Division II Softball Championships
North Georgia College & State vs. Indiana (Pa.)
When: 5 p.m. Thursday
Where: Moyer Complex; Salem, Va.
DAHLONEGA - As the North Georgia College & State University softball team prepped to board its bus Tuesday for a trip to the Division II College World Series, the feelings of its players were as varied as the selection of movies to watch during the seven-hour trip to the tournament site of Salem, Virginia.
The Lady Saints open tournament play in the double-elimination field against Indiana (Pa.). at 5 p.m. Thursday at the Moyer Complex in Salem, Virginia.
The one certainty in this year's tournament is that a new champion will be crowned. Of the eight teams in the field, four are new to the College World Series and only Alabama-Huntsville (2009) has previously played in the national title game.
Lady Saints senior pitcher Sarah Phillips was eager to get back to the Moyer Complex after leaving unfulfilled following back-to-back seasons without a title.
No. 2 North Georgia (51-9) is making an appearance in the College World Series for the third time in only four years as a postseason-eligible school in Division II.
"We feel like our experience in the College World Series gives us the upper hand," Phillips said.
Meanwhile, freshman second baseman Sarah Johnson is ready to step on the stage of playing in the College World Series, an experience she's heard so many players talk about from 2009 and 2010 at North Georgia.
"This is going to be a feeling I've never had before," Johnson said. "At the beginning of the year, there was so much pressure on this team, and after losses early in the season some people started to doubt us.
"But we overcame those obstacles as a team."
North Georgia coach Mike Davenport says that playing in the College World Series is an experience that can't be duplicated. All eight programs are deserving of the trip after surviving Regional and Super Regional series.
Indiana (Pa.) qualified for its first Division II finals with a pair of seventh-inning rallies in the Super Regional against Bloomsburg.
And with North Georgia's immediate success in Division II, it will be next to impossible for the school to sneak up on anyone.
"With what we've accomplished, we got on the national map quickly," Davenport said. "There were a lot of comparisons of our program to last year (when North Georgia entered the CWS undefeated), but our team has never wavered all season."
According to Johnson, one of the stories to North Georgia's season is the way it battled adversity.
Not only through a series of injuries, but also when their back was against the wall, the Lady Saints continued to rise to the occasion.
Already trailing by a game in the best-of-three Super Regional, North Georgia responded with a 9-7 and 10-2 doubleheader sweep against Lenoir-Rhyne last Saturday to make it back to the Softball Championships.
"Our team showed a lot of character last weekend," Davenport said. "Having played under that kind of pressure and coming out can only help us."
"When we lost the first game to Lenoir-Rhyne, it set a fire underneath us," Johnson said. "We all said ‘they beat the wrong team.'"
And the role of the freshmen for North Georgia has been another key storyline in its run to the CWS, especially in the Super Regional.
Leading 4-1 in the fifth inning of Game 3 against Lenoir-Rhyne, freshman third baseman Ansley Williams connected on a grand slam to straightaway center field on a 2-2 count. Johnson and Pilar Harden added home runs for North Georgia in the sixth inning to put the game away.
"We have four freshmen on the team and they're all stepping up," Phillips said.
The pitching's been pretty good too.
Junior Jessica Coan (27-4) leads the way with a 0.95 ERA and 326 strike outs.
North Georgia will see one familiar opponent in Salem: Alabama-Huntsville. The Chargers swept all three games this season against the Lady Saints.
Indiana (Pa.) is led by senior Erin Holloway (27-3, 236 K's) and junior first baseman Megan McCormick (.414 avg., 7 HR, 53 RBIs).