For the third time in the last six years, the Georgia Military College softball team has earned a berth into the NJCAA National Championship tournament.
The Bulldogs of the diamond did so by defeating Gordon State College in the Georgia Collegiate Athletic Association (GCAA) conference championship Friday, winning two very competitive ballgames 2-1 and 8-7.
“The scoreboard doesn’t even tell how tight those games were,” 11th-year GMC head softball coach Ashley Bunn said. “Both teams just fought so hard.”
The two GCAA finalists split their four regular season contests with the home team winning each doubleheader. The conference championship series was played on neutral turf in Locust Grove, and it’s a wonder a deciding Game 3 was not needed. GMC second baseman Makensey Sapp launched a first-pitch leadoff homer to set the tone in Game 1 and eventual GCAA Tournament MVP Jana Shellhorse threw a complete game, striking out 10 Gordon State batters. The Bulldogs got a second solo home run in the third inning from sophomore left fielder Caroline Hughes, and held onto their lead through the final four innings. Game 2 turned out to be the conference title clincher as GMC won the back-and-forth battle to punch its ticket to next week’s NJCAA tournament in Yuma, Arizona.
Coach Bunn believes these latest spoils of victory are due in large part to her team’s resiliency this season. GMC lost its starting third baseman to a broken foot and has a player gritting her teeth through a torn labrum so she can continue helping her team. The Bulldogs began play in late January against some tough competition and carried a 3-3 record through six games.
“I believe we learned from those games and that competition has really gotten us to where we needed to be,” said Bunn. “This last month or so it’s been really fun to watch our team. They’ve been so hungry to get to this point.”
Bunn’s 36-15 Bulldogs will take that hunger out west as they are slated to leave for Arizona Saturday. Making the trip will be seven All-Region honorees, including new GMC softball single-season strikeout record holder Shellhorse (175) as well as GCAA Player of the Year Jessica Owens. The sophomore Owens also owns the program’s single-season home run mark with 15 to go along with her team-high batting average (.432), RBIs (61) and on-base percentage (.546).
“I feel confident that we can compete,” Bunn said. “Some of those teams we played early this year will be out there, and we were competitive against them. If we focus on us, we can play with whoever’s in the other dugout. The best 16 teams in the country are left and we’re one of them. There’s no reason we can’t win a game.”
The 16-team double elimination NJCAA National Championship tournament is slated to begin Tuesday, May 25 at Yuma’s Pacific Avenue Athletic Complex. Although play starts Tuesday, the festivities kick off Sunday with a home run derby and BBQ for all the teams competing. The tournament bracket/schedule will be announced Thursday, and the NJCAA will stream the games online at www.njcaa.org/network. Streaming is pay-per-view, and fans have day pass ($10) and tournament pass ($25) options.