SLC tournament bound

The Bearkat softball team secured a spot in the Southland Conference post-season tournament for the first time in 13 years with a single win this weekend over McNeese State.

SHSU split a doubleheader on Saturday, winning the series opener 3-2 and dropping the second game 2-1 to the Cowgirls. McNeese got the win on Sunday 5-3, but didn’t stop the Bearkats from earning their sixth seed position in the tournament.

“We should’ve taken more than one from them, but we played hard,” said SHSU pitcher Rachel Atzenhoffer. “Our main goal was to make it to the tournament and we did that.”

“Now we’ll have to play twice as hard,” she said.

The Bearkats play the regular season champion, the University of Texas-Arlington in the first round of the tournament Friday morning.

“We played good with them, we had three close games,” Atzenhoffer said.

SHSU had a chance to win in the last game of the series against the Lady Mavericks, tied through the sixth inning 2-2. But UTA stepped it up at the plate and won by a single run thanks to a bunt by Ali Lommel.

The Bearkats advanced to sixth place in the conference after UTA annihilated Stephen F. Austin 15-5 in the series opener last weekend. The Lady Mavericks clinched their SLC regular season title, the first since 1989 and first ever for head coach Debbie Nichols-Hedrick.

SHSU head softball coach Bob Brock said he isn’t nervous about playing the top seed. “In a post-season tournament anything can happen,” Brock said. “This team has already proved itself.”

No Bearkat from this year’s team has ever been to the post-season tournament.

“No one knows what to expect,” Atzenhoffer said. “We need our defense, offense and pitching to all be there. All three have got to be there in the same game to win.

“We’re going to come out hard,” she said.

Since the tournament was reinstated in its present form in 1996, the regular season champion has not won in three out of six tournaments.

The Bearkats trip this weekend is their first since the 1996 system. From 1991-1995 there was no post-season.

The first three years SHSU was a member of the Southland Conference in 1988, 1989 and 1990, all seven teams went to the tournament. The Bearkats won the SLC Tournament in 1988, defeating SFA in the championship game.

SHSU lost in the semifinal round in 1989 and 1990.

Brock, in his second year at SHSU, is ahead of schedule in turning around this ball club. The Bearkats finished last in the league in 2001 with a record of 2-25.

The Bearkats are 22-31 for the 2003 season, starting the season at 1-11 after the first two weeks. SHSU is 21-20 since Feb. 19. This year’s record marks the most victories in one season since 1996.

Not only has the team’s record improved, but also the players’ performances at the plate and on the mound show signs of hard work and determination this season. Three Bearkat starters shined this year, batting over .300-Lauren Boone (.359), Chrissy Dileo (.312) and April Bardwell (.302).

Rachel Atzenhoffer delivered strong and solid pitching for SHSU, 8-13 this season with a 2.97 ERA. Aydrien Guajardo (5-8, 3.37 ERA), Whitney Heath (6-8, 2.76 ERA) and Melissa Hayslip (3-3, 3.42 ERA) also had solid performances on the mound this year.

SHSU plays game one at 11 a.m. Friday in Natchitoches, La.

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