EDINBURG — Edinburg Vela senior Deandra Longoria, the ultra-versatile star who led, slugged and pitched for the SaberCats on the diamond, accepted an offer to play college softball at Howard Payne University in Brownwood.

“Since I was a little girl, my dream was to play in college. It didn’t matter what college it was. It was never a specific college, but I was always determined I was going to play,” Longoria said.

Longoria fielded multiple college offers after stellar sophomore and junior seasons at Vela, but was won over by Howard Payne when she went on an official visit to the school at the beginning of her senior year, noting the opportunity to compete for regular playing time right away in her freshman year was a major plus for the Yellow Jackets program.

“I had a couple of offers coming and it took me a while to figure out what was best for me and my family. When I chose Howard Payne, it was exciting and it was probably the best day of my life. I did commit when I went to go visit the school, so visiting the school plus committing on the same day was pretty exciting,” she said.

“It was mostly about me feeling comfortable being at the school and knowing that I will have a spot to play no matter if I’m a freshman vying against a senior. No matter what, it’s always going to be fighting for a spot and knowing that I can steal myself a secure spot here at Howard Payne really makes me excited rather than me having to redshirt or wait two years to play in front of a senior or a junior.”

“She played a huge role during her three years on varsity,” Edinburg Vela head softball coach Jon Maples said. “It’s one of those things where she’s going to be playing at the next level and she’s going to make Howard Payne look really well.”

During her three-year varsity career for the SaberCats’ softball program, Longoria did everything for her team on the diamond.

She played first base and different spots in the outfield defensively while developing a reputation as one the RGV’s top slappers at the plate.

“She’s willing to do whatever for the team. She’s a very strong first baseman, but she knew that we were deep at first base with Monee (Montilla) and she had played outfield on her travel team, so she was willing to go to the outfield and help us out in the outfield,” Maples said. “That was one way for us to make sure her bat was in our lineup. On any other team she would be a No. 3 or 4 hitter easily and we had her hitting in that No. 5 and 6 spot.”

In 71 games at Vela, Longoria amassed a career .360 batting average, .446 on-base percentage and tallied 38 runs, 45 RBIs and 50 hits, including 11 extra-base hits and four home runs.

Even with her proficiency with reaching base safely, though, Longoria also developed into one of the area’s best situational hitters with a razor sharp focus on pushing base runners across.

“When I go to the plate, I try to have a clear mindset and just think of it as me and the pitcher, and just me and the pitcher,” she said. “My mindset is, ‘I’m going to hit the ball’ or, ‘I’m going to move her over.’ That’s probably the most exciting thing to do when I have girls on base and being able to move them over, it just feels great.

“I do try to look for certain spots where let’s say if I have a girl at third base, I make sure to hit it away from her knowing that no matter if it’s in the outfield or the infield she can still score, so I don’t really think about myself getting on base but to score for the team.”

Longoria even pitched for the SaberCats, voluntarily.

It might not have been the position she was most familiar with, but a look at her numbers inside the circle would convince one otherwise.

The southpaw tossed 29 2/3 innings for the SaberCats during her high school career in mostly relief appearances and recorded a 3.30 ERA, 23 strikeouts, five saves and a combined .242 opponents batting average.

Not too shabby for a volunteer.

“She could be on the mound and she has so much movement as a lefty, it catches you off guard,” Maples said. “She loved to pitch. She was thrown in there for us as a sophomore and a junior and she did very well for us.”

“Pitching was voluntary, I kind of did it to help out my team knowing that for the past two years we’ve only had two pitchers, so I was the extra (one). It was the kind of thing I felt I just needed to do to step up for the team,” Longoria said. “I wasn’t that bad and the girls would hype me up. They boosted my confidence up a little.”