The Central Lakes College Raiders softball team has made its reservations for a return trip to the National Junior College Athletic Association tournament in Arnold, Md., May 17-19.
Raiders coach Dennis Eastman has his own reservations about making plans to attend a national tournament before the team has finished its business here in Minnesota.
Arnold is near Baltimore and the NJCAA tournament coincides with the running of the Preakness. So, in order to secure motel space, reservations had to be made now, before the Raiders travel to North Hennepin Community College to face Rochester and Riverland in the double-elimination Region 13A tournament Friday and Saturday.
One team will emerge from this weekend and use its reservations in Maryland. The other two will be canceling their rooms in Arnold and heading for the Minnesota state tournament in Grand Rapids next weekend.
As the region's No. 1 seed, the Raiders will be the odds-on favorite to advance to the national tournament. Nevertheless, Eastman wasn't altogether pleased with having to rush the process.
"It makes me nervous," said Eastman. "I'm a little superstitious. We want to be the No. 1 seed, it's where we want to be. But, now we're the hunted."
Rochester and Riverland will open the region tournament with a game at noon Friday. The winner of that contest will face CLC at 2 p.m. Friday. The teams with one loss will play at 10 a.m. Saturday. The survivor will have to beat Friday afternoon's winner twice in order to win the title.
Eastman is hoping the Raiders win Friday and slip into the winner's bracket on Saturday. But, he's not overlooking either of the other two teams in the tournament.
"I'm kind of worried about Riverland right now," said Eastman, "because they're hot. They beat Bethany, a team that beat us, and they swept Rochester last Monday. They're on a roll right now and I'm hoping they'll cool off. The advantage we do have is that, in the back of their minds, both Riverland and Rochester know that we've already beaten them this year."
The Raiders come into the tournament ranked fourth nationally, a spot Rochester had when the last poll was taken. Rochester will look to the arm of Jill Cahoon, who's ranked 14th in the nation in pitching with a 2.042 ERA, and the offensive punch of Ronell Berg, whose .667 batting average is third in the nation.
Eastman considers Rochester and Riverland to be threats offensively but with slightly different styles.
"Riverland is a better hitting team," said Eastman, "they have more power. Rochester will bunch up hits and single you to death. But, Riverland is a lot like us, they come at you with more power."
"Erin Thiesse, our leadoff hitter, has seven home runs. On the other hand, Amy Martinson, our No. 5 hitter, has 10 doubles. We're hoping we get a chance to use our strength, which is running the bases.
"We know that Rochester and Riverland do not have real strong arms in the outfield. So, we'll try to take advantage of that. On the other hand, we do have strong arms in the outfield and we'll challenge people to try and run on us."
Most teams the Raiders have faced rely on one pitcher. The Raiders have two aces on their staff. Both sophomore Jenny Sovich and freshman Stacie Rousselange are capable of shutting down an offense. The Raiders will use both pitchers and, as the tournament progresses, having deeper pitching and fresher arms could be an advantage for CLC.
"I'd like to go into the regional tournament like we usually do," Eastman said. "That means pitching Jenny first. So, she'll probably go in our game Friday. We have to rely on our sophomores. They've been here before, they know what it takes, they've done it."
Experience and depth could be just the ticket to get the Raiders through the regional and to help them make a horse race out of the national tournament next week.
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