SALEM, Va. — Eight teams remain in the NCAA Division II softball world and Coach Randy Simkins’ Dixie State squad may just be the baddest of the bunch.
The Red Storm, who play Southeast Oklahoma tonight at James L. Moyer Sports Complex in the D-II World Series (5:30 p.m. Utah time, watch here or listen on ESPN SportsRadio 106.1 FM), enter the double-elimination bracket as the hottest team in the sport. Dixie State has won 26 games in a row, easily sweeping through NCAA West Regional and then beating Cal State Monterey Bay in two straight in the Super Regional. The Otters were ranked No. 1 in the West before the sweep by Dixie.
“We got some really timely hits against Monterey Bay,” DSU coach Randy Simkins said. “We’ve been hitting the ball really well. But there are some great teams out here who can really swing it. Everyone here has a legitimate shot at winning. It’s going to come down to who makes the least mistakes.”
Dixie State hasn’t made a lot of mistakes during the win streak. Even in the first game against Monterey Bay (in which DSU trailed 4-0 going into the seventh inning), the Red Storm mashed the ball for 12 hits. The Storm left 14 runners on base in the game. Dixie State finally broke through in the seventh for four runs to force extra innings and an eventual 6-4 victory.
In the second game vs. Monterey Bay, DSU’s defense shined through with multiple stellar plays, including a line out-throw out double play in the seventh with the tying run at third base. Nicole Chavez and Brook Budge executed the game-winning defensive highlight with the Red Storm clinging to a 5-4 lead against the Otters.
“You know, we’re just trying to get better every day,” Simkins said. “We never talk about the streak. It was really huge for us to host the Regional and the Super Regional. To be sleeping in our own beds and playing on our own field really helped. Both times Dixie has been to the World Series, we have hosted the Regional and Super Regional.”
The Red Storm host the similarly named Savage Storm of Southeastern Oklahoma State tonight. SEO is 43-18 and hits .303 as a team, led by speedy Jessica Simmons. She averages .419 with 25 extra-base hits and an impressive 35 stolen bases on the season (out of 43 attempts). Laramie Beal is the Savage Storm’s big bopper, with 10 home runs and a .393 batting average. Sydney Kramer (.376) and Haley Strawn (.357) also hit over .300 for SEO, which upset 23rd-ranked Augustana in the Central Super Regional at AU’s home ballpark.
SEO will likely throw Mindy McElroy against Dixie State. She is their top pitcher with a record of 27-10 and an earned run average of 2.82.
Dixie State will counter with Michelle Duncan, a ground-ball inducing pitcher who has been red-hot lately.
“She has been nails for us the last couple of weeks,” Simkins said. “Ever since she came back from injury (strained quadricep), she’s been very good. But we have two, no four, excellent pitchers on staff. They’ve all stepped up at different times when we needed them.”
Duncan and Aryn Feickert have been the trailblazers. Duncan, a junior from Gilbert, Ariz., is 20-1 with an ERA of 1.52. Feickert, also a junior, from Lancaster, Calif., is 20-6 with a 2.11 ERA. Mattie Snow (5-1, 3.14) and Brooke Beardshear (4-0, 3.18) round out the pitching staff.
As good as the pitching has been, DSU’s htiing has been even better. The Red Storm lead the NCAA D-II in team batting average with an amazing cumulative of .375. Courtney Sherwin is on a 17-game hitting streak and leads the team with a .450 batting average, including nine home runs. She’s reached base safely in each of the last 33 games.
But it’s not just about Sherwin. DSU has four players hitting over .400 (Sherwin, Courtney Hine, Bailee Freeland and Nicole Chavez) and every single everyday player hits over .300.
The tourney is divided into two four-team, double-elimination brackets. Along with SEO, Wayne State (Mich.) and Valdosta State are in Dixie’s lower bracket. The team that emerges from that bracket will face the upper bracket winner (featuring West Chester, Armstrong Atlantic, LIU Post and West Texas A&M) in a winner-takes-all championship game at noon on May 26.
Valdosta and Wayne State play at 3 p.m. today. The winner will play the DSU-SEO winner Friday at 4:30 p.m. (Utah time) and the first-round losers will get an extra day off and play an elimination game Saturday at 12:30 p.m. (Utah time).
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