BaseballNORMAL, Ill. – Copiah-Lincoln’s Lady Wolves Softball team can now say they tried harder, having become the runner-up in the NJCAA Division II Softball Championship, held at Champion Field here.

Having lost Friday by an 8-5 count to Phoenix College, top ranked in tournament brackets, and its reigning champion for the last four years going into Saturday’s play, Co-Lin head coach Allen Kent said his team wanted “another shot” at the Bears.

On Saturday, Co-Lin knew they got a second shot at Phoenix College, but the Lady Wolves needed to start Saturday by trying to beat the literal hometown team from this area, the Heartland Community College Hawks.

Although HCC has been a part of the Town of Normal for almost 20 years, HCC did not begin an athletic program until last fall with Men’s and Women’s Soccer, debuting Softball and Baseball for the first time this Spring.

Crochet scored the only run Co-Lin needed in the bottom of the seventh inning, on a sacrifice by Rousseau and squeeze play, to shut out HCC, 1-0 Saturday morning.

That win put Co-Lin in the finals against Phoenix College, but that also meant needing to win to claim the championship outright. To do that would require two games with two straight wins since Phoenix College beat Co-Lin once Friday.

But Phoenix College displayed too much muscle in the second game in two days between the two teams, scoring six runs in the fifth inning, beating the Lady Wolves, 9-1. Ten batters came to the plate in that inning, getting five hits, including four singles, and a double by Bears third baseman Ashlie Rosenberg.

Copiah-Lincoln Community CollegeCo-Lin’s game concept of “small ball” – hitting singles to get girls around the bases to score runs, thus confounding opponents – did not get much of a chance to work against Phoenix College sophomore pitcher Patricia Moreno. Moreno registered 12 strikeouts, and contributed to Co-Lin stranding seven runners on base.

Sophomore shortstop Ashley Sykes and sophomore designated player Becca Bailey were named to this year’s All-Tournament Team. Both said they were happy about the honor.

“To be named (for the All-Tournament Team) is a thrill,” Sykes said. “But it is also kind of a shock. I very much enjoyed (this experience).”

“We put all of our effort into the game against Heartland Community College (starting the day) so that we could get to this point (in the championship against Phoenix College), “Bailey said. “We wanted to make school history (by winning the tourney).”

In fact, Co-Lin can be proud of taking second place because, in previous years, the highest any Co-Lin team had gotten was third.

“This was one of the best seasons that any team from our school has ever had,” Kent said after the award ceremony. “Having made it to the National Championship game is something we will take with us always.

“We’re proud to have been here,” Kent said. “We just had a difficult finish (in our last game). Phoenix is a great team, a phenomenal team.”

A Swing, A Miss, A Chance: Lady Wolves freshman utility player Brittany Watts can, someday, look back on this experience and admit she, too, despite an injury, was able to get a swing at the National Championship.

In the beginning of Co-Lin’s seventh inning against the Bears, Kent put Watts, who broke her right pinky in practice after the team arrived here earlier this week, up to bat so that she could at least get the chance to say she played in the National tourney.

The ball missed Watts’ glove and struck her finger, preventing her from being able to throw at all or continue playing in depth, but NCAA rules allow for a player to participate under those conditions provided that the batter finishing the turn at bat claims the umpire’s count that results.

“(Brittany’s) glad to be here, but, you know, I was looking for a way to get her in the game,” Kent said. “I told her if she wanted to swing, she could, and she did, so that she could say she played in the National Championship game.”

Watts swung and missed, leaving an 0-1 count for freshman pitcher Rebecca Rousseau.

NJCAANo New Streaks: Co-Lin hit a lucky 13th win on day one of this tourney Thursday against Delaware Tech. Friday, the Lady Wolves’ luck lasted for just one more game on the day, as the Lady Wolves beat Kansas-based Johnson County Community College, 9-5 in nine innings on the strength of a grand slam homer by second baseman Kayla Crochet.

Co-Lin led 4-3 going into the seventh inning until a two-out blast over the left field fence by JCCC shortstop Lindsey Bawers tied the game, going into the bottom of the innng.

The game was forced into extra innings after JCCC reliever Katie Ford set down Rousseau, Sykes, and Crochet in order.

