LSU-Eunice tops Owens for national softball titleWritten by Jason Mack | | email@example.com
The Owens Community College softball team came one win away from the NJCAA Division II National Championship on May 21, losing 10-0 to No. 1 LSU-Eunice in the title game.
“Our goal was to come out here and win this thing,” Owens head coach Duane Lanham said. “We got up in the morning and decided to get after it. We were rolling. We just ran out of gas. We needed our ‘A’ game to beat LSU, and we just weren’t able to bring it.”
After opening the tournament on May 19 with wins against Mineral Area College (37-18) and No. 6 Heartland Community College (39-21), the No. 4 seed Express (44-5) lost 6-0 to LSU-Eunice (58-10) on May 20 in the semifinal of the winner’s bracket. The two losses to LSU-Eunice were the only two times the team was shut out all season.
“They were ranked No. 1 for a reason,” Lanham said. “The first game, we just didn’t play well, and I think we let down. The second game was their first game of the day and our third. We kind of ran out of firepower. We just didn’t get the sticks going. We got some hits, but we couldn’t string a set of hits together. We were close, but we couldn’t get that key hit when we needed it.”
Owens rebounded with a 2-0 win against East Central Community College (37-15) to stay alive in the tournament. In the first game of the loser’s bracket May 21, Owens battled nine innings in an 8-7 win over No. 9 South Mountain Community College (43-28). Owens had jumped out to a 7-1 lead, but SMCC rallied with six runs in the bottom of the seventh inning. In the top of the ninth inning, freshman second baseman Michelle Hollister reached on a fielder’s choice to score sophomore outfielder Morgan Gray for the winning run.
“Nobody thought they were going to put up the runs to tie it up,” sophomore outfielder Kristen Roznoski said after that game. “I thought that we worked so hard and played a great game so far, and it sucks that we might lose it. I’m so happy we battled and pulled through it.”
“We had a terrible inning in the bottom of the seventh,” Lanham said. “They tied it up, and we had to compete through the ninth inning. Getting that win gave us momentum. That momentum carried into the next game. We were on fire.”
The team stayed on fire in the next game, winning 13-2 over No. 2 Kankakee Community College (48-12) in just five innings. Freshman Ashlyn Michalak pitched the complete game, allowing two runs off six hits and no walks with three strikeouts.
“She pitched lights out,” Lanham said. “She pitched Springfield [High School] to the Final Four last year, so she’s used to playing in that type of competition.”
The team had 16 total hits with three-hit performances from Roznoski, sophomore third baseman Alaina Haubert and sophomore shortstop Lindsey Bandeen.
Roznoski earned her 81st hit during the game to set the school record for hits in a season. She also broke the school record for runs in a season, finishing the year 85 of 167 for a .508 average with 64 runs and 22 RBI while hitting leadoff.
“It’s a great accomplishment to break any record,” Roznoski said. “I couldn’t have done it without the help of my team. Alaina Haubert and I always thank each other. I thank her for hitting me in and allowing me to score the run, and she thanks me for the RBI.”
“She led the country in batting average and on-base percentage for over half the year,” Lanham said of Roznoski. “She learned to read the defense very well. Whether it’s to bump it or bunt it right at the plate, hit into the outfield for a triple or even a home run, she had all the tools to get on base. She’s quick. It’s hard to get her out when she’s stealing. She understands the game.”
Roznoski wasn’t the only standout player as Bandeen and sophomore first baseman Matea Rice were both named to the All-Tournament Team. Rice was 8 of 20 in the tournament with a three-run home run and earned the honor mostly for her defensive play at first base. Bandeen was 11 of 25 in the tournament with eight RBI and five runs. She finished the season 62 of 154 for a .402 average with 49 RBI and 39 runs.
“They were phenomenal,” Lanham said. “They both knew what they wanted to accomplish and achieve. Our team is built on being solid all the way through. You never knew who was going to step it up. Lindsey really caught fire the last couple weeks. Matea hit the ball extremely well. She saved us on a lot of not-so-great throws. Her defensive work was solid.”
Bandeen was also honored by the team this season as the recipient of the Heart of a Champion award.
“She’s a kid that is nothing but softball when she puts her cleats on,” Lanham said. “It’s probably the highest award we give out. The Heart of a Champion is someone we feel just wants to play ball. That’s all they want to do. They know they’re going to make mistakes, but they play through them. It’s a player who does everything you ask of them. It’s a high honor in our program.”
The program set several school records this season. It is the first women’s team in school history to play in a national championship game. The Express tied the school record for wins in a season and earned the program’s 400th overall win. In 13 seasons as an official NJCAA sport, the team has a 400-91-1 record and has won 10 of the last 11 Ohio Community College Athletic Conference titles.
“At the start of the season, if somebody said we’d end up being the national runner-ups, I’d be tickled to death,” Lanham said. “I’m still tickled to death. The team gave me all I asked of them. We’d love to have come home with that big trophy, but I’m happy with what we got.”
Roznoski was also happy with the way the season turned out.
“I wouldn’t have changed anything about the season, except maybe not having so many rainouts,” she said. “The practices were hard, but every girl on the team pushed through it and gave it their all to make sure that the team was successful. This has been my favorite season and one of my favorite teams I’ve ever played on, and I’ll never forget it. I’ll miss this team very much.”
Despite having only eight players returning next season, Lanham is optimistic about the team’s chances.
“We have some nice looking kids who have given a verbal commitment,” Lanham said. “We’re building a pretty solid team again for next year. If history repeats itself, I think we’ll put together a pretty solid program once again next year.” O