The Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) softball team will face Mott Community College (MCC) in the first round of the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division II Softball National Championship May 16 at Clinton, Miss.
The Bears, making their fifth consecutive appearance in the tournament and their sixth in the last seven seasons, enter the tournament undefeated at 44-0 and are the tournament's top seed. MCC is 31-15 and is seeded 16th.
"We're excited to be the No. 1 seed because our players worked so hard during the year," DMACC softball coach Bob Ligouri said. "I think it shows respect, not just for our program, but for the entire (Region XI). We hope that we've done something that benefits the entire region, not just us."
Ligouri said his team has not expressed much concern over being the top seed.
"The No. 1 seed really doesn't mean much," Ligouri said. "It actually doesn't mean anything after the first pitch. It's all in how a team and coaching staff applies it. We don't view it as any different than any other playoff game."
The DMACC team has five sophomores who have national tournament experience from a year ago, which Ligouri says will help the team this time around. They include Molly Jacobsen of Adel, Bre Hunter of Boone, Bailey Richards of Des Moines, Gabby Schnathorst of Carlisle and Taylor Briley of Creston.
"All five of them have really excelled," Ligouri said. "Molly is considered the best pitcher in the country in junior college and Richards is one of the top catchers in the nation as well. Gabby has pitched really well now that she is starting to get healthy and Briley has been an anchor on our infield and Hunter has been an anchor in our outfield. All of them have had success (at DMACC)."
Jacobsen is expected to be in the circle when the Bears face MCC at 1:30 p.m. Jacobsen, arguably the best collegiate softball pitcher in the country, is 23-0 for the season with an 0.16 earned run average. She leads NJCAA Division II with 251 strikeouts and and is averaging 13.18 strikeouts a game. Jacobsen leads the nation in strikeouts and is second in earned run average. She has allowed only eight runs all season, including five unearned runs.
Ligouri won't hesitate to call on Schnathorst if he has to. She is 11-0 with a 1.46 ERA and is averaging 8.73 strikeouts a game.
DMACC is hitting .398 as a team with freshman Mia Ruther of Burlington leading the way with a .524 average. Freshman Morgan Nealey of Urbandale is batting .485, Richards has a .425 average, freshman Kaisha Wells of Topeka, Kan., is hitting .418 and freshman Kelsey Hora of Ainsworth and Jacobsen are at .407 and .403 respectively. Nealey and Wells share the home run leadership with 14 apiece and Nealey leads DMACC in RBIs with 69.
Ligouri said he is like other coaches in that he has concerns entering the tournament.
"Our concerns are that we stay in the moment, settle on our process and not the outcome," Ligouri said. "Teams that have trouble are the ones that focus on the outcome and they may tighten up. We're hoping that we stay in the moment and pitch-by-pitch. If we can do that we'll do pretty well. But if we start worrying about where we're seeded and what's going to happen if we don't get a hit bad things can happen and bad things can happen to anybody."
Ligouri said the key to DMACC's success is his team playing within itself.
"You have to be who you are and don't try to be somebody you're not," Ligouri said. "If you are a power hitter, that's fine, but if you're not a power hitter, don't try to be one. Just play within your perimeters and everybody needs to stay in their own lane. We're hoping everybody stays in their own lane and fills the roles they've done so far."
A DMACC victory against MCC will move the Bears into the quarterfinals against either Lansing (Mich.) Community College (LCC) or Lincoln Land Community College (LLCC) on May 17. DMACC would also face either of those teams with a loss against MCC.
The tournament continues through May 17 with the championship game scheduled for 1:30 p.m.