Muskies head into NAC Tournament with confidence, experience
Athletics - posted on 5/4/2010
The Lakeland softball team enters the Northern Athletics Conference Tournament as a winner of five straight games, but things haven't always been so rosy for coach Chad Buchmann's battle-tested squad.
The fourth-seeded Muskies, who will face No. 5 Concordia, Wis., on Thursday at 3 p.m. in the first round at Alverno Field in Milwaukee, had lost seven straight games in a five-day span prior to the current winning streak, dropping five of those contests by two runs or less.
Since then, Lakeland (24-16 overall) has been dominant, outscoring opponents by a combined score of 69-8 to finish tied for third in the league with a 17-7 mark.
According to Buchmann, it is the experience in the close losses, not easy wins, which will help the Muskies in the double-elimination tournament.
"Concordia is dangerous … they return pretty much all of their players from last year," Buchmann said. "I like our chances even though our conference record isn't where I'd like it to be. We've lost a lot of close games, so we've shown we can beat the good teams."
Lakeland, which has been a part of the NAC Tournament every year since the conference's inception in 2007, was the tournament's No. 2 seed in 2009. After reaching the final rounds, the Muskies were eliminated by Dominican, 14-13, after a furious seventh-inning rally fell short. Despite knocking 18 hits in the game, Lakeland finished with seven errors to end its season in disappointing fashion despite a school-record 30 wins on the year.
"We suffered from errors in last year's tournament," Buchmann said. "Everyone has to play solid and make the routine plays.
"Timely hitting will also be critical. We've been focusing on positive mental concepts and having a plan when you go to the plate."
More than anything, players and coaches realize what's on the line this weekend - an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Tournament.
"I think we've stressed that all year," said senior pitcher Sara Roberts, who is the team's all-time leader in several pitching categories. "Coach Buchmann has done a nice job constantly reminding the younger players that if they want to impact the program, now's a good time to start."
The Muskies, who lead the conference in several offensive categories, including on-base percentage, runs scored and triples, will need solid pitching and execution on defense to advance in postseason play.
"We had too many errors and gave up a few too many hits last year," Roberts said. "We need to keep the hitters off-balance and keep the ball on the ground. That will be crucial with Alverno being a short field."
The Falcons (22-18) enter the tournament having lost three straight to end the regular season after winning five consecutive games.
The two teams split a pair of games on April 10 in Mequon. Concordia took the first game, 5-4, in nine innings, while the Muskies won Game 2 by the same score.
With five seniors and much of the core of the 2009 team intact, members of the Lakeland program are excited about practice and competition in the week ahead.
"It's going to be a fun week," Buchmann said. "Our returners will bring more of a focused energy than our freshmen, who will bring a youthful energy."
"More than anything, this could be our last weekend of playing … I'm hoping it isn't," Roberts said.
Benedictine, the NAC regular season champion, will be the tournament's No. 1 seed, followed by Aurora (No. 2), Dominican (No. 3), Lakeland, Concordia and Marian (No. 6). Benedictine and Aurora have byes into the intermediate rounds.
to visit the official 2010 NAC Softball Tournament page.
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