STICKING TO A STANDARD: MC set to play Emory in NCAA Regionals

STICKING TO A STANDARD: MC set to play Emory in NCAA Regionals

Maryville College Softball will look to carry their standard of softball into the NCAA Tournament this weekend, as the Scots learned their destination on Monday afternoon.

MC will travel to Atlanta, Ga. for the Regionals beginning on Friday, May 11, as the Scots will face off with Emory University. Maryville earned an automatic bid to the Dance with the program's first-ever USA South Regular Season and Tournament titles this year.

The Scots will look to use the same mentality that won those trophies going into only the program's third trip to the NCAA Tournament in school history and their first in 11 years this weekend. 

"At this point, we're just playing to a standard," Head Coach Leah Kelley said. "We're not changing anything that we've done all year long. We're going to stick with what got us here. We have a standard set of what Scots' Softball looks like, and if we play to that standard – win, lose or draw – whatever happens, I consider that a success. Right now, our focus has just been refreshing on that standard in practice, so that when we play this weekend, we'll be playing at our best."

A time has yet to be announced for Friday's contest.

Kelley said that Scots have been focused on this moment for three weeks, as they have a week to prepare to face the Eagles.

The USA South automatic bid lifted any fears from the Scots, as they enjoyed the selection show inside Maryville's Cooper Athletic Center on Monday.

"It's amazing not having to stress," USA South Player of the Year Morgan Brewer said. "We knew we were in it, so we could just sit back, relax and see who we play. It was pretty nice. This is awesome. It's crazy to believe that we have done it. We were close last season, and we ended up third [in the USA South Conference Tournament]. To make it to Regionals this year, it's outstanding."

The Scots have followed their standard all season, ranking Top 25 is three offensive categories. Maryville is 14th nationally with their .360 team batting averaging, scoring 7.4 runs per contest – 18th-best in the nation. Kelley has been aggressive on the base paths this season, as well, stealing more than a pair of bases per contest which ranks 21st in the country.

Individually, the Scots are paced offensively by Essence Strambler's .427 average. The sophomore left fielder paced MC in homeruns (6) and RBI (43). Brewer, the USA South Player of the Year, fielded .942 at the hot-corner while hitting .394 with 51 hits, a team-leading 11 doubles and a .591 slugging percentage.

Outfielder Christina White hit .411 while earning All-USA South honors. The sophomore swiped a team-high 22 bases.

Eight of the Scots nine starters on offense hit .342 or higher on the season.

In the pitcher's circle, freshman Katlyn Smith earned USA South Tournament MVP honors after finishing the season 15-1 with a 2.05 ERA. In 109 innings of work, she struck out 113, while opponents hit only .223 against the right-hander.

Nicole Blackburn (7-4) finished with a 1.78 ERA in 59 innings of work. She struck out 43 and opponents hit only .267 against the junior, as Casey Joliff (5-4-2) bolstered the staff with a 2.60 ERA in 64 innings. Hitters combined for a .248 average against Joliff.

"This team is a special team," Kelley said. "We talked about that all season, and they deserve it. We put in the work for it, and when you work hard, you get paid off. This is our pay off. We're going to see how far we can stretch this one out."

MC's conference trophies made history, as they also broke a 15-year record with their 29th win of the season in the USA South Championship bout.

"It's awesome," Rookie of the Year Taylor Campbell said. "I could not be more thankful to come to a program like this and just make history. It's amazing. We've just got to go to practice every day and treat it like a normal game. Practice like you play."

The Scots will look to put that practice into play this weekend against Emory in the Eagles' 15th trip to the NCAA Tournament. They hold a 28-10 record, earning an At-Large bid as the University Athletic Association's Regular Season Champions.

"Emory has a long history of being a very good softball team," Kelley said. "They are well coached, and Penny [Siqueiros] does a great job. That's always a program that I have admired, and to have the opportunity to play them in the postseason, it's going to be fun. Our job is to prepare to face Emory in game one, and then see what happens after that. We're excited. I know the girls are excited to finally get to play again."

No. 4 Berry College (36-4) who claimed their fourth Southern Athletic Association title in a row will join MC and Emory, as will Lynchburg College (30-12) who earned an At-Large bid after losing in the semifinals of the Old Dominion Athletic Conference to No. 1 Virginia Wesleyan.

A full bracket for the 2018 tournament can be found HERE.

The Scots played Emory last season in regular-season play, losing both in close games. For Brewer, it's a chance for improvement.

"We played them last year, and they were good competition," she said. "I think we know what we need to do. We all remember that game and know what we needed to work on. If we put in the practice and come out and play our game, I think we'll be fine."

Emory ranks 13th in the country with their 1.76 team ERA this season, as their 0.968 fielding percentage backs that at 23rd nationally. The Eagles have 10 shutouts, which ranks 19th among Division III opponents.

Emory hits only .297 as a team, while averaging 4.13 runs per contest.

"We've just got to go to practice every day and treat it like a normal game," Campbell said. "Practice like you play."