A single by Karee McDonald in the top of the eighth inning scored outfielder Lindsay Tuter, putting JCCC up 5-4. Co-Lin pitcher Meleah Brown motored home from second base to tie the score at 5-all, then Co-Lin’s pitching, courtesy of Bailey, held forcing JCCC batters to go down in order in their top half of the ninth.

Langley, Rousseau, and Sykes all reached base with no outs in the bottom of the ninth when Crochet came to the plate. Crochet blasted the ball over the center field wall to provide the muscle needed for Co-Lin to win its 14th straight game by a 9-5 count, putting the Lady Wolves just two steps closer to a rematch with Phoenix College.

“I was just trying to get the hit,” Crochet said about her first career grand slam and 11 homer of the season. “I didn’t care if it was a pop-up or not because Emily’s fast. (Regardless of where the ball would have landed), she would have scored.”

“(The home run) was a little shocking,” she said.

Bailey through 137 pitches in the game against JCCC.

But all streaks do come to an end, and Co-Lin’s did against Phoenix College, the reigning champion of this tourney, who before Saturday had taken home four winners’ trophies from here.

Against Phoenix College on Friday, Co-Lin looked to apply their brand of “small ball” against the Bears to do it. But Friday ended with Phoenix College snapping Co-Lin’s winning streak with an 8-5 win. Co-Lin’s streak of 14 straight wins and 21 wins in their last 23 tries had started late in the regular season.

Kent said the winning streak “was good while it lasted,” but he was also philosophical about it ending.

“It was good while it lasted, but (then again,) who better to break our streak than the number one team in the nation?”

BaseballNORMAL, Ill. – Copiah-Lincoln’s Softball team advanced to the quarterfinals of the NJCAA Division II Softball Championship, held at Champion Field here, in a big way, with a 6-0 shutout over Delaware Tech.

As a result of the victory, CLCC had an early wake-up call to take on the winner of a Thursday contest between Michigan’s Oakland Community College and Johnson Community College from Overland Park, Kan. That game was set to start at 10a.m. Friday. It would be the first of two games on the day, with the second game set for 4p.m. at Champion Field.

Lady Wolves pitcher Becca Bailey earned the win, fanning 12 Delaware Tech batters and allowing just two hits, while going 2-for-4 herself with singles in the second and fifth innings.

CLCC (35-11) jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the third inning on a double by shortstop Ashley Sykes, which scored both center fielder Emily Langley who singled, and left fielder Candace Avants, who reached first on an error by Tech shortstop Crystal Spencer.

With one out in the fourth inning, CLCC scored two more runs, thanks to an RBI by freshman first baseman Rebecca Rousseau, scoring catcher Missy Paulina and third baseman Meleah Brown, increasing the Lady Wolves lead to 4-0.

Copiah-Lincoln Community CollegeCLCC got two more runs in the seventh inning for good measure against the 44-4 Roadrunners, courtesy of Sykes scoring on a flyout to center field by Bailey, and Boone singling which scored second baseman Kayla Crochet, leading to the eventual final score.

With matters well in hand, coach Allen Kent opted to give freshman Rousseau a shot at pitching in the seventh inning. In order, Rousseau struck out pitcher Chelsea Walls looking, fanned Tech shortstop Crystal Spencer swinging, and outfielder Kerby Gallo looking.

“It felt good to be given the chance to pitch an inning at Nationals,” Rousseau said. “A first time at Nationals as a freshman…getting an opportunity like that is just great,” Rousseau said. “I just went out there and did what I had to do.”

“I’m very happy with the win,” said winning pitcher Bailey, who pitched six innings before giving Rousseau a shot at pitching in the seventh inning.

“The team always backs me up,” Bailey said about the support her teammates provided. “They always come back and hit the ball. That allows me to continue pitching and keep (the opposition) from scoring.

Bailey said it was important for CLCC to “bring (our) top game because we’re playing the top teams.

“My mind is set to do my job, pitch as hard as I can, make the pitches effective, and work hard,” she said.

NJCAA“We won State, we won regionals, (and) that’s a great feeling,” Bailey said. “And to come here to Nationals is just an amazing feeling to be here.”

