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After nearly knocking off top-seeded Benedictine in last year's Northern Athletics Conference Tournament, the Lakeland College softball team is ready to turn heads at the 2012 NAC Tournament on May 3-5 at Alverno College in Milwaukee.
The Muskies enter their sixth straight NAC tournament as the No. 5 seed and square off against No. 4 seed Marian University on Thursday at 3 p.m. Lakeland finished its regular season with a 19-17 overall record, 14-10 in the NAC.
Lakeland met Marian earlier in the season and the Muskies swept the Sabres, winning by 5-3 and 2-0 scores. Sophomore Chelsea Gile powered the team in game one with a two-run home run, while junior Heather Haeflinger hit one of her 10 triples of the season.
Thursday's contest will have a different tone as both teams vie for the NAC's automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Tournament. Marian is coming off one of its best showings, splitting with NAC regular season champion Benedictine and No. 2-seed Aurora University on April 28-29. Lakeland lost both of its doubleheaders with Aurora and Benedictine on April 28 and 29, respectively.
The winner of Thursday's game will take on No. 1 Benedictine at 9 a.m. on Friday. The NAC Tournament is a double-elimination competition with the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds earning a first-round bye. The loser of the Lakeland-Dominican matchup will play Friday afternoon at 1 p.m. in a must-win-to-advance game.
The Muskies, who rank second in the nation in triples per game and lead the NAC in triples (24), will depend on their balanced roster to make some noise. Junior Jenny LaLuzerne leads the team offensively with a .385 batting average and a .510 slugging percentage.
Lakeland's lone senior, Leah Sheahan, will use her playing experience to help carry the team. Sheahan has hit nine doubles and enters the tournament with a .310 batting average.
Junior Heather Haeflinger, who leads the NAC in triples (10) and ranks fourth in the nation in triples, has been an offensive spark all season. Haeflinger has a .342 batting average and a .581 slugging percentage.
Sophomores Chelsea Gile and Sammy Rieder will compete in their second NAC Tournament and their experience should help the Muskies' attack. Rieder leads the team in hits (42) and has posted five doubles, five triples and three home runs, while posting a .375 batting average. Gile, a versatile player, has hit six doubles and three home runs.
In the 2011 tournament, Lakeland advanced to round two with a 13-3 win over Dominican University, but fell in a 3-2 decision to No. 1 seed Benedictine. The Muskies' season ended with a 17-10 loss to Concordia University Wisconsin.
Benedictine won last year's NAC Tournament and received the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Tournament.
See what head coach Chad Buchmann says about this year's tournament: http://youtu.be/zqHPk-LukhM
Host Alverno College is offering live stats and live video streaming for each game. It can be found here: http://athletics.alverno.edu/live-webcast
Lakeland in-game updates will also be available on Lakeland's athletics website and Facebook page.