For the third time in the past five seasons, LSU Eunice is heading to the NJCAA Division II softball World Series.
But this time, the Lady Bengals are the defending national champions, top-ranked team and the top seed in the tournament.
No. 1 LSUE (49-9) will take on No. 16 seed East Central College (28-30) at 9:30 a.m. this morning as the tournament begins at Traceway Park in Clinton, Miss.
“I think we are ready,” LSUE head coach Andy Lee said of the Lady Bengals. “We are throwing strikes, playing really good defense and hopefully that combination will help us through the tournament.”
LSUE (58-10 last year) won the 2011 championship with a 10-0 win over Owens Community College as tournament MVP Haley McCall hit a three-run home run in the first inning and Tina Schulz pitched a shut-out.
The Lady Bengals set an NJCAA National Tournament batting average record as LSU Eunice hit .424 in the tournament. They also set a tournament record with a .992 field percentage.
Top-ranked and top-seeded Eunice defeated Cecil Community College 14-0 in round one, then went on to knock off South Mountain 7-6, Owens 6-0 and Kankakee 12-7.
The Lady Bengals made a short-lived appearance in the 2009 NJCAA National Tournament, their first in school history.
“We don’t have the home run and doubles threats that we had last year,” Lee said. “But we have really good speed and we are starting to get the clutch hits when we need it.”
Lee said the experience of winning the regional at the same park will help.
“We know how the field plays and the nerves of the first game shouldn’t be as bad,” the coach said. “We also know what it takes to win the title.”
The Lady Bengals are led in the circle by Nortwestern State signee Kaylee Guidry (Walker) and Lamar signee Tina Schulz (Oak Ridge).
Guidry is 24-4 with a .90 ERA, giving up 119 hits and striking out 159 in 173 innings. "Kaylee has really stepped up for us lately," Lee said. “She was dominant for us in the regionals.
“Tina has done well with her bat as well as her bat.”
As a pitcher, Schulz is 24-4 with a 1.06 ERA with 157 strikeouts in 172 innings. As a hitter, she's hitting .445 with 18 doubles, seven home runs and 52 RBI.
“Last year we were kind of nervous as we had never been there,” Schulz said. “Now we know what to do. We know we have a big target on us as national champions but we are ready.”
“Kaylee and I are both really good pitchers and we push each other every day,” Schulz said. “If one of us is not doing well, the other can step right in and pitch.
“Pitching and defense is how it has been all year,” Schulz said. “We don’t allow many runs to score against our defense and we manufacture more runs with key hits than depending on a home run to win it for us.”
Behind the plate is UL-Monroe signee Emily Trahan, who the pitchers depend upon each pitch.
“She gets a lot of strikes called for us,” Schulz said. “She does a good job blocking the plate and doesn’t let many pitches get by her.”
For the Vermilion Catholic product, the second trip to the series is the best way to finish her LSUE career.
“We were so pumped to get there last year,” she said. “Hopefully we have more confidence and play well like we did in regionals. We need to play defense, pitch and step up at the plate like we did last week.
Trahan (.378 BA, 21 RBI) said Schulz and Guidry are very different style pitchers to catch for.
“Tina may be a little quicker than Kaylee,” she said. “But the spin on Kaylee’s ball is a lot different. It has to adjust when they switch in the middle of the game, but it works as we have been doing it all year.”
Jaci Trahan agrees that the Lady Bengals have what it takes to repeat as national champions.
“I didn’t know what to expect last year,” she said. “We know how to handle the pressure now and we are playing with a lot of confidence.”
For the season, Trahan is hitting .345 with three doubles and 21 RBI.
After pitching and playing short stop at Delcambre, Trahan moved to third base during her senior year and she covers the corner well for the Lady Bengals.
“We have a great defense as well as good team chemistry on the field,” Trahan said. “We have strong pitching and I am ready to hit the field and see what we can do.”
Freshman centerfielder Kelsey Hollier (.373 BA, 38 RBI, 16 stolen bases) said she is ready for the challenge of the series.
“The sophomores had the intensity and drive to win it back-to-back,” she said. “They pushed me hard and helped me become a better player. I want to help them do it again.
Hollier said their defense is the key to their success this season.
“When we step on that field we are ready to get after it,” she said. “If we can score early in the game, then when we get on defense we don’t want to give up anything.”
In the outfield, LSUE is led by SLU signee Logane Fuselier (.321, 27 RBIs, 4 HR, 21 SBs) who played a vital part in last year’s run through the playoffs.
“We had more power with the bats last year and we knew when we were down a hit would get us back up,” she said. “This year our defense keeps us in games and we found a way to score runs.
“We are ready to hit the field again,” Fuselier said. “Hopefully playing the humidity will give us an advantage over some of the other teams.”
Excellent pitching, superb defense, timely hits and the hot weather could help the Lady Bengals return to Eunice with their second straight title.
After playing at least two games today and on Friday, the Lady Bengals could advance to the championship game to be held at 1 p.m. on Saturday.