Allie McCain said the University of Jamestown softball team plans to find the grass offensively this Thursday, May 2, in Fremont, Neb.
The Jimmies learned their playoff fate Monday evening. Jamestown will make the nearly 500-mile trek south and open the Great Plains Athletic Conference tournament against the Northwestern College Red Raiders.
Jamestown (27-17, 11-11 GPAC) played its only two games of the season at home against Northwestern (18-23, 11-11) on April 19, falling 3-2 and 3-1 at Trapper Field. Thursday's postseason tilt begins just to the northwest of Omaha at noon.
"We struggled a little bit finding our pitches and driving them through the infield against Northwestern," said McCain, the Jimmies' senior left fielder. "Not many hits hit the grass.
"We're going to take it one pitch at a time, one batter at a time, one inning at a time and go from there."
The Jimmies were picked by the coaches in the preseason to finish second in the conference, but earned the fifth seed for this week's tournament after dropping six of the team's final eight conference games, beginning with the two losses to Northwestern at home. UJ head coach Kevin Gall said the effort has been there, but the big hits will need to show up for the Jimmies to catch fire at the right time.
"We're still hitting doubles and putting the ball into play quite consistently, we're just not getting the big payday on it as of late," Gall said. "We've just got to keep believing and keeping things simple, and not try to do too much up there."
In 44 games played, McCain (.349/.355/.383) has yet to record an error defensively and she's second on the team with 52 hits, behind sophomore Morgan Geiszler's 53 knocks. Geiszler (.346/.377/.490), the team's second baseman from Horace, N.D., leads the Jimmies with 14 doubles and 34 RBIs.
Junior shortstop Mikayla Frost has batted .414/.468/.471 in 70 at-bats after missing a large chunk of the season with a broken hand. Her 194 career hits are 63 behind the school record.
"We've been hitting the ball hard, especially the last couple games against Dordt and Morningside. But we've been hitting them right at people, which has seemed to be our Achilles' heel all year," McCain said. "I think it comes down to a few hits here and there and getting runners on, so we can get them over and get them in, like (UJ baseball) coach Tom (Hager) likes to say."
Northwestern split a pair of games against No. 22 Midland University on Monday to end the GPAC's regular season. Northwestern earned the conference tournament's fourth seed, while top-seeded Midland is hosting. Midland, who has secured the league's first berth to the NAIA Opening Round, plays eighth-seeded Dordt College on Thursday at 2 p.m.
The other half of the tournament will be held in Sioux City, Iowa, between second-seeded Morningside, third-seeded Concordia, sixth-seeded Mount Marty and seventh-seeded College of Saint Mary. The champions of both brackets will play a best-of-three series at the home of the higher seed on Saturday (May 4).
"(Northwestern) is playing really well right now. They're very well-coached, they hustle, they put the ball in play and their pitchers do a nice job," Gall said. "We're going to have to play well."
Jamestown's top two arms all season have been sophomore Kat Miska and freshman Katie Merchant. Miska (12-7) has an ERA of 2.87 with 164 strikeouts in 119 1/3 innings pitched, while Merchant (12-8) is sporting a 3.47 ERA with 85 strikeouts in 119 frames.
The GPAC tournament champion, or runner-up if Midland wins, will receive the league's second automatic bid to the NAIA Opening Round, a place the Jimmies have reached in each of the last two seasons.
"It's a new season and we can still reach a lot of our goals that we set," Gall said. "We have the talent to do it, it's just a matter of do you want to."
GPAC Softball Tournament
Fremont, Neb. (Christensen Field)
Game 1: (4) Northwestern vs. (5) Jamestown , Noon.
Game 2: (1) Midland vs. (8) Dordt, 2p.m.
Game 3: Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2, 4 p.m.
Game 4: Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2, 6 p.m.
Game 5: Winner Game 4 vs. Loser Game 3, Noon.
Game 6: Winner Game 3 vs. Winner Game 5, 2 p.m.
Game 7: If necessary (Game #6 winner/loser), 4 p.m.
Sioux City, Iowa (Jensen Softball Complex)
Game 1: (3) Concordia (26-10, 15-7) vs. (6) Mount Marty (20-22, 11-11), 10 a.m.
Game 2: (2) Morningside (25-8, 18-4) vs. (7) College of Saint Mary (17-27, 10-12), Noon.
Game 3: Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2, 2 p.m.
Game 4: Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2, 4 p.m.