The Columbia College softball team is used to postseason competition.
The Cougars have qualified for the NAIA Region V Tournament every year since the tournament began in 2001, and have moved on to the national tournament the past three years.
Columbia College, No. 10 in the NAIA, advanced this season by sweeping the American Midwest Conference Tournament. The Cougars also won the regular season title, making it the third consecutive year the Columbia College (45-15, 13-1 AMC) has earned both titles.
Last year the Cougars tied for fifth at the NAIA Tournament. Coach Wendy Spratt said she expects nothing less this year.
“As a team we’re hitting .352 and have outscored our opponents by 84 runs in the past 21 games,” Spratt said. “It’s pretty amazing, the difference between the beginning of the year and how we’re playing now.”
The Cougars had a rough start this season. They were 6-4 after their first two tournaments and were playing top ranked teams every weekend. Spratt said the schedule was designed to prepare them for conference play. They have played 21 teams ranked in the top 25 this year.
“After facing those pitchers (early in the year), those in our conference and our region just don’t look tough,” Spratt said. “It was great for us. The whole idea of building that schedule was to get us where we needed to be at the end of the year.”
The strategy worked. The Cougars enter the Region V Tournament as the top seed and bring a 15-game winning streak into today’s 10 a.m. game against No. 8 McKendree at Meador Park in Springfield, Mo.
The Cougars have five regular starters who are hitting over .300. Lindsey Williams leads the team with a .351 average, which has led to a team-leading 52 runs scored. Sarah Moreau, with five home runs, and Ashley Perrigo, with 59 RBIs, have .344 averages.
Spratt said having nine players who are routinely hitting the ball has made a big difference. The pitchers feel less pressure and the team has a more relaxed attitude.
The Cougars have won 20 of their past 21, losing only to Baker University, who also qualified for the Region V tournament.
“We’re very confident about how we’re playing,” Spratt said. “They beat us three weeks ago at a tournament, but I think if anything, that gives us more reason to beat them now.”
The Cougars must win this week’s tournament in order to advance to the national tournament. The only other option is to win an at-large bid, but Spratt said those usually go to the top 10 teams. Spratt doesn’t want to count on getting in that way.
Spratt said her team’s defense has also been more solid since the start of the year.
“We’re making all the routine plays and the outstanding plays as well,” Spratt said.
She noted one play from last weekend’s AMC Tournament where junior second baseman Stephanie Kababie made a diving catch on a line drive up the middle and flipped the ball to second base while still on her belly. The play took the Cougars out of a bases-loaded, one out situation and allowed them to continue their walk through the tournament, in which they outscored their opponents 21-3.