The sophomores on the Owens Community College softball team are familiar with the atmosphere of the postseason, yet while Express coach Duane Lanham doesn't doubt the capabilities of his team, he hopes that Owens' first-year players prove to be a quick study when it comes to adjusting to the postseason.
"We've got some pretty mature freshman and the ones who will participate in this tournament have seen a lot of playing time," Lanham said. "Hopefully, the nerves and the awe of playing in this tournament will wear off early."
Owens (39-5) is one of six teams in this year's NJCAA Region XII District G tournament in Battle Creek, Mich. The Express open the double-elimination tournament at 6 tonight against either Muskegon (Mich.) Community College or Jackson (Mich.) Community College, who open the tournament at 4 today.
The winner of Owens/Muskegon-Jackson will advance to play at 2 p.m. Thursday, while the loser will play at noon Thursday, with both opponents to be determined. The tournament championship is scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday, with a second game scheduled for noon if both teams only have one loss after the 10 a.m. game.
Owens joins Muskegon, Jackson, Grand Rapids, and Kalamazoo Valley of Michigan and Ancilla College of Indiana in the tournament.
This is the eighth time in the last nine seasons that Owens has qualified for the regional tournament, and the winner of the regional tournament qualifies for the NJCAA Division II championship tournament May 16-19 in Clinton, Miss. The Express lost 10-0 to Louisiana State-Eunice in the 2011 NJCAA Division II championship game.
"At this point, we have to hone in not only on what we can do or how we can do it," Lanham said. "It's knowing the roles that each player has, and you don't know much until you start playing. When you get to this point and this kind of quality in teams, it's going to come down to who makes a certain play or who makes an error."
Ashlyn Michalak is one of eight sophomores on Owens' roster and has handled the bulk of the Express' pitching duties this season. The Springfield graduate is 17-2 with 186 strikeouts, eight shutouts, and a 1.28 earned-run average in 131 1/3 innings pitched. Clay graduate Kasey Graham is 12-1 with 47 strikeouts, three shutouts, and a 1.78 ERA in 82 2/3 innings pitched.
Freshman outfielder Melanie Iacoangeli is second in the nation with 62 stolen bases and leads the Express with a .545 batting average while sophomore infielder Michelle Hollister has 16 doubles and 47 RBIs this season.
"As a coach, I try to keep the team relaxed, but keep them focused," Lanham said. "You don't want to overplay the hype, you want to take each game at a time. But you realize you're drawing closer to the end of the season, and with these kinds of tournaments, your season could be over. Do we have the tools? I think we do. We talked about overachieving, and we're 39-5, so overachieving may not be underestimated."
Contact Rachel Lenzi at: email@example.com, 419-724-6510, or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.