Blinn softball coach Rich Church is ready to see his team return to its early season form: a time when the Buccaneers were beating the top teams in the nation and had climbed into the top 10 of the NJCAA rankings.
The Region XIV Conference Tournament is the perfect place to start.
“It doesn’t matter how you finished the season, everyone is 0-0 at regionals,” Church said.
The Bucs (29-17) open the tournament today at 3 against Navarro, the No. 1 seed from the East Zone, at the Roadrunner Complex at Angelina College in Lufkin. The tournament runs May 1-4. In the teams’ only meeting this season, the Bucs shutout the Lady Bulldogs 3-0 at the Galveston College Invitational.
“They’ve progressively gotten better since then,” Church said.
At 35-13 for the season, the Lady Bulldogs are coming off a series split with Kilgore College, but have won 13 of their last 15 games, including a 12 straight from March 22-April 16.
Blinn, meanwhile, has had an up-and-down season since finishing third at the NFCA Leadoff Classic on March 1. The team struggled to get any consistency going in the second half of conference play and had to battle Lamar State-Port Arthur in the penultimate series of the season to clinch the fourth and final seed into the conference tournament.
“They competed and made sure that we were going to make it to regionals,” Church said. “We’re going to need the same approach at the tournament.”
Though the Bucs enter the conference tournament as the four seed from the South Zone, Church is less worried about the team’s seed and more about starting fresh on Thursday.
“When we’re playing well, I don’t care what our seed is, we can beat anyone,” he said.
History is on Blinn’s side when it comes to facing the Lady Bulldogs in the conference tournament.
In 2013’s tournament opener, the Bucs won 9-1, which included a six-run sixth inning to pull away. When the team’s met in 2011, Blinn won both games, 5-2 and 15-2, to advance to the NJCAA national tournament.
The Bucs hope to make a return trip to the national stage in St. George, Utah, after falling a game short last season.
To do so they’ll need consistent contribution from freshman Delilah Pacheco at the top of their lineup, to Sydney Wellmann and Jaiden Rawls’ power bats in the middle, to Marissa Purcell at the bottom. Pacheco has been the most consistent in the order, batting .380 with a .440 on-base percentage and 20 stolen bases.
Wellmann has provided the power at the plate with 49 hits—26 for extra bases—and 51 runs batted in, while Rawls has bombed 13 home runs.
In the circle, Rawls has thrown 183 innings, allowed 179 hits, 61 earned runs and struck out 92. She carries a 2.33 ERA into the region tournament. Freshman Mariah Gibson has tossed 124 innings, allowed 50 earned runs on 124 hits and struck out 75, while carrying a 2.82 ERA.
“We have to go out and compete at our highest level, which we know we’re capable of,” Church said. “We have to believe in ourselves and go out and compete.”
For more information on Blinn softball, visit www.buccaneersports.com.