NCAA Southeast Softball Regional Begins Friday At Armstrong
SAVANNAH, Ga. - For the first time in the history of Armstrong Atlantic State University softball, NCAA Championship play comes to campus as the No. 9-ranked Pirates host the NCAA DII Softball Southeast Regional from Friday through Sunday at the Armstrong Softball Field.
Play begins on Friday afternoon as No. 12-ranked and third-seeded Lenoir-Rhyne (46-11) faces sixth-seeded Catawba (33-17) at Noon in a clash of South Atlantic Conference foes. The host and second-seeded Pirates (44-9) then take on seventh-seeded Flagler (34-17) in a meeting of Peach Belt schools at 2:30 p.m.
The winners meet on Saturday at 11:00 a.m. with Friday's losers facing an elimination game at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday. A 4:30 p.m. contest pitting the loser of Saturday's first game and the winner of Saturday's second game will then leave two teams that will meet at Noon on Sunday for the right to advance to the Super Regional.
The other Southeast Regional, running concurrently with the one hosted by the Pirates, also begins on Friday in Dahlonega with top-seeded North Georgia facing King (Tenn.) and Augusta State facing Columbus State.
Armstrong put together one of its finest regular seasons in program history in 2012, capturing the Peach Belt Conference regular season title for the second time ever and the first time outright with a 19-1 league mark. The Pirates have been ranked among the nation's Top 10 in the NFCA Division II rankings every week since March 28 and feature the two-time PBC Player of the Year, second baseman April Jowers (.573, 26 SBs), the PBC Pitcher of the Year, Megan Barnwell (21-3, 2.11 ERA), as well as four other first-team All-PBC honorees in outfielders Shelby Duff and Baillie Temples, first baseman Whitney Galloway and designated player Heather Walker. The Pirates are 17-18 all-time in NCAA competition, making 10 NCAA appearances in the last 12 seasons while advancing to region finals in 2000, 2003 and 2007, and this year Armstrong is 2-1 against teams in the regional, sweeping a DH from Flagler on April 7 and dropping a 2-1 decision to Catawba on March 3.
Lenoir-Rhyne is another veteran NCAA club as the Bears have made their seventh straight NCAA appearance this season and eighth overall after capturing both the regular season and tournament crowns in the South Atlantic Conference. Led by SAC Pitcher of the Year Dawon Millwood (32-6, 1.34 ERA), the Bears are 12-14 all-time in NCAA competition and Lenoir-Rhyne is 2-1 this season against the region, beating Flagler, 7-4, on March 3 and splitting a SAC doubleheader with Catawba on March 10. Catcher Sarah Atkins and first baseman Jessica Fellmeth were first-team All-SAC honorees this season along with Millwood, while third baseman Haily Jarman and outfielders Marie Mauhar and Brittany Coursen were second-team All-SAC selections.
Catawba is making its first appearance in the NCAA Championships this season under head coach Nan Whitley, who took the Indians' program from slowpitch to fastpitch competition and has racked up more than 600 wins in her 28-year career. Catawba finished second in the SAC regular season standings with a 12-5 mark, its best-ever finish in the league, and features All-SAC pitcher Brittany Murray (16-10, 1.80 ERA) as well as slugging All-SAC Tournament honoree catcher Tara Gibbs (.385, 13 HR, 40 RBI). The Indians have the most experience against region foes this year, going 3-2 in five contests with DH splits against Lenoir-Rhyne and Flagler as well as the 2-1 win over host Armstrong on March 3.
Flagler makes its second consecutive appearance in the NCAAs in just its fourth season of eligibility after moving up from NAIA. The Saints went 2-2 in the Dahlonega regional last year and feature six All-Peach Belt Conference honorees, led by first-team pitcher Donna Munafo (15-6, 0.96 ERA). First baseman Breezy Collings, second baseman Alona Personius, shortstop Lauren Bessent, pitcher Katie Enright and catcher Robyn Draper all earned second team honors for the Saints. Although the Saints are just 1-4 against regional competition this season, Flagler has had good success at the Armstrong Softball Field, going 4-0 all-time with sweeps of the host Pirates in 2009 and 2011.
Tickets for the regional will be $10 for each day's action on Friday and Saturday, with $5 prices for senior citizens, children $2 for students with valid ID. Sunday's Championship day tickets will be $7 for adults, $4 senior citizens and children and $2 for students with valid ID. All-Tournament passes are available on Friday for $25.
Fans who can not make the regional can follow along with live stats and webcasts of all games at the official regional website at http://www.armstrongpirates.com/sports/sball/2012ncaasoftballregional . Post-game box score and recaps will be posted on the site all weekend long.
The winner of this weekend's regional meets the winner of the Dahlonega regional in a best-of-three Super Regional on May 11-12 at the highest remaining seed. The winner of that Super Regional earns a berth into the 2012 NCAA Division II Softball World Series on May 15-19 in Louisville, Ky., as a part of the DII Spring Sports Festival.