Anyone who has watched the Howard College softball team knows that, to a large degree, the Hawks will go as far as their bats will take them this postseason.
Fueled by one of the most potent offensive attacks in team history, the Hawks finished third in the Western Junior College Athletic Conference with a 19-6 mark, and they hope their bats remain hot as they prepare to open play at the Region V Softball Tournament, which begins Thursday at Lubbock Christian University.
The Hawks will face Frank Phillips College, the sixth seed out of the WJCAC, in a first-round game at noon Thursday. The winner of that contest will take on Midland College later Thursday.
Howard's powerful hitting attack is led by shortstop Olive Naotala, who led the conference in home runs and RBI and was second in batting average this season. Head Coach Kelly Raines said she is expecting a lot from Naotala and the rest of the offense at the tournament.
“We just seem to perform a lot better when our girls are hitting the ball,” Raines said. “Our pitching and defense seem to play a lot more relaxed. Obviously, Olive is a big key to whether we win or lose.”
But the old baseball adage that pitching and defense wins ball games also applies to softball, so the Hawks will have to have quality starts from their pitching triumvirate of Alexis Beltran, Selina Mitchell and Sandra Serna. The good news for Howard is that its pitching staff has come through more often than not this season. The bad news? The group has struggled of late, something Raines is concerned about as the tournament approaches.
“It's just something we have to figure out,” Raines said. “Some days, our pitching does really good, and other days, not so good. We just need to get all three of them mentally ready, so they're ready to go, no matter what.”
Odessa College and Midland College, which finished 1-2 in conference play, received first-round byes and are the obvious teams to beat in the tournament. And OC and Midland were responsible for five of the Hawks' six conference losses this season.
However, Raines said her team can't get caught up too much in focusing one who they might play.
“We just need to go out and win every game we play, and that starts with Frank Phillips,” she said.
The winner of this tournament advances to the National Junior College Athletic Association National Tournament to be held in St. George, Utah.
All Howard games will be broadcast locally on radio station KBST (1490 AM).
Region V Softball Tournament schedule (all games at PlainsCapital Ballpark, Lubbock Christian University)
Game 1: Western Texas College vs. El Paso Community College, 9:30 a.m.
Game 2: Howard College vs. Frank Phillips College, noon.
Game 3: Odessa College vs. Game 1 winner, 2:30 p.m.
Game 4: Midland College vs. Game 2 winner, 5 p.m.
Game 5: Game 2 loser vs. Game 3 loser, 9:30 a.m.
Game 6: Game 1 loser vs. Game 4 loser, noon.
Game 7: Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner, 2:30 p.m.
Game 8: Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner, 5 p.m.
Game 9: Game 7 loser vs. Game 8 winner, 10 a.m.
Game 10: Game 7 winner vs. Game 9 winner, 12:30 p.m.
Game 11 (if necessary): Game 10 winner vs. Game 10 loser, 30 minutes after conclusion of Game 10).