Division II College World Series
NGCSU vs. Molloy College
When: 1 p.m., today
Where: Heritage Park Softball Complex, St. Joseph, Mo.
Records: No. 1 Lady Saints 50-0, Lady Lions 43-19.
TV: NGCSU will be showing the game live on campus in the Memorial Hall Gym in Dahlonega. Admission is free.
For 11 of the 19 members of the North Georgia College & State University softball team, today will mark the second consecutive year that their spikes have tread on the dirt of the NCAA Division-II College World Series.
After being ousted in the third round last year by Lock Haven University, the Lady Saints are looking to run their undefeated record all the way to the championship game the second time around.
North Georgia (50-0) will face the Molloy College Lady Lions (43-19) in the first round at 1 p.m. today at Missouri Western State University’s Heritage Park Softball Complex in Saint Joseph, Mo.
Coach Mike Davenport thinks the previous series experience is going to be key for the Lady Saints,
“For the returning players, they’ve made one trip to the College World Series and I think that can’t do anything but help,” he said. “Understanding the schedule and the way the tournament plays out is important.”
Molloy will have to stay ahead of that learning curve if they want to upset the No. 1 team in the nation.
Winners of the East Super Regional, the Lady Lions have become accustomed to overcoming steep chances for advancement this postseason.
After losing the first game of the East Super Regional against No. 10 New Haven, 6-5, Molloy came back to win Game 2 (2-0) and Game 3 (1-0).
Davenport knows that coming back to win two elimination games shows that Molloy has a strong ability to make adjustments.
“After losing that first game they obviously made great adjustments throughout the course of the next two ball games,” he said. “So you have to tip your hat to the coaching staff and their players for making those.”
The two wins came on the arm of freshman Megan Butterworth, who threw back-to-back complete-game shutouts while giving up only four hits and striking out 13.
While Davenport is aware of what the Lady Lions have done this season, he isn’t putting too much stock in what’s happened in the past.
“You get verbal and written scouting reports from other teams but (those) are for other teams’ personnel,” he said. “Things change through the course of the tournament. As the tournament plays out, then you start to adjust after watching other teams play.”
Instead of attempting to specifically prepare for Molloy, Davenport will try and keep his team’s attention on their own performance.
“First and foremost we’ll focus on what we do (and) our first focus is defense,” he said. “Games are usually won and lost on the dirt, which means defensively and in the circle.”
So far this season, Davenport hasn’t had to worry too much about what happens in the circle.
Undefeated junior phenom Sarah Phillips has claimed a victory in 43 of the Lady Saints 50 games this season and has an ERA of 0.85. In addition to having the most wins of any pitcher in Division II — and being second in ERA — Phillips has 275 strikeouts on the season and has surrendered only 38 walks.
Despite Phillips’ apparent invulnerability, Davenport isn’t taking anything for granted and strives to keep his team mentally focused.
“A lead-off walk or an error or a wild pitch or something like that can cost you games,” he said. ”So if we can shore up our defense and make sure we are playing solid behind Sarah and that she’s doing her job as far as getting ground balls and giving us a chance defensively to make plays, then we feel like our offense can put some runs on the board (and) put us into position to win games.”
The Lady Saints’ offense has certainly proved itself capable of scoring a lot of runs so far this postseason.
Going into the College World Series, North Georgia has compiled 61 runs through eight games while only surrendering 11 to their opponents. Molloy has scored 40 runs through 10 postseason games while surrendering 22.
The Lady Saints have to hope that those numbers will hold true and that they can accomplish Davenport’s stated goal: “to survive and move on.”
The winner of today’s game will play at 5 p.m. Friday against the winner of Valdosta State University/Bloomsburg University.