Cowley College softball coach Ed Hargrove didn’t mince words with his team after they qualified for the NJCAA Division II national tournament last weekend in Topeka.
For this team, stacked with Division I talent from top to bottom, the bar has already been set.
“There are, realistically, eight teams that are headed to (nationals) that have a real chance to win it,” Hargrove said. “And we’re one of them. We plan to go down there and play for the title … we definitely made that clear last week after we qualified.”
Jayhawk East champion Cowley (46-6) opens play Thursday against Mercyhurst (40-12) at 9:30 a.m. at Traceway Park in Clinton, Miss. The Tigers finished the season ranked No. 4 in the country and are the No. 5 seed at nationals.
If Cowley wins, it will play the winner of No. 13 Mott and No. 5 Kankakee at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday.
Also on the Tigers’ side of the bracket is top seed LSU-Eunice, the defending national champion.
Hargrove, in his 28th year, is making his sixth trip to nationals. Cowley has finished as high as fourth under Hargrove — in 2005 and 2006 — and hasn’t been to nationals since 2009.
“The tournament just started seeding three years ago,” Hargrove said. “It used to be a draw … the new format gives a lot more teams a chance.”
Cowley’s trip to nationals is buoyed by the return of sophomore pitcher Haleigh Sills (17-1, 1.15 ERA, 89 strikeouts), who won three games at Topeka. Stills, from Riverton, missed eight starts this year because of a broken finger.
With Sills and All-Jayhawk East pitcher and Mulvane product Taylor Parsons (20-5, 3.00 ERA, 115 strikeouts), the Tigers have a 1-2 punch on the mound comparable with any team at the tournament.
“It feels good to be the group of sophomores that got us back to nationals,” Sills said. “Now we’ve got to go take care of business.”
Cleanup hitter Taylor Hatfield, from Arkansas City, has been Cowley’s starting catcher the last two seasons and is signed to play for Kansas. Hatfield is hitting .421 with five home runs and leads the Tigers with 68 RBIs.
“I think we have a really good shot,” Hatfield said. “The way (Hargrove) is has become how we are, too. He doesn’t really freak out when we make mistakes … he stays calm because he knows that happens and you have to play through it. I think we’ve adopted that mentality, too.”
Butler opens at NJCAA Division I Tournament – Butler Community College (40-15) earned the No. 13 seed at the Division I tournament in St. George, Utah, and will play No. 4 Pima (47-12) at 10 a.m. Thursday. If the Grizzlies win, they will face the winner of No. 5 State College of Florida Manatee-Saratoga and No. 12 Temple at 7 p.m. Thursday.