ST. GEORGE – The number is down to the Sweet 16 in D-II softball. Dixie State is the top returning team from last year’s Nationals still in the field as both West Texas A&M (defending champ) and Valdosta State fell in their regionals.
“Many good teams have fallen,” said Dixie head coach Randy Simkins. “But there are still many remaining as well.”
Dixie State will be hosting a foe that is not unfamiliar to them. Sonoma State, located in Rohnert Park, Calif., has clashed with the Red Storm the last two seasons. “We split with them last year,” said Simkins. “In 2013 we knocked them out of regionals. So our upperclassmen know them.”
While Dixie is familiar with the Seawolves, Simkins believes he has something wholly unfamiliar for them. “They haven’t seen (Michelle) Duncan yet. She was hurt last year. (Aryn) Feickert pitched the first game and beat their ace pitcher (Amanda Llerena).”
SSU finished 42-19 overall and 24-11 in the CCAA Conference, good enough for third. They finished the season out of the NCAA rankings though were the second highest receiving votes out of the top 25.
The two teams start tyheir best of three series today at 3 p.m. at Karl Brooks Field in St. George.
“Llerena is a good pitcher,” said Simkins. “But their biggest threats are their first two batters. Ancia Purdy and Keely Ray are a couple of slap hitters that can get on base and have a lot of speed. If they get on base against us, they can cause some headaches.”
All three have been selected to the All-Region first team. Purdy and Ray are hitting at .471 and .464 clips, respectively. Dixie placed five players on the All-Region first team. Duncan is joined by the top four batters in the Dixie lineup, Janessa Bassett, Nicole Chavez, Courtney Hine and Marla Reiter.
The Seawolves are 6-4 against PacWest teams this season. This will be their first time in the Super Regional after advancing to the sub-regionals nine years in a row.
“It will be interesting to see what happens if Purdy or Ray do get on base,” said Simkins. “This team likes to steal bases. We really have not been tested because teams are afraid to run on Reiter. Josey Hartman and Chavez are excellent at reading the steal and covering the bag.”
As a team the Seawolves hit at a .333 clip compared to DSU’s .353. Dixie also has the slight edge in fielding, .971-.954. The starkest contrast between the two teams is the pitching. Duncan and Feickert have led Dixie to a 1.79 ERA with Duncan leading the way at 1.34. The Seawolves pitch at a 3.21 average. Llerena tops the staff with a 2.65 ERA.
“We are healthy. The girls are prepared and anxious to play,” said Simkins. “They want to get back to Nationals and this is the last obstacle in their way.”
The Super Regional format is best out of three. Game time Friday is 3 p.m. On Saturday, the first game is 1 p.m. and if necessary, the third game will begin at 3:30 p.m.
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