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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Reigning NCAA Division III national champion Texas-Tyler is the unanimous No. 1 team in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) Top 25 softball rankings to start the 2017 season.

The Patriots, who went 49-5 and captured their first softball national championship in school history, will waste no time getting started, opening at home on Friday with games against Pacific and Centenary (La.) at Suddenlink Field.

Texas-Tyler lost 2016 Schutt Sports/NFCA Division III National Player of the Year and four-time NFCA All-America pitcher Kelsie Batten (36-4, 0.79 ERA, 194 strikeouts in 230.1 innings), who earned Most Outstanding Player honors at the NCAA Championship after going 4-1 with a save, 38 strikeouts and only two runs allowed over 34 innings.

The Patriots also lost the left side of their infield — NFCA All-America third baseman Raven Rodriguez (.419 average, 13 doubles, 11 homers and 50 RBI) and NFCA All-Region shortstop Vanessa Carrizales (.387, 10 homers and 58 RBI) — but return senior pitcher Alaina Kissinger, who is 44-2 in the circle over the last three seasons, including 13-1 with a 1.33 ERA in 2016. Kissinger was the winning pitcher in the Patriots’ 7-0 win over Messiah that clinched the best-of-three national championship.

Meanwhile, No. 2 St. John Fisher returns junior NFCA All-America pitcher Lindsey Thayer, who went 31-7 last season and led the nation in strikeouts (467), shutouts (16) and hits allowed per game (3.13) to propel the Cardinals to a 41-12 record and a third-place finish at the NCAA Championship in Salem, Va.

National runner-up Messiah starts the season where it finished 2016 in the poll, as the No. 3 team. The Falcons return three of their top four hitters, including senior Amanda Jones (.425 average, four homers), sophomore Erin Cressman (.364, 12 homers, 54 RBI) and junior Carrie Fix (.362, 21 doubles), who also went 9-3 as a pitcher. Sophomore Madelyn Yannetti (11-2 record) also returns in the circle for Messiah, which lost NFCA All-America pitcher Courtney Allen (27-1, 1.59 ERA).

Emory rounds out the first four teams — which were all unanimously selected — following a 2016 campaign in which they went 46-8 and had a win streak of 23 straight games en route to a fifth-place finish at the NCAA Championship. NFCA All-America pitcher Brittany File set school records with 36 wins and 343 strikeouts in her junior season.

East Texas Baptist, Berry, Texas Lutheran, Luther, Manhattanville and Linfield round out the top 10 teams.

The NFCA Division III Top 25 Poll is selected by eight NCAA Division III head coaches representing the eight NCAA regions. Final 2015 records are listed, with first-place votes in parentheses.

NFCA Division III Top 25 Preseason Poll – Feb. 1, 2017

Rank

Team

2016 Record

Points

1

Texas-Tyler (8)

49-5

200

2

St. John Fisher

41-12

192

3

Messiah

47-6

184

4

Emory

46-8

176

5

East Texas Baptist

35-10

161

6

Berry

39-8

154

7

Texas Lutheran

43-5

152

8

Luther

40-5

151

9

Manhattanville

41-5

142

10

Linfield

32-16

100

11

Rowan

42-11

89

12

Alma

33-10

81

13 (tie)

Birmingham-Southern

37-10

70

 

St. Catherine

34-11

70

15

Worcester Polytechnic Institute

38-9

66

16

Christopher Newport

35-9

62

17

Moravian

37-6

56

18

St. Thomas (Minn.)

43-8

54

19 (tie)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

34-14

49

 

Trine

33-14

49

 

Wisconsin-Eau Claire

26-13-1

49

22

Claremont-Mudd-Scripps

37-10-1

46

23

Williams

35-11

39

24

Cortland

38-11

38

25

Virginia Wesleyan

38-7

29

Others receiving votes: Central (Iowa) 21, Salisbury 20, Wisconsin-Whitewater 17, Ithaca 16, DePauw 15, Illinois Wesleyan 11, Tufts 11, Washington (Mo.) 10, Aurora 8, Randolph-Macon 4 and Otterbein 1.

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