DEFIANCE, Ohio – The Defiance College softball team is set to compete in its tenth consecutive HCAC Tournament this weekend on the campus of Transylvania University. The Jackets will enter the double-elimination tournament as the three seed, after posting a 12-4 mark in conference play this season.
This year's HCAC Tournament will be the last for the class of 2009, a group that has tallied over 100 wins in its time at Defiance. "Beginning the HCAC Tournament is like starting a new season," said head coach Jodie Holava. "We will just have to take it one inning at a time and rely on the experience of our senior class to help make this tournament a memorable one."
The Jackets enter the weekend on a four-game winning streak, ending the regular season with sweeps of Mount St. Joseph and 2008 NCAA Tournament participant, Denison. Defiance will look to extend that streak away from the friendly confines of Sal Hench Field, which should not bother this DC squad. The 2009 Jackets have compiled a 17-8 mark and are hitting .290 as a team outside of Defiance, while exploding for more than five runs in an inning eight times in those contests.
Melanie Bushman leads the Jacket offense with a team-best .350 batting average and 33 RBI, while sophomore standouts Mallory Faling and Tasha Stucke have been consistent hitters in the heart of Defiance's lineup. Faling, coming off All-HCAC honors in 2008, is hitting .303 with four long balls and 24 RBI in her second campaign with DC. Stucke, one of the top defensive shortstops in the conference, has been deadly with runners in scoring position, hitting .447 in those at-bats. Amanda Auzins has proven reliable in setting the table for middle of the Jackets' batting order, hitting .339 with 10 RBI since taking over the lead off spot.
The key to Defiance's success will be its play defensively. "All four teams in the tournament are good offensively," said Holava. "It is going to come down to who can step up and make the big plays defensively."
That is where three-time All-HCAC selection Justine Johnston and the HCAC's top-ranked defense come in. Johnston leads the Jackets with 14 wins and a 2.17 ERA, having tossed four shutouts this season. The senior led DC to the tournament championship in 2008, posting a 3-0 mark with a 1.00 ERA to help Defiance end its title run unblemished. Johnston and the Jackets' pitching staff are helped by one of best defenses in school history, as the 2009 squad has a DC-best .966 fielding percentage heading into the weekend.
DC is set to face Bluffton University in the first round of the tournament, a team that the Jackets have become accustomed to facing in the opening day of action. Defiance has defeated Bluffton in the first round of the conference tournament in each of the past two seasons, using the victory a year ago as a springboard to its second HCAC Tournament title since 2005.
The Jackets will start their title defense at 12:00 p.m. on Friday, May 1. The winner of Defiance's contest with Bluffton will play the victor of the Anderson/Transylvania matchup on Friday, shortly following the first game of the loser's bracket that is set to begin at 2:00 p.m.