The Bearkat softball team gears up to play the University of Texas-Arlington, the No. 1 seed, in the first game of the Southland Conference post-season tournament this weekend. For the freshmen on the team, making the tournament is only the beginning, but for the veteran players, it’s a long time coming.
Freshman outfielder Paige Oberhammer said getting this far is a big accomplishment.
“As a freshman, coming on to a team that before wasn’t so successful and now being a part of something that is such an accomplishment for the school and the team is awesome.”
Whitney Heath, the youngest pitcher on team, said getting to go to the post-season is more than she could have asked for.
“Only six teams get to go and we’re one of them,” she said.
Heath (6-8) has pitchers like Rachel Atzenhoffer and Aydrien Guajardo to look up to. “They held UTA good when we played them, they did such a great job,” she said.
The more experienced players on the team know what needs to get done in preparation for this weekend.
“We’re going in with the mentality that we can beat all the teams there,” said junior infielder April Bardwell. “We want to bring home a ring and we’ve made up our minds that’s what we’re going to do.”
Bardwell is one of six Bearkats to receive All-Southland Conference recognition for the 2003 season.
Bardwell and catcher/infielder Chrissy Dileo were recognized as honorable mention All-Southland Conference.
Infielders Lauren Boone and Sara Gatlin, outfielder Melissa Cosgrove and designated player/catcher Erin Lindsey all were third team All-Southland Conference selections.
Playing UTA in the first game will be no picnic. The Lady Mavericks finished 23-4 in the conference and had two first team conference selections, three second team and two third team.
Junior UTA pitcher Katy Cox was named pitcher of the year and Beverly Rowan received utility player of the year.
“We’re really going to have to be all together, hitting and defensively,” Lindsey said. “We have an advantage, being the only team there making our first appearance.”
“We’re going to work harder than the rest of the teams, who maybe take it for granted having already been there,” she said.
The Bearkats are making their first trip to the post-season since the 1996 system began, their first time in history since 1990.
“We’ve had coaches come up to Coach Brock after games this year and say that we aren’t the same team,” Lindsey said. “We’re going to keep getting better and better, and keep surprising everyone.”
SHSU still has fresh wounds from the Lady Mavericks, who swept the series two weekends ago, shutting out the first two games and winning by a single run in the final game.
“They may have swept us before, but we held them pretty close and could have won some of those games,” Oberhammer said. “We’re going to come out on top of our game and play strong.”
The Bearkats have got to have all three elements of the game come together at the same time to win.
“We need our pitching, offense and defense to be there,” Atzenhoffer said.
“We’re going to put our hits together,” Bardwell said. “Our hits haven’t come through lately when we’ve needed them.”
The Bearkats clinched their spot in the SLC Tournament last weekend with a win over McNeese State 3-2 in the first game of the series. They finished 12-15 in the conference, seeded sixth in the tournament.
“When we won, I don’t think I’ve ever seen our team so enthusiastic,” Heath said. “It lit everyone’s face up.
“Not everyone gets to go to college and play ball, just doing what they love,” she said. “To be part of a program that is going this far is really exciting for us.”
The first pitch is scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday in Natchitoches, La. The winner of game one will play the game three loser in game five Saturday morning. The loser of the first game will play the game two loser in game four on Friday.
The semifinals are Saturday night at 6:30 p.m. and Sunday morning. The championship finals are at 1.30 p.m. on Sunday.
NCAA Regionals are scheduled for May 15-18 and the NCAA World Series is May 22-26 in Oklahoma City.