The ACU softball team has made it to the NCAA Division II Championship for the fifth time in eight years and will play No. 17 Emporia State Friday at 4:30 p.m. in Edmond, Okla.
The Wildcats (29-16, 15-11) are part of a four team South Central Regional tournament, hosted by University of Central Oklahoma. The Lady Hornets (39-9) will be entering the tournament for the ninth straight year and tenth overall NCAA tournament, and the team is 29-19 overall in their nine previous appearances. This year, the team is a No. 3 seed following another dominant year on the diamond.
“Emporia State is a well-respected program around the country,” ACU head coach Bobby Reeves said. “It seems like getting to the post-season like this is second nature to them, and their experience shows. They have a talented bunch of players.”
Emporia State enters the tournament as the No. 3 seed in the South Central region, and is coming off of two comeback victories in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association conference championship tournament. The team beat No. 21 Missouri Western 6-5 to win the MIAA tournament after coming from behind in the previous game to beat Missouri Western again.
Emporia State coach Julie LeMaire is in her first year at the helm of the Lady Hornets, and has done well in leading her squad so far this season. She was named MIAA Coach of the Year and went 20-0 during conference play after coaching at Fort Hays State for three years. LeMarie is 1-1 in her coaching career against ACU.
“Emporia is a great team,” Reeves said. “Julie has done a great job crafting together a program that will continue to make national headlines for years to come.”
In the overall series between the schools, Emporia State leads 7-5 after winning the last three match-ups. The Hornets have won six of the last seven meetings in the series, but this will be the first post-season game between the two schools.
The last time the schools met was in Feb. 2010, as ESU beat No. 17 ACU 8-1 at Wells Field in Abilene.
“Yeah, we are excited to get to play them again,” junior pitcher Caitlyn Crain said. “They have got the better of us recently in the series, but we are excited to square off with them again. They’re very good.”
The Wildcats, on the other hand, have been struggling as of late. The team has dropped five of its last six games entering the tournament, and is looking to rebound in what would seem the perfect situation.
“Having the chance to play in this tournament is a big deal,” Crain said. “These teams are the best of the best, and it’s always fun to compete against the best. We have been in a funk recently, but this is a great chance to get out of it.”
ACU is averaging 4.24 runs per game while only giving up 3.31 per game. Junior center fielder Keanna Winkfield leads the team in batting, boasting a .384 batting average. She also leads the team in hits (61) by a margin of 18. Junior second baseman Kim Briggs has provided the big stick for the Wildcats, producing 37 RBI’s, 14 more than Sara Vaughn, who is second on the team.
Crain leads the pitchers in ERA (2.29), wins (13) and strikeouts (70).
ACU will play either Central Oklahoma or Incarnate Word on Saturday in the second round of the double elimination tournament.Â The winners will play at 1:00 p.m. with the losers facing elimination at 3:30 p.m.