NJCAA softball championships kick off in a big way at Canyons Complex

NJCAA Division I National Championship Softball Tournament, St. George, Utah, May 13, 2015 | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Sixteen softball teams from around the country descended on St. George’s Canyons Complex to decide a champion in the junior college ranks, with the NJCAA National Tournament kicking off Wednesday afternoon.

njcaa_logo01Some of the usual suspects — Salt Lake Community College, Blinn (Tex.) and Chipola (Fla.) — were there, as well as some newcomers to JUCO’s big dance, like Shelton State (Ala.), Eastern Arizona and Howard (Tex.).

The true double-elimination tournament began with eight games Wednesday and eight more on Thursday. Eventually a champion will be crowned with a title game scheduled for noon on Saturday and the “if necessary” game scheduled for 2 p.m.

SLCC, ranked No. 1 in the latest NJCAA poll, was in the first round of afternoon games and defeated Western Nebraska 5-1. The game featured an intriguing side story as the Bruins start former Region 9 star Kirsten “Kiki” Anderson, from Pine View, and the WNCC Cougars start former Canyon View player Kenzie Sawyer. The former prep rivals each had a hit in the game, but it was Anderson’s Bruins that won the battle.

Former Pine View Panther and current SLCC Bruin Kirsten Anderson, NJCAA Division I National Championship Softball Tournament, St. George, Utah, May 13, 2015 | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News
Former Pine View Panther and current SLCC Bruin Kirsten Anderson, NJCAA Division I National Championship Softball Tournament, St. George, Utah, May 13, 2015 | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News

“You know, it’s so great to be back,” Anderson said. “I’ve missed southern Utah so much. A lot has changed for me and it’s so awesome to be back here as part of a team like Salt Lake Community College. I have such a great coach and great teammates.”

Anderson left town a righty, but came back as a left-handed slap hitter who uses her athleticism to get on base. On her hit in the sixth inning, she beat out a bunt and advanced all the way to third base on an overthrow. She then scored on a sacrifice fly by teammate Raeana Gall.

Sawyer, a freshman power hitter who is among the nation’s leaders in home runs with 23 this season, had a single in the second inning. In the seventh, she came to the plate with SLCC ahead 5-1, two runners on and no one out. She ripped a shot to the right side, but SLCC first baseman Megan Reed speared the liner, stepped on first to double the base runner there, then gunned it to second base for a rare triple play that ended the game.

“Of course I’m disappointed in how the game turned out, but I am so happy to be back here and playing in front of family and friends,” Sawyer said. “This is a little setback, but hopefully we can get a few wins and keep it going.”

The Bruins scored four of their five runs in the first inning to stake pitcher Baylee Reeves to an early lead.

NJCAA Division I National Championship Softball Tournament, St. George, Utah, May 13, 2015 | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News
NJCAA Division I National Championship Softball Tournament, St. George, Utah, May 13, 2015 | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News

“It’s awesome to have an early lead like that,” Reeves said. “It makes me relax on the mound, knowing that I can throw strikes and trust my D.”

Other results from Wednesday have Northeastern Oklahoma beating Eastern Arizona 8-6, Blinn beating Georgia Perimeter 4-1, Chattanooga State (Tenn.) defeating Navarro (Tex.) 11-7, Chipola (Fla.) downing Shelton State 7-1, Howard edging Jefferson (Mo.) 4-3, Miami-Dade topping Temple (Tex.) 2-0 and Wallace State (Ala.) beating Wabash Valley (Ill.) 2-1.

The tourney continues Thursday beginning at 2:30 p.m.

Email: sports@stgnews.com

Twitter: @oldschoolag

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.

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