With the hopes and dreams of making a trip to the NJCAA tournament dashed, the Central Lakes College Raiders softball team will instead set its sights on the next best thing: Another state title.
Dawson College, Mont., downed the Raiders last weekend at the Region 13B tournament, relegating CLC to go after a Minnesota Community College Conference state title. But the state tournament has been a competition the Raiders have dominated lately.
CLC will try to win its third state championship in the last four years. The Raiders won titles in 2002 and 2003.
Shannon Smith of the Central Lakes College Raiders softball team took a cut April 15 in Brainerd. Smith leads the Raiders, who will compete Saturday in the Minnesota Community College Conference state tournament at Memorial Park, with 47 bases. Brainerd Dispatch/Clint Wood
"The girls were a little disappointed because one of our goals was to go to nationals," Raiders coach Bob Sullivan said. "Our other goal is to win state and we still have a shot at that goal."
The Raiders, 23-6 overall and ranked sixth in the NJCAA Division III poll, have relied on a mixture of veteran sophomores and talented freshmen. But, as Sullivan points out, every player is an important part of the team, regardless of their year in school.
"To me it's not sophomores or freshmen anymore," Sullivan said. "The freshmen have stepped it up so much this year that now they're a part of one team. If we can bring a complete team to the field we'll be fine."
Jenna Koester, Shannon Smith and Kristin Kapsner are three freshmen who have played major roles in CLC's success.
Koester, who plays third base, leads the team with five doubles and is second on the team with 29 runs scored. In addition to leading the team with 47 total bases, Smith patrols center field and is a key to CLC's defense. Kapsner is second on the team with a .426 batting average and is 7-for-7 in stolen bases.
MCCC state softball tournament
When: Saturday and Sunday
Where: Memorial Park, Brainerd
Opening round: 10 a.m. -- Itasca College vs. St. Cloud Tech College; Mesabi Range vs. CLC; Fergus Falls vs. Vermilion; Minnesota West vs. Northland
The Raiders open against the Mesabi Range Lady Norse 10 a.m. Saturday at Memorial Park. CLC won the regular-season series against Mesabi three games to one, outscoring the Lady Norse 28-14.
The Raiders will have to tussle with Deanna Jackson, one of the top pitchers in the state. Despite an 8-16 record, Jackson struck out a state-high 130 batters to go along with a 2.98 ERA. She also hit .422 and drove in 18 runs.
"You can't wait against a pitcher like Mesabi's," CLC second baseman Beth Rogge said. "Plus, I think our team has a lot of confidence in hitting off her by now because we've seen her four times. But you definitely have to have a quick bat up there against her."
The Raiders can also expect the Fergus Falls Spartans and Itasca College Vikings as teams to contend for the state title. After a slow start, the Vikings came on strong at the end of the season, winning seven of their last 10 games.
"Fergus Falls will be the toughest team out of the South," Sullivan said. "Itasca got things figured out toward the end of the season and has come on strong. Mesabi has a great pitcher that gives people trouble."
TROY GUNDERSON can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5865.
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