HONOLULU - The Ole Miss softball team says `Aloha' to the 2013 season Thursday with a doubleheader against Saint Mary's and tournament-host No. 23 Hawaii as part of the Oceanic Time Warner Cable Paradise Classic in Honolulu. All games at the three-day tournament will be played at the Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium on the campus of the University of Hawaii.
Ole Miss has never played softball in the state of Hawaii, and has never faced Saint Mary's or Hawaii before. Ole Miss and Saint Mary's will get together with Saint Mary's at 5 p.m. CT on Thursday, and Hawaii at 10 p.m. CT. In day two of the tournament, Ole Miss will face UAB at 3 p.m. CT, and No. 16 Washington at 7 p.m. CT. The bracket portion of the tournament begins Friday with matchups determined based on results from Thursday and Friday.
"The anticipation and excitement level is really high," said Ole Miss softball head coach Windy Thees following Wednesday's practice at Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium. "I know the girls are ready for the season. As coaches we really enjoy the preseason and the teaching aspect of it, and the getting after them and stuff, but the kids, as an athlete, you live for the season, you live for the games, the uniform and the wins and losses."
Saint Mary's is coming off a 26-23 season in 2012 where it returns four starters and welcomes in 10 newcomers. The Gaels went to the NCAA Tournament as recent as 2010. The Rebels face the Rainbow Wahine in the nightcap of Thursday's twin billing, as Hawaii puts its top 25 ranking on the line. Hawaii is led by All-Americans Jessica Iwata and Kelly Majam.
Ole Miss' matchup with UAB will mark the second time the two teams have gotten together in softball, as the Blazers won their first encounter against Ole Miss 3-0 in 2011. Ole Miss closes out Friday's work with a date against No. 16 Washington. The Huskies, which won the national championship in 2009, have advanced to the NCAA Tournament in each of the last 19 seasons. Ole Miss is 0-2 against Washington all-time.
The Rebels return five position starters from last year's team, including five of their top six bats in terms of batting average, and junior centerfielder RT Cantillo, who was named Preseason All-Southeastern Conference by the league head coaches. Ole Miss welcomes nine newcomers to the squad in 2013, including two junior transfer pitchers and seven freshmen.
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