited patiently for this moment. The team thought it would be playing on the new field last season, but several factors came into play that postponed the opening to this season.

Coupled with the buzz surrounding the stadium is SHSU’s potential for great things in 2006.

After coming within a game of reaching the NCAA Tournament last year, the Bearkats are projected to finish in first place in the Southland Conference, along with Texas-San Antonio.

So, the Bearkat players want to make sure this weekend is a dandy.

“This is an important weekend to show everybody we are as good as everyone expects us to be,” sophomore Tanya Hooser said. “If we don’t, it’s not going to show them anything. This is a good weekend to prove what we can do.”

The team is itching to get things started, and the attitude is refreshing considering last year’s disappointing finish. The Bearkats rolled through the SLC tournament with a perfect record heading into the championship game.

SHSU faced a one-loss McNeese State squad in the finals of the double-elimination tournament and had two chances to send the Cowgirls packing. But McNeese was able to win both contests to shock the Kats and capture the automatic NCAA berth.

“It’s important that we come out strong this season, especially with the way last year ended,” senior Whitney Heath said. “We have been practicing pretty hard and it’s nice to be done with just practice and get the chance to finally face some live competition.”

The Bearkats have seven starters back from last year’s team, including All-SLC selections second baseman Lauren Boone, outfielder Stephanie Mosley, first baseman Elizabeth Gibson and Hooser.

They also have conference pitcher and freshman of the year Shalayne Blythe in the circle.

In all, SHSU has 10 players with collegiate experience on the roster which should help ease the transition of seven promising freshmen.

Among them is highly touted pitcher Brandi Crnkovic, who was an all-state selection last season at Caldwell High School after posting a 0.42 earned run average and an 18-3 record.

“For the most part, we have been working pretty hard and things have been coming around,” Brock said. “I told the team that there is a lot of hype out there, but we haven’t done anything to earn it yet. We are going to take it a game at a time.”

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