The Minot State University softball team is set to begin its first NCAA Division II regional today, but the Beavers aren't exactly postseason greenhorns.
Thanks to a run to the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference tournament championship game, the Beavers are feeling battle-tested and confident entering the eight-team Central Region tournament in Hays, Kan. Fifth-seeded MSU (40-9) faces No. 4 seed and 19th-ranked Central Oklahoma at 3 p.m. today.
"I think you grow through those situations and getting into all those battle-back games and playing the championship," MSU coach Bill Triplett said. "Once you start succeeding in those close games, it kind of develops your character and that never-say-die attitude, so I'm sure those have helped us along the line."
Minot State University senior Tiffany Friesen winds up to deliver a pitch against Bemidji State (Minn.) during a game in April at Herb Parker Stadium.
During MSU's run through the conference tournament, five of six games were decided by one or two runs.
"It's always nice getting into the tournament atmosphere, having it be cut-throat every single game," said MSU sophomore Melissa Bell, who hit three home runs during the NSIC tournament. "It was nice to know in certain times when we were only up two runs or one run, we were able to pull it out in the end."
Triplett expects another close game with Central Oklahoma (42-11), mostly because both teams boast a dominant pitcher.
MSU senior Mandy Greenberg (24-4) is No. 8 in Division II in ERA (1.12) and No. 3 in strikeouts per seven innings (11.2). Central Oklahoma's ace is University of Tulsa transfer Kalynn Schrock (25-6), a lefthander with a 1.88 ERA who strikes out eight batters per seven innings.
The Bronchos (42-11) are led at the plate by Kacie Edwards, who has hit 18 home runs to go along with a .411 batting average. Central Oklahoma has three other players who hit .348 or higher.
Bell's recent surge has been a welcomed sight for the Beavers. The lefthanded No. 2 hitter started the season in a slump but has bumped her average to .322.
Behind Bell is junior Jen Dixon (.469 average, 12 HR) and senior cleanup Tiffany Friesen (.380, 15 HR, 60 RBIs) - MSU's top run-producers.
"It was really good seeing (Bell) coming along," Friesen said. "She was struggling at the start and now they can't just walk one person and get to the next person. They have to pitch through more than one person and that'll make it a lot more difficult for everyone else."
The winner of MSU and Central Oklahoma plays the winner of top seed and tournament host Fort Hays State (45-10) and eighth-seeded Emporia State (Kan.) on Saturday. FHSU is the highest-ranked squad in the field at No. 10.
Four teams in the top half of the Central Region bracket will engage in a double-elimination tournament, with the winner advancing to a three-game series against the bottom-half victor.
Three NSIC teams are in the lower bracket, while the Beavers are in the top section with unfamiliar opponents.
"At this regional, I like it that nobody's seen Mandy Greenberg and I like the fact that they haven't played us yet," Triplett said. "That could work against us because we don't know anybody else very well, either, but I think we have as good of a chance as anybody."