Tori Benavidez knows the importance of leadership.

The senior center fielder for the Sam Houston softball team realizes that she and the three other seniors on the 2013 squad need to step up as the Bearkats enter the final two weeks of the regular season.

“The younger players look to us as leaders and that’s a big deal to me,” Benavidez said. “I’m not loud but try to lead by example.”

Looking at her production on the diamond this season, Benavidez certainly has taken that leadership role seriously.

The former Midlothian High School star stands as the Southland Conference’s second-leading hitter with a .403 overall batting average. With two weeks left in the regular season, she also ranks high in total hits (2nd,  59), triples (4th, 4), total bases (3rd, 85) and slugging percentage (9th ,594).

“I don’t like to look at the stats,” Benavidez said. “This is my last year to play college softball and I just want to give it my best shot.”

Sam Houston head coach Bob Brock, one of only 15 NCAA Division I softball coaches with more than 1,000 career victories, certainly believes in Benavidez’s ability to lead.

“Tori is a level-headed young woman who is focused on what we need to get accomplished,” Brock said. “If we continue to take care of business, we’re going to be one of the teams no one wants to play in the tournament.”

In the final two weekend series of the 2013 regular season, Sam Houston will face the two teams ahead of the Bearkats in the standings.

First place McNeese State visits Huntsville Saturday and Sunday April 27 and 28. The series completes SHSU’s home schedule. Sunday April 28 will be “Senior Day” for Benavidez and her teammates Kim Damian, Ashley Isbell and Shelbi Tucker.

The Kats finish regular season play on the road against Northwestern State Saturday and Sunday May 4 and 5 in Natchitoches. The Demons are hosting the Southland post-season tournament the next weekend.

“We’re confident about what we can accomplish in the tournament,” Benavidez, who helped lead Sam Houston to the finals of last year’s league post-season event. “But right now we’re focusing on things game by game.”

Benavidez, a two-time All-Southland Conference selection, credits her brothers with getting her started on the diamond.

“I got started playing T-ball on an all-boys team with my brothers,” Benavidez recalled. “I switched to softball and was team MVP as a senior my senior year.”

Her high school coach at Midlothian, Jennifer McFalls (who now is an assistant coach at the University of Texas) steered Benavidez towards Sam Houston State.

“Coach McFalls played in college for Coach Brock and recommended me,” Benavidez said. “It’s been a great four years. The best thing is how close-knit this team has become over the past two years. We’re like a family. We communicate well on the field and we believe in each other.”

A business major and kinesiology minor, Benavidez is a leader in the class room as well. The two-time all-league performer also is an Academic All-Southland honoree. She sports a 3.46 overall grade point average in her four years at Sam Houston.

After leading her high school team to the state playoffs three years in a row, Benavidez came to Sam Houston with strong pitching credentials.

“I pitched in 15 games as a freshman but Coach Brock moved me to center field,” Benavidez said. “I started out as a slap hitter but now I’m a power slapper and hit away batter.”

With more than 140 starts in four years as a Bearkat, Benavidez has made herself at home in the outfield. As the end of the year nears, she also is looking ahead to life after graduation.

“I hope to have a chance to play overseas after graduation,” Benavidez said. “But, if that doesn’t work out want to go for my Masters degree.”