A trip to Florida in February gave the Sinclair Community College softball team an idea of what it takes to play on the national level.
On Wednesday, they get to experience the real thing.
The Tartan Pride qualified for the National Junior College Athletic Association’s Division II national championship in Clinton, Miss., for the first time in program history. Sinclair (31-14) plays St. Louis (40-4) in the first round of the double-elimination tournament at 4:30 p.m. Sinclair is seeded No. 11 and St. Louis is No. 6 in the 16-team field.
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The championship games are Saturday.
“We’re not happy just to be here. Our kids are hungry,” Sinclair coach Steve Beachler said. “They feel they can compete against anybody. Our coaching staff has been driving into these players to respect all but fear none.”
The Tartan Pride have shown plenty of fight this season already. They returned from a season-opening trip to Florida with a 5-8 record. They were sitting at 16-13 when conference foe Cuyahoga came to Dayton and took two from Sinclair.
“I think that woke the players up knowing if they wanted to win the conference and get to the regionals and beyond, that was the level of play they had to play at. They accepted the challenge,” Beachler said.
“Even at that point we explained to the players we control our own destiny. All we have to do is win out the rest of the conference games. We had our backs against the wall. But they fought and won the conference. They always produce when they need to. I’m very proud of them.”
Sinclair rattled off a 14-game winning streak and won 15 of its last 16 games, the final two wins coming in the D-II district championships last week.
Top-seeded Sinclair beat No. 3 Lake Michigan 9-3 in the semifinals to advance to the championships. Lake Michigan won 6-5 in eight innings to force a winner-take-all title game in the double-elimination tourney. In that game, Sinclair’s Brooke Sommers hit a two-run double with one out in the bottom of the sixth for the go-ahead run in the 3-2 victory.
Freshman Kenedie Cox (West Liberty-Salem) leads the Tartan Pride witih a .434 average, 43 runs scored and 17 stolen bases. Freshman Hailey McEldowney (Versailles) is hitting .395, sophomore Ashley Brown (Carlisle) .366, sophomore Cierra Chastain (Beavercreek) .360 and freshman Keira Teserovitch (Fairmont) .350. Sophomore Bailey Pennington (Brookville) has a team-leading 44 runs batted in and 17-doubles.
Brown and Chastain have done the bulk of the pitching. Brown is 14-4 with 84 strikeouts and a 2.07 ERA in 125.1 innings pitched. Chastain, ranked No. 1 in the nation with five saves, is 11-4 with 140 strikeouts and a 3.38 ERA in 101.1 innings.
“We have great pitching. We have a very good defense. Our offense can score runs,” Beachler said. “The chemistry with this group is fantastic.”
The Tartan Pride rallied from those two losses to Cuyahoga, which also made the national tournament, to beat Cuyahoga on the road and win the Ohio Community College Athletic Conference championship for the first time since 1991.
Sinclair also dominated the OCCAC awards. Beachler was named coach of the year and Brown was pitcher of the year. Brown, Chastain, Cox, McEldowney and Pennington were all first-team selections.
Brown was also named the NJCAA District I tournament’s most valuable player, while Brown, Chastain, Cox and McEldowney all made the tournament team.
“I think everybody is really proud of them,” said Beachler, who is assisted by Trevor Nenninger, Rebekkah Potter and Chris Fine. “We kept telling them they’re making history by winning the conference and now the district. It’s just a special group. They’ve put in so much heart and effort to be as good as they are. Hard work and dedication is what got them here.