Back in 2009, Coach Carrie Calderon took nine players to the NJCAA Division II Softball Championship and watched that group scrap its way to a fourth-place finish.|
This year's Black Hawk Lady Braves take a 28-11 record into the 16-team, double-elimination 2014 national tournament in Clinton, Miss., that begins today. The 11th-seeded Lady Braves take on sixth-seeded Cowley County Community College (41-12), out of Kansas, at the Traceway Park complex at 3:30.
While the opening-round contest may appear to be daunting on paper, the veteran coach sees some similarities between this club and her team from five years ago that bucked even longer odds.
"Those nine girls had heart, big hearts,'' said Calderon. "By the end of the tournament, they were drained. Passing that over to this year's team, I really think we have the passionate hearts, but we also have the pitching and the hitting. We have the talent.
"Thinking back to 2009, and not taking anything away from that group of young ladies, we just weren't as talented.
"If we can mesh that all together, we're going to be a competitor in this tournament.''
The Lady Braves come in with the 12th-best win percentage, but have shown the ability to compete with the best. They split a twinbill with fifth-ranked Illinois Central, which is the tournament's third seed.
To be a factor in this event that runs through Saturday, BHC must first handle Cowley ace Jessica Seay. Her stats were not updated on the NJCAA website, but through 182 innings, she had 181 strikeouts.
"She's a strikeout pitcher and one of those pitchers who dominates on the mound,'' said Calderon. "We really have to go up there and swing the bats, put the ball in play and execute. If we don't swing the bat, she's going to dominate us. It's not so much about her striking us out, it's us staying confident, being aggressive and knowing that we can put the ball in play.''
The Lady Braves have done that this spring, averaging just over six runs per game and batting at a .321 clip as a team. The offense has been led by Jordan Marshall (.411), Miranda Marion (.400), Kassi Anderson (.377) and Brooke Posey (.344). In addition to hitting for average, the Lady Braves have pounded the ball, with Anderson and Marion leading the team's slugging percentage with impressive marks of .596 and .593, respectively.
But they have also shown the ability to win the close games as they did last weekend. In punching their ticket to nationals, BHC scraped out three low-scoring, one-run victories (2-1, 3-2, 2-1) en route to the Region IV Final Four title. Calderon said those wins gave her team some "momentum and confidence.''
They also did it with Posey (20-6) keeping things in check in the circle and that will be her job again this week with Avery Nelson waiting in the wings, if needed.
"We have to play our games and do our little things,'' said Calderon. "That's our focus.''
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