Skipjacks seeded No. 1 in softball regional
Chesapeake College earns bye into winners’ bracket semifinals
NORTH EAST Defending champion Chesapeake College (24-8) is the top seed in this week’s NJCAA Division II Region XX championship tournament, but the Skipjacks can expect a lot of challengers to the throne.
Second-seeded Community College Baltimore County-Catonsville (26-10) and No. 3 Cecil College (25-11) split the Maryland Junior College Athletic Conference title with the Skipjacks. All three teams also split regular-season doubleheaders with one another and with fifth-seeded Hagerstown Community College (17-11).
And that doesn’t even account for fourth-seeded Potomac State College (30-7), which just claimed its third straight Western Pennsylvania Collegiate Conference tournament title by winning three games by a combined score of 23-0.
"It’s about as balanced as you can get it," said Chesapeake head coach Durrie Hayes, whose Skipjacks will try to become the college’s first team to win consecutive Region XX titles. "Last year, the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds both lost their first tournament game. There are a lot of teams capable of winning this tournament."
The Region XX winner is also the District L champion, advancing directly to the NJCAA Division II national championship tournament in Normal, Ill.
The biggest advantage of earning one of the top two seeds is that the Skipjacks advance directly to this weekend’s double-elimination tournament at Cecil College. The remaining five teams are split into two single-elimination events that will produce the final two teams for this weekend’s Region XX Final Four.
"The best thing is we don’t have to play in the single-elimination bracket," said Hayes. "You talk about a tough road."
No. 7 Harford Community College (13-13) plays at No. 3 Cecil at 3 p.m. Wednesday for the third weekend slot. No. 5 Hagerstown plays No. 6 College of Southern Maryland (20-10) Wednesday at 2 p.m., with the winner turning around and playing host Potomac State 20 minutes after the conclusion of the first game.
Chesapeake plays the survivor between Potomac State, Hagerstown and Southern Maryland Saturday at noon. If the Skipjacks win, they play in Saturday’s 4 p.m. winners’ bracket final against the survivor between Catonsville, Cecil and Harford. If they lose at noon, they play a losers’ bracket game Saturday at 2 p.m.
The remainder of the tournament will take place Sunday.
The Skipjacks should be ready after a series of 10 straight games against Cecil, Burlington County College, Hagerstown, Catonsville and College of Southern Maryland. The Skipjacks were swept by Burlington (32-8), swept CSM, and split the other three doubleheaders.
"That was the hard part of the schedule," said Hayes. "We split with the three teams we needed to split with (in order to win a share of the state title and earn the region’s top seed)."
Hayes said the key to repeating as region champ is no big secret.
"It comes down to pitching and defense," said Hayes. "When we get good pitching and defense, we generally win."
The Skipjacks have good pitching depth, with two sophomores, Jordan Wright and Jill Piasecki, and freshman Kelsi Robinson available. All three have logged a significant amount of innings pitched, with Wright earning victories in must-win games against Cecil and Catonsville as well as another outstanding performance Saturday against the College of Southern Maryland.
"We’ve never named an ace, but I think it’s self-evident that Jordan is the ace," said Hayes of his all-American. "That takes nothing away from the other two. I don’t think we can go through four games (in the regional tournament) with just one pitcher, which is why you make sure all of your pitchers get plenty of work."
The offense has been sporadic of late, but can play both small ball and long ball depending upon the situation. Piasecki and Tiffeny Ricks each had four home runs while Robinson, Becca English and Megan Johnson have also hit homers.
"Quite honestly, that’s what makes us dangerous," said Hayes. "We’ve got four girls who can bunt for hits and steal bases, and five who have hit home runs."
Ricks who had the two-run, game-winning double against CSM in Saturday’s opener and English have been particularly hot hitters of late.
"Becca’s really stepped it up she’s been hitting the ball well for a month," said Hayes.
Hayes has a healthy respect for all the region tournament entrants his Skipjacks have split with three and gone extra innings against two others, not to mention the 30-win Potomac State team Chesapeake did not play in the regular season but likes his team’s chances.
"I don’t imagine anyone’s looking forward to playing us," said Hayes.
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