BEAUMONT, Texas – A home game against national power Baylor along with the second annual Cardinal Classic highlight the 2017 Lamar University softball schedule that was announced Thursday.

“I’m very excited about this schedule,” LU coach Holly Bruder said. “It’s our toughest schedule to date,” said LU coach Holly Bruder, who enters her fifth season with the Cardinals. “We have several games against teams that finished in the top 100 in RPI last season. That’s only going to make us better.”

The Cardinals open the season with five games at the Texas A&M Tournament, set for Feb. 10-12. Two of those contests will be against the host Aggies, who had an RPI of 17 last season. LU also has one game against Big 10 power Ohio State that weekend.

LU opens its home season by hosting five schools in the Cardinal Classic, which will feature 15 games over four days from Feb. 23-26. The tourney includes a pair of top-50 RPI schools in Tulsa (41) and Kansas (48).

“We’re proud of our stadium, and we want to show it off,” Bruder said. “We’re thrilled that these great teams want to come here. I’m hoping our fans really come out and support us in these games.”

Baylor, which had an RPI of 14 last season, pays its first-ever visit to the LU Softball Complex for a single game at 4 p.m. April 25.

“Getting Baylor to come here is absolutely fantastic,” Bruder said. “That should be a special day.”

Other non-conference home games are a doubleheader vs. UTSA at 3 p.m. March 21, a doubleheader against Alcorn State at noon March 29 and a single game against Texas State at 3 p.m. April 18.

The Cardinals open Southland Conference play by hosting Northwestern State in a three-game series. The teams play a single game at 5 p.m. March 10 and a doubleheader at 2 p.m. March 11. Other conference home series are Houston Baptist (March 17-18), Sam Houston State (April 7-8), Central Arkansas (April 14-15) and Nicholls (May 5-6).

In all, the Cardinals are slated to play 26 homes games, including the five contests in the Cardinal Classic, this season.

LU enjoyed a record-breaking campaign in 2016, its fourth season after the university revived the softball program in 2013. The Cardinals went 35-22 and advanced to the Southland Conference Tournament finals for the first time in program history. LU had the Southland Conference Newcomer of the Year in pitcher Ciara Luna, and a pair of first-team All-Southland Conference selections in catcher Brynn Baca and outfielder Brittany Rodriguez. Those three all return to give LU the core of another strong team.

“We lost some great seniors to graduation, but we have several key returners,” Bruder said. “We also have eight freshmen who are very talented. We want to get back to conference finals. Our motto for this year is ‘Faces change; expectations don’t.’”

The Southland Conference Tournament is scheduled for May 10-13 on the campus of Central Arkansas in Conway, Ark.

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