The Western Nebraska Community College softball team will be entering the Region IX tournament as one of the favorites to bring home a regional title when the tournament kicks off Friday at Volunteer Field in Scottsbluff.
The top-seeded Cougars, 32-18 on the season and winners of 16 of their last 18 games, will be host to the tournament and open tournament play at 11 a.m. on Friday against fourth-seeded McCook Community College. The other first-round game pits No. 2 Otero Junior College against No. 3 Trinidad State Junior College at 2 p.m.
The championship game is slated for 3 p.m. Saturday with the winner hosting the district finals against the winner of the Kansas region.
The WNCC softball team will be vying for its first regional title since 2016. The players are anxious to get started and give it their best shot to bring home another regional title.
“We need to play to the best of our ability,” sophomore pitcher Emma McMillan said. “It is important we come in as a team like we have been doing all year, play strong, play confidently, and do the little things right. With that I am confident that our team can win this.”
But it is not going to be an easy trek to the title. All four teams in the field are capable of winning it all. Trinidad State, the number three seed, have won the last two regional titles, beating Otero a year ago.
WNCC has lost only six conference games this season compared to double-digit losses to the other five conference teams. The Cougars enter regionals on a 9-game winning streak and have scored the most runs in conference play among the other teams. WNCC has scored 294 runs and given up 148. Otero has scored 248 runs and allowed 197.
McMillan, who tied a school record for 15 strikeouts in a game against McCook earlier this season, said this team has plenty of depth and talent to accomplish the goal of a regional title.
“From the instance I saw the team and saw the incoming freshman, I knew we would do well this year,” she said. “I could see the natural talent that we had and how everyone bought into the program and bought into the team philosophy, and having more players than last year does help.”
Last year the Cougars lacked in depth and featured just two pictures. This season, the depth is plenty with four pitchers and a couple catchers. The big thing it isn’t just one person leading the charge, the 32 wins have come from an army of weapons.
“Everybody on the team plays a very important role, whether if it is in the field or on the bench,” McMillan said. “Everyone contributes to the wins. We definitely have more depth than last year. A lot of great incoming freshman came in this year and really changed the team dynamic. It has been a good season player-wise.”
The Cougars have four capable pitchers. McMillan leads the team with 136 innings pitches with 80 strikeouts and an ERA of 3.80. McMillan has registered 13 wins from the circle this season. Freshman Mickie Mills and Emma Glawson have added depth. Mills, who has tossed 93 innings, is 9-4 on the year with 73 strikeouts and a 4.13 ERA, while Glawson is 7-4 on the season with an ERA of 5.06 with 27 strikeouts. Reagan Solomon is the fourth pitcher that has tossed 13 innings with three strikeouts.
Offensively, WNCC is batting .357 as a team while tallying 111 doubles and 64 home runs on the season. Michaela Kelly leads the team with a .480 batting average with 13 home runs, 72 RBIs, and 61 runs scored. Glawson is next with a .471 average with 18 doubles and eight home runs. Bri George has a .434 average with 10 home runs, 43 RBIs, and 32 runs scored, while Mills is batting .414 with 13 home runs, 14, doubles, 44 RBIs, and 60 runs scored.
McMillan said anyone can provide heroics on any given day.
“Obviously the stats speak for themselves,” she said. “We have been playing well and playing together and that shows in our team record. It is important we keep playing strong as we go into the last tournament.”
The players know they have to stay on the top of their game. In several wins over the past month, the Cougars found ways to win games in the final innings after trailing by several runs. That is something that makes this team dangerous, but McMillan said they can’t do that in the tournament.
“We do know how to come back but we are hoping not to,” she said. “We are hoping to start out strong and stay strong the whole time.”
McMillan added that having won the conference like they did, does put a bullseye on their back, but the pressure is nothing new from any other game.
“There is always pressure to do well,” she said. “There is always pressure to win. But it is a good kind of pressure. It is the pressure you get excited for. These are why you play the game. The stakes are high, but the win will be fantastic”
And a win for the sophomore pitcher from Abbotsford, British Columbia, would be special. It has been her dream to win a championship. A win this weekend will also allow WNCC to host the district finals against the Kansas regional winner.
“Honestly it has always been the goal [to win a championship],” she said. “It would be a dream come true to come here and accomplish something. We haven’t won it the last couple years. But this is our year, our time to win it, and I want nothing more to walk away with the Region IX championship. But, we are going to take it one day at a time and I am going to try to play on Volunteer Field as much as I can.”
Softball Region IX Schedule
11 a.m. – No. 1 WNCC vs. No. 4 McCook
2 p.m. – No. 2 Otero vs. No. 3 Trinidad
5 p.m. – WNCC/McCook winner vs. Otero/Trinidad winner
8 p.m. – WNCC/McCook loser vs. Otero/Trinidad loser
12 p.m. – Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 winner
3 p.m. – Championship game
11 a.m. – If-necessary championship game