AUGUSTA, Ga. – Heading into a fourth straight NCAA Southeast Regional appearance, Augusta State hopes to show it's more than just a regular in the postseason.
They want to be known as a perennial powerhouse.
The Jaguars started the season on a roller coaster ride, dominating teams they should but letting big wins against nationally-ranked Rollins and Barry slip away in the final inning.
And then things changed – they started winning consistently. More than that – they were winning the close ones and putting up runs while the pitching flat-out dominated.
The result was a school-record 16-game win streak that propelled ASU to the top of the Peach Belt Conference standings and a No. 15 national rank. The Jags averaged almost eight runs per game during the stretch, and the pitching kept opponents below four runs in 14 of the 16 games.
Kacee Camp and Jessica Thornton were stalwarts in the PBC statistical top ten in a bevy of categories, earning them each first-team All-PBC honors for the year. Kristen Jones, an All-American in 2011, found her swing late as she began mashing extra-base hits against even the toughest pitching. Freshman Molly Walton and Hannah Vaughn have fit into their roles nicely as each was often used to move runners over.
Meanwhile, the pitching staff of PBC Second-Teamer Emily Headrick, senior Heather Hughes, and freshman Heather Sexton combined for a 2.22 ERA on the season. Headrick took down Flagler's Donna Manufo late in the season, and followed it up by out-dueling USC Aiken's India Kornegay a few days later. Overall, the staff hurled 11 shutouts, including a stretch of 10 or 11 games where they allowed three or less runs.
But a roster with seven starting seniors faces a tough test in the NCAA Regional.
North Georgia, a participant in the College World Series last year and the Regional host, boasts plenty of top-end experience and a deep roster. The 2011 Ron Lentz National Pitcher of the Year has had a stellar season, as Jessica Coan went 23-7 in the regular season with a 1.52 ERA. But PBC Freshman of the Year Melissa Dickle may have topped her, notching a perfect 19-0 record with a 1.25 ERA to provide a tough one-two punch in the circle.
The Saints offense batted .294 on the year, with four hitters above .300 and four players with seven or more home runs.
King (TN) enters with momentum, having won the Conference Carolinas tournament to take the automatic bid. They won four games in a row to earn the ticket and No. 8 seed in the regional.
The offense is paced by freshman Christina Melcher, who hit .402 for the year with 22 extra-base hits and 42 RBI. The Lady Tornado have five starters hitting over .300 for the season and a team on-base percentage of .354.
Hannah Light is the staff ace, registering a 1.51 ERA with a 19-4 record on the season with 21 complete games.
Columbus State, the PBC Tournament champion and ASU's opponent in the opener, split their season series with the Jaguars. Catcher/outfielder Casey Googe blasted 21 homers on the season, 10 more than teammate Morgan Knight to lead the Peach Belt Conference in power. In the circle, the Lady Cougars boast two hurlers in Mollie Russell and Taylor Turner with sub-2.00 ERAs, including Russell's 0.91 ERA with a 20-10 record.
It won't be the easiest road to an NCAA Super Regional, but the trio of Camp, Jones, and Thornton has been a part of a school-record 140 victories so far in their four years, and four other seniors (Headrick, Hughes, Renae Kimbell, Kaitlin Harris) have plenty of experience playing in one of the top conferences in the nation.
The only question remaining is what legacy they will leave.
To view the ASU Softball NCAA Southeast Regional Media Supplement, visit http://jaguarsroar.com/x/66q7g.
For all regional news, stats, webcasts and more from the 2012 NCAA Southeast Regional, visit the Tournament Central home page at www.saintssports.com/tournament/2012softballregional/index.
2012 NCAA Southeast Regional
Haines & Carolyn Hill Stadium
May 4-6, 2012
Saturday, May 5
Game 3 (1:30 PM): Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner | Live Stats | Live Video
Game 4 (4:00 PM): Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser | Live Stats | Live Video
Game 5 (6:30 PM): Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 winner | Live Stats | Live Video