Taking care of business Friday afternoon, the East Central College softball Falcons booked a spot in the NJCAA Division II national tournament.
ECC (28-30) swept visiting Murray State College (14-29) of Tishomingo, Okla., Friday in the best-of-three series, 5-4 and 7-1.
“This accomplishment is a total team effort,” ECC Head Coach Brad Wallach said. “We’ll back off a little during finals and get back to work on Wednesday. We’re still trying to get better.”
Sophomore Brooke Brenton (Lebanon) was the winning pitcher in both games.
“I’m so excited,” Brenton said. “I can’t wait. We came into the beginning of the season and coach said one day at a time, so we took it one day at a time.”
Sophomore Nicole Thompson (Winfield) is looking forward to traveling to Mississippi.
“I’ve never been to Mississippi, so I’m excited,” said Thompson. “We’ll make it work. We’re one of the few left and that’s all that matters.”
Sophomore Rhiannon Edler (Owensville) is looking forward to another milestone when she goes to the national tournament.
“I’m excited,” Edler said. “I guess it really won’t sink in until we actually get on the bus and go for it. It will be a heck of a birthday present (May 17). Hopefully we can win and make my day that much better.”
It’s the third time ECC has qualified for the national tournament. The 1977 team placed fifth and the 1994 squad took ninth.
The NJCAA Division II national tournament takes place May 17-19 at Traceway Park in Clinton, Miss.
“At practice I had told the girls that the only reason East Central softball hadn’t gone to nationals since 1994 was because they hadn’t gotten here until now and that drought had nothing to do with us,” Wallach said. “Before the first game we talked and we definitely wanted to finish this the first day.”
Two games were scheduled for Friday with the if-needed game set for Saturday. But, by sweeping the Friday games, the Falcons made certain that everyone could enjoy a Saturday away from the field.
“We were excited to get it done in one day, too, and not be back tomorrow,” said Brenton.
The Falcons don’t have the record or the ranking of most of the other teams in the field, but the team is jelling at the right time.
“We went through our rough patches, but we made it through it and that’s all that matters,” Thompson said.
“At first, we had our differences,” Edler said. “We had to get used to each other. It got better the more we played and the more coach talked to us about it. They’ve blended really well and we do really well together. It’s just crazy.”
“In the middle of the season, we were playing ball,” Brenton said. “We’ve come together finally and things are happening together. We’ve had defense and then offense. I think during regionals it all came together and we made it happen.”
Each of the three sophomores remember the roster struggles the team’s had over the past couple of seasons. In 2011, ECC had to borrow athletes to be able to field a team with a little depth.
“Definitely we have a different team this year,” Edler said. “We’re fast. We can hit the heck out of the ball. It’s definitely good to feel that you’re part of this big team and that we’ve gone this far. It’s awesome.”
Thompson said the Falcons said the whole team is peaking at the right time.
“I think we realized as sophomores that it was coming to an end and that we would have to dig deep and do what we could,” Thompson said. “The willpower added up as the end and we came together as a team and gave it our all. Everybody started playing together and putting hits together. Defensively we came together and it was incredible. Our errors have gone down so much. That’s helped us out a lot.”
ECC is the only unranked team currently in the national tournament
As of Monday, 10 of the 16 national competitors had been decided.
National tournament qualifiers are as follows NJCAA rankings and records appear where they are available.
• District A — (2) Phoenix (Ariz.) College (51-15);
• District B — (15) Black Hawk (Ill.) College (32-15);
• District C — (6) Kankakee (Ill.) Community College (50-9);
• District D — (4) Cowley (Kan.) College (46-6);
• District E — (8) Highland (Kan.) Community College (48-11);
• District F — (Regions 9, 11) Will be North Platte (Neb) Community College (26-26) vs. either (RV) Des Moines Community College or Southwestern Community College;
• District G — May 9-11, (Region 12A);
• District H — May 9-11, (Region 12B);
• District I — (17) Mercyhurst (Pa.) North East (40-12);
• District J — East Central College (28-30);
• District K — (18) Delaware Technical & Community College (35-3);
• District L — (19) CCBC-Catonsville, Md. (44-11);
• District M — (1) Louisiana State University-Eunice (53-9);
• District N — (3) Jones County (Miss.) Junior College (42-9);
• District O — (11) Parkland (Ill.) College (42-18); and
• District P — May 11-12, (RV) Illinois Central College at (RV) Patrick Henry Community College (Regions 8, 10, 24B).