“We were able to score,” Kent said. “We were able to steal a few extra bases, (be able to move players) around one at a time, so, we’re still not a power-hitting team, but, you know, we will do whatever it takes.”

Kent said his team has been working on defense against fly balls and pop-ups. He joked that “there are few more trees” back home than he saw here, thus cutting down on a 10-mile an hour wind that gusted periodically to 20 mph throughout the gray day. There had been a threat of rain, but most of what was expected stayed in the lower half of the state.

She’s Visited Here Before: This trip may have been Bailey’s first to Normal as a member of CLCC, but actually, she has been here before – in 2001, as a member of the Louisiana Patriots, a team that participated in an ASA tournament for girls age 16 and under, held here at Champion Fields.

“It was actually very exciting (to be back here),” Bailey said.

BaseballNORMAL, Ill. – With Copiah Lincoln Community College’s Softball team making their second trip in three years to the NJCAA Division II Tournament here, beginning Thursday, opponents and fans not familiar with the Lady Wolves’ style of play could use a primer on the type of team they’ll be seeing.

Co-Lin Head Coach Allen Kent describes it as “small ball” – that is, his team, coming into this tourney with a 33-8 overall record, including a 14-4 road record, usually wins games by no more than one or two runs.

There were some exceptions to that, however, early on in the season. Among them, an 11-0 win at Holmes and 6-0 win over East Central in February. After that, Co-Lin seemed to settle in for close scoring games.

“We’ve got a good combination of really good pitching and been playing strong defense behind our pitchers,” Kent said, referring to how defense has contributed to their success during the regular season and at State Finals, all of which led up to this year’s NJCAA appearance.

The Lady Wolves have a first-round bye. Their first game, scheduled for 2 p.m. Thursday at Champion Fields here, will be against either Delaware Tech or Maryland-based Community College of Baltimore County/Catonsville.

Whichever team faces Co-Lin, they need to know the Lady Wolves are coming in already on a 12-game winning streak, and having won 19 of their last 21 games.

Copiah-Lincoln Community College“We’ve done well all year but we really finished strong,” Kent said about the current streak.

With numbers like .603, .598, and .475 respectfully, sophomores Kayla Crochet, Emily Langley, and Ashley Sykes have led the Lady Wolves in slugging percentage at the plate. Co-Lin batters have only hit 13 home runs all season, with Crochet leading that charge with 7 of them, and a team-high 50 hits. Sykes is Co-Lin’s RBI leader, having driven in a team-high 28.

Kent said Becca Bailey, the right-handed, hard-throwing sophomore from Baton Rouge, has a shot to become an All-American. That would give Co-Lin credit for having two of them on the roster in the last three seasons.

Not Much Preparation: Kent said that, at this stage of the season, there is not much more in terms of preparation his troops can go through before their first game.

As the sixth-season Co-Lin coaching veteran explains it: “I think our players realize how big this is, and, (with) the way we’ve prepared ourselves all year long, (the players’) instincts are just going to take over.”

NJCAAKent acknowledges that his team is prepared for anything from the opposition, and that they will not face anybody considered pushovers. “We realize how much better the competition is up there,” he said. “We realize the level of competition is so much greater.

“We’re just proud to be going to (NJCAAs),” Kent concluded.

Finished Third In ’06: Co-Lin’s last appearance in this tourney here in 2006 resulted in a third place finish behind the strengths of pitcher Emily Horne and outfielder Annie Selman.

Fans seeing those games got the gist of “small ball” then, as Co-Lin either won or lost their games by the same score – 2-1 – to every opponent they faced. They defeated Kankakee Community College in round one and Parkland Community College in round two; dropped into the loser’s bracket with an extra-inning loss to Phoenix College; and claimed third with a win over Parkland College.

Both Kankakee CC and Phoenix College are making return trips to the tournament this year.

So…This Is Normal: The Co-Lin team will travel 13 hours by bus to this community of over 50,000, which is in a twin city set-up with the City of Bloomington, and 130 miles south of Chicago. Another tournament participant, Heartland Community College, based in Normal, although established in 1991, did not begin its athletics program until last fall, debuting Men’s and Women’s Soccer. This spring is the freshman season for Heartland’s Softball program, making their debut in NJCAAs on the first try.