Don and Pat Fotti have lived in the Southwell Complex parking lot at Columbia College for the past four weeks.
They are not hitchhikers searching for a ride.
They are dedicated parents.
The Fottis drove their motor home 952 miles from Canada to watch their daughter, Cindy, play softball for the Cougars.
Columbia College (40-9) will rely on its Canadian contributors in the NAIA Region V tournament today at Meador Park in Springfield, Mo. The Cougars, ranked No. 8 in the NAIA, secured the No. 1 seed in the tournament by winning their third straight American Midwest Conference tournament championship Thursday.
The Cougars have a bye in the first round of the double elimination tournament and at 1:45 p.m. will play the winner of the game between McKendree and MidAmerica Nazarene, which will be played at noon.
Columbia College swept a doubleheader against McKendree on April 6 and has not played MidAmerica Nazarene.
Without Fotti or Gapka, the Cougars might not be in a prime position to win the regional.
Fotti, an all-conference second baseman and team captain, is hitting .355 with one home run and 16 RBIs. Although her power numbers do not stand out, she leads the Cougars with 16 walks and 20 steals.
Cougars coach Wendy Spratt said Fotti’s intangibles are invaluable.
“She brings a lot of energy and enthusiasm to the team,” she said. “She stops up the middle, steals a lot of bases and gets on base. When we need to get things going and score a run, she is the one that does it.”
Don Fotti said that the extended trip has been worth it because his daughter is a senior.
“We’ve enjoyed (watching her) tremendously and I really don’t want to see it end,” he said. “As much as I would love to have her home and see her every day, I am very happy with where she is at.”
Although Fotti and Gapka grew up in the same city, they did not know each other. That changed in the summer of 2001 when they played on Smitty’s Terminators, in Winnipeg.
Fotti played softball at Three Rivers Community College in Poplar Bluff in 2000 and Gapka joined Fotti at Three Rivers in 2001.
Spratt saw Fotti at the Junior College Regional tournament in 2002 and asked her to join the Cougars. Fotti transferred to Columbia College and Gapka followed the next year.
Gapka, a junior and honorable mention all-conference pitcher, is 18-4 with a 1.56 ERA and 77 strikeouts.
Spratt said she is pleased with Gapka’s improvement through the course of the season.
“Her work ethic is incredible,” Spratt said. “She is real anxious to learn and has become very consistent. To be successful at this level, you have to have good pitchers.”
Fotti is the first international player during Spratt’s nine-year tenure at Columbia College. Spratt said that a lot more paperwork is involved when recruiting internationally. The Cougars recently signed Stephanie Kababie, who is also from Winnipeg.
Gapka said the state of Missouri had a certain appeal.
“It was kind of glamorous because I was going to the United States,” she said. “Missouri is further south than North or South Dakota, so it had more pizzazz.”
Gapka said that though she gets homesick occasionally, it helps to have Fotti around.
“It’s hard because after games, the other players have their parents waiting for them behind the dugout to talk to them,” Gapka said. “It’s helped to have Cindy because we feed off of each other.”
“When I first came to Columbia, I talked to Kerri a lot because we were real close,” she said. “Having each other is a real plus because we lean on each other.”
The Cougars also will rely on pitcher Monica Mueller’s dominant arm to carry them through the tournament. Mueller, the AMC Pitcher of the Year, is 21-5 with a 0.48 ERA and 192 strikeouts.
Columbia College also has the AMC Player of the Year in Amy Seipp. She led the Cougars with a .391 average, seven home runs and 40 RBI.
Fotti said the Cougars have a bigger goal than winning the regional tournament.
“We’re not looking to just win regionals, we want nationals as well,” she said. “If we play like we can and our bats are alive, we’ll be hard to stop. We have momentum.”