05/09/13 — Southeast Regional softball -- Trojans face tough opening-round game

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Southeast Regional softball -- Trojans face tough opening-round game

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on May 9, 2013 1:47 PM

SAVANNAH, Ga. -- While eating dinner in the cafeteria Wednesday evening, Mount Olive College head softball coach Jaime Kylis listened to some of the chatter at the table.

One comment constantly filled her ears -- "I'm ready to play."

The Trojans won't have to wait much longer.

They step onto the second-biggest stage in college softball when the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional #1 gets underway Friday at Armstrong Atlantic State University. Mount Olive (34-13 overall) opposes No. 16-ranked Columbus State (Ga.) in the opener at noon, while top-seeded AASU takes on eighth-seeded Wingate University in game two.

The survivor of the four-team, double-elimination tournament advances to a best-of-three series against the Southeast Regional #2 winner.

"It's going to be a challenge, a good one," Kylis said.

It's been nearly three weeks since Mount Olive secured its spot in the postseason by clinching the Conference Carolinas' automatic bid. The Trojans are the eighth team to represent the league in NCAA tournament play since 1996.

The layoff included an eye-opening scrimmage against perennial JUCO power Pitt Community College that prompted Kylis and assistant coach Craig Hurba to fine-tune some things before the regional. They revisited conditioning and constantly harped on fundamentals.

"Right when we were getting bored with each other, we had the scrimmage at a crucial time that gave us a fresh look at what we needed to do," Kylis said. "When you go to a tournament like this, fundamentals will really pay off for you."

Columbus State will present a stern test.

The Cougars (39-16) are led by two pitchers -- senior Mollie Russell and sophomore Taylor Turner. Russell ranks fifth nationally among Division II players with a microscopic 0.95 earned run average. Turner is 12th nationally at 1.18. The duo has combined for 266 strikeouts during 300.3 innings inside the circle.

Offensively, Kori Waugh leads CSU with a .317 batting average. She's belted 18 of the team's 56 home runs and has knocked in 35 runs this season.

MOC and Columbus State are meeting for the first time since 2008 and sixth time overall. The Cougars lead the series 4-1.

"They've got a great arm and are a very strong Peach Belt team with big, athletic bodies," Kylis said. "Like any good team, they're going to swing big and play big. However, in saying that, we played some teams out of the Peach Belt during the season that prepared us for this."

The Trojans will counter with a solid pitching staff that has compiled a 2.14 ERA this season. Junior right-hander Carly White, Clinton native Lauren Smith and freshman Maddie Johnston handled a majority of the innings during their Conference Carolinas run.

Beth Overman leads the offense with a .361 average, while Erin Brogan is hitting .312.

"The key for us is just playing within ourselves," Kylis said. "(Assistant) Coach (Craig) Hurba does a great job with our hitters, trying to keep them controlled but aggressive in the box. We try not to create more than what we're given. I'm not worried about heart or work at all.

"These kids have shown they know how to play through a lot of different obstacles that have come our way. They do a good job of controlling their emotions."