Thirteen home runs and a school-record 66 RBIs last season made Kentucky’s Alex Martens one of the Southeastern Conference’s most feared run producers.
But the best season of her college career didn’t make Martens, a McHenry West graduate, see herself differently.
“I don’t ever really see myself as a power hitter,” she said. “I’m just here for whatever the team needs. I like to bunt. It doesn’t matter what it takes.”
No matter her approach, Martens was the SEC runner-up in RBIs last season, hit a career-high number of home runs and had a mere five errors at second base in 60 starts.
Her contributions were a big reason that Kentucky, which opens the season this weekend at the NFCA Lead-Off Classic in Clearwater, Florida, made its third consecutive trip to the NCAA Super Regional round, one step from the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City.
That’s a step that Martens, a senior, is excited to chase one more time for the Wildcats.
“We talk about it every day,” she said. “Oklahoma is on our mind every single practice.”
Now a team captain for Kentucky, which has averaged 36 wins a season during her career, Martens has helped heighten the team’s focus on the postseason.
After each practice, the team’s ritual of breaking down with the chant “’Cats on three!” has been replaced by “OKC on three!”
“I’ve never wanted to win more than I do this year,” she said. “We have to make sure we end up a top-eight [postseason] seed, because that’s how you host regionals. That’s how you host supers. And that’s ultimately going to get us where we want to be.”
Martens was the only Kentucky player named to the preseason All-SEC team. She will be the face of an infield that lost two key pieces to graduation in conference batting champion Abbey Cheek (third base) and her double-play partner, Katie Reed (shortstop), who led the team in hits.
“Abbey and Katie are really important people in my life,” she said. “I’m really close to them. But what matters is who’s going to play there this year. My job is to help them gain confidence, and that’s what I really hope to do.”
Despite losing half of their infield, the Wildcats are ranked No. 15 nationally and were picked to finish fourth in the SEC preseason poll. The league features 10 teams that are ranked in the NFCA preseason national poll.
Another way Martens is expected to lead is with her defensive play. After making 13 errors as a freshman taking over at second base, she has made a combined seven errors in the past two years.
“My freshman year, my defense was so bad,” Martens said with a laugh. “I tried to be Katie, and I was failing. Once I found my strengths, it changed my game completely.”
A&M on a roll: Freshman guard Zach Toussaint (Johnsburg) is the top scorer off the bench and the second-leading 3-point shooter this season for NCAA Division II West Texas A&M’s men’s basketball team.
The Buffs (21-1) are ranked No. 3 in the nation and sit atop the Lone Star Conference with a 14-1 record.
Toussaint, who has played in every game as the Buffs’ top reserve, is scoring 8.3 points a game and has made the team’s second-most 3s (47) and has the second-best 3-point percentage (.427).
Toussaint was 3 for 5 from long range Thursday as the Buffs beat Lubbock Christian, 72-67, for their first victory in Lubbock since 2006.
Beattie is MVC’s best: Illinois State senior track athlete Grace Beattie (Woodstock) was selected Tuesday as the Missouri Valley Conference Female Track and Field Athlete of the Week. It was the fourth honor of her career.
Beattie won the mile run for the second time this indoor season by outpacing the field and the Adidas Classic at the University of Nebraska in 4 minutes, 52.32 seconds. The time was a 5-second improvement on her previous win and ranks first in the conference this season.
Best career 10K: Miami Hurricanes junior distance runner Emma Langlois (Richmond-Burton) cut 27 seconds off her career-best time in the 10,000-meter indoor race last weekend at the Texas Tech Invitational. Langlois finished 10th in 10:37.79.
• Barry Bottino writes a weekly column about local college athletes for the Northwest Herald. Write to him at email@example.com and follow @BarryOnCampus on Twitter.