By Todd Wills
Special to the Daily Sun
It’s almost impossible to go into the Region XIV Softball Tournament and not assume Blinn is the team to beat. The Buccaneers have advanced to the NJCAA National Championships four consecutive seasons.
So what Navarro coach Jessica Karenke-Burke couldn’t have planned for is drawing the No. 2 seed out of the East Zone and getting stuck playing Blinn in the first round of the regional tournament that starts Thursday in Corsicana.
But there Blinn is, the No. 3 seed out of South Zone and the Bulldogs’ opponent at 12:30 p.m. Thursday at Jesse and Lou Cummings Field. The winner of Navarro-Blinn will play the winner between Galveston and Trinity Valley.
Blinn (31-18) comes in on a hot streak, winning seven straight games. The Buccaneers, fifth at last year’s nationals, have a team ERA of 2.94.
They have two quality pitchers — freshman Shannon O’Connor who has a 16-10 record with a 2.66 ERA and 143 strikeouts, and sophomore Caitie Carney who is 11-6 with a 3.50 ERA and 62 strikeouts.
“They’re well managed,” Karenke-Burke said. “They’re always going to be a tough team to play. We’ve always had good games against them. We know what we’re capable of doing.”
Karenke-Burke didn’t make much of playing Blinn first. Both zone races were closer than ever, setting this regional tournament up to be potentially one of the most balanced fields in history. Galveston (42-15) went 20-4 in conference play and as the No. 1 seed out of the South and ranked No. 8 nationally looks like the team to beat.
Navarro (28-17) has won 10 of its last 13 games and is playing as well as any team in Region XIV, and also has home field advantage. The Bulldogs have two top pitchers with sophomores Brianna Bryant and Kaycee Spears.
“If you want to go (to nationals), you have to get through everybody,” Karenke-Burke said. “The order of the seed doesn’t matter. Is it ideal (to get Blinn first), no? But we think this is going to be the closest regional tournament in the history of the tournament.”
Navarro is 8-2 in conference at home this season. The Bulldogs are comfortable playing at home and being in their own dugout.
The hope is Navarro’s staff, teachers and students will support the softball team for three days as it tries to get to the national tournament.
“With this group, them being comfortable is a good thing.” Karenke-Burke said. “Playing in front of our fans, that’s good.”
The first goal of this tournament is to get to the finals. The two teams that play in the regional championship game earn automatic bids to the national tournament held in St. George, Utah.
On the net:
Region XIV Softball Tournament
At Navarro College, Corsicana
1. Northeast vs. San Jacinto, 10 a.m.
2. Navarro vs. Blinn, 12:30 p.m.
3. Paris vs. Alvin, 3 p.m.
4. Trinity Valley vs. Galveston, 5:30 p.m.
5. Loser 3 vs. Loser 1, 10 a.m.
6. Loser 2 vs. Loser 4, 12:30 p.m.
7. Winner 3 vs. Winner 1, 3 p.m.
8. Winner 2 vs. Winner 4, 5;30 p.m.
9. Loser 8 vs. Winner 5, 10 a.m.
10. Loser 7 vs. Winner 6, 12:30 p.m.
11. Winner 7 vs. Winner 8, 3 p.m.
12. Winner 9 vs. Winner 10, 5:30 p.m.
13. Loser 11 vs. Winner 12, 10 a.m.
14. Winner 11 vs. Winner 13, 12:30 a.m.
15. Winner 14 vs. Loser 14*, 3 p.m.
* — If first loss