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Co-Lin has ‘small ball’ success

NORMAL, Ill. – With Copiah Lincoln Community College’s softballteam making their second trip in three years to the NJCAA DivisionII Tournament here, beginning Thursday, opponents and fans notfamiliar with the Lady Wolves’ style of play could use a primer onthe type of team they’ll be seeing.

Co-Lin Head Coach Allen Kent describes it as “small ball” – thatis, his team, coming into this tourney with a 33-8 overall record,including a 14-4 road record, usually wins games by no more thanone or two runs.

There were some exceptions to that, however, early on in theseason. Among them, an 11-0 win at Holmes and 6-0 win over EastCentral in February. After that, Co-Lin seemed to settle in forclose scoring games.

“We’ve got a good combination of really good pitching and beenplaying strong defense behind our pitchers,” Kent said, referringto how defense has contributed to their success during the regularseason and at State Finals, all of which led up to this year’sNJCAA appearance.

The Lady Wolves have a first-round bye. Their first game,scheduled for 2 p.m. Thursday at Champion Fields here, will beagainst either Delaware Tech or Maryland-based Community College ofBaltimore County/Catonsville.

Whichever team faces Co-Lin, they need to know the Lady Wolvesare coming in already on a 12-game winning streak, and having won19 of their last 21 games.

“We’ve done well all year but we really finished strong,” Kentsaid about the current streak.

With numbers like .603, .598, and .475 respectfully, sophomoresKayla Crochet, Emily Langley, and Ashley Sykes have led the LadyWolves in slugging percentage at the plate. Co-Lin batters haveonly hit 13 home runs all season, with Crochet leading that chargewith 7 of them, and a team-high 50 hits. Sykes is Co-Lin’s RBIleader, having driven in a team-high 28.

Kent said Becca Bailey, the right-handed, hard-throwingsophomore from Baton Rouge, has a shot to become an All-American.That would give Co-Lin credit for having two of them on the rosterin the last three seasons.

Not Much Preparation: Kent said that, at thisstage of the season, there is not much more in terms of preparationhis troops can go through before their first game.

As the sixth-season Co-Lin coaching veteran explains it: “Ithink our players realize how big this is, and, (with) the waywe’ve prepared ourselves all year long, (the players’) instinctsare just going to take over.”

Kent acknowledges that his team is prepared for anything fromthe opposition, and that they will not face anybody consideredpushovers. “We realize how much better the competition is upthere,” he said. “We realize the level of competition is so muchgreater.

“We’re just proud to be going to (NJCAAs),” Kent concluded.

Finished Third In ’06: Co-Lin’s last appearance in this tourneyhere in 2006 resulted in a third place finish behind the strengthsof pitcher Emily Horne and outfielder Annie Selman.

Fans seeing those games got the gist of “small ball” then, asCo-Lin either won or lost their games by the same score – 2-1 – toevery opponent they faced. They defeated Kankakee Community Collegein round one and Parkland Community College in round two; droppedinto the loser’s bracket with an extra-inning loss to PhoenixCollege; and claimed third with a win over Parkland College.

Both Kankakee CC and Phoenix College are making return trips tothe tournament this year.

So…This Is Normal: The Co-Lin team willtravel 13 hours by bus to this community of over 50,000, which isin a twin city set-up with the City of Bloomington, and 130 milessouth of Chicago.

Another tournament participant, Heartland Community College,based in Normal, although established in 1991, did not begin itsathletics program until last fall, debuting men’s and women’ssoccer. This spring is the freshman season for Heartland’s Softballprogram, making their debut in NJCAAs on the first try.