Lady Trojans ready for A-Sun Tournament

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 8, 2002

After winning 13 of its last 17 games, the Troy State softball team is set to begin its quest for the 2002 Atlantic Sun Conference Championship beginning Thursday at the Lady Trojan Softball Complex.

The six-team, double-elimination tournament will begin on Thursday at 9 a.m. and conclude with the championship game set for Saturday at 1 p.m.

Troy State will square off against Georgia State at 11 a.m. on Thursday.

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"Our team has come together during this stretch run," said Troy State head coach Melanie Davis.

"We’ve been hitting the ball very well and getting solid outings from each of our pitchers.

We set up our schedule to build our team up to the conference tournament, and we’re starting to peak at the right time."

Five of the six teams in the tournament were ranked in the latest NCAA regional rankings release.

FAU was No. 1 in the South region, with UCF coming in fifth, Stetson sixth, Troy State seventh and Jacksonville State ninth.

"There is so much parody in this league, that anyone of the six teams could win the tournament," Davis said. "We’ve got five teams ranked in the region, and everyone had a solid non-conference schedule to prepare for this tournament.

This weekend is going to provide the fans in our area the opportunity to watch some top-notch Division I softball."

The Lady Trojans are seeded second in the tournament after finishing their conference schedule with a 13-5 record.

Troy State finished the regular season with a 45-18 record, including a win over then-No. 20 Florida State.

Troy State will begin its quest against fifth-seeded Georgia State. The Lady Panthers rallied late in the year, winning seven of 10, including a split with Florida Atlantic, to finish their A-Sun slate with 10-8 record.

"Georgia State is a difficult first-round opponent," Davis said. "They are looking to get even after we swept them during the regular season.

They have a good pitcher in Andrea McNary and have an explosive lineup."

Five-time defending champion Florida Atlantic won the regular-season conference title and is ranked 10th nationally.

The Lady Owls tore through their A-Sun schedule, rattling off a 16-2 record. FAU opens the tournament against sixth-seeded Jacksonville State on Thursday at 9 a.m.

"The road to the title runs through Florida Atlantic," Davis said. "They are very good team and have shown over the past five years that they are tough to beat. They’ve got great pitchers and always seem to get that clutch hit when they need it."

UCF and Stetson, who tied for third place in the conference with a 12-6 record, will face each other in the first round.

UCF is seeded third after winning the tiebreaker against Stetson, with the Hatters seeded fourth.

The Golden Knights, in their inaugural season, finished the year with a 44-17 record. UCF split its A-Sun doubleheader with Florida Atlantic and comes into the tournament having won seven of their last eight.

Stetson also is in the midst of a breakthrough season.

The Hatters have already broken the school record for most wins in a season with 45 and have been receiving votes for the Top 25.

"UCF and Stetson are both very solid teams," Davis said. "Both teams are led by their pitching.

UCF has a great pitcher in Dottie Cupp, and Stetson has a great 1-2 combo in Melanie McElhaney and Jennifer Buckley."

Jacksonville State comes in as the No. 6 seed after tying Georgia State for fifth, but losing in the tiebreaker.

The Gamecocks are reeling coming into the tournament, having lost nine of their last 10 games.

"Jacksonville State had their top pitcher get injured, and that changed their whole team," Davis said. "They should have her back for the tournament, and that will probably give their team a breath of fresh air. JSU has a solid lineup and is one of the best hitting teams in the conference."

Troy State is looking for a breakthrough at the A-Sun Championship, having finished as the runner-up two of the last three seasons. Last season, the Lady Trojans rallied from the No. 6 seed and a first-round loss to FAU to face the Lady Owls again in the championship game, falling 1-0.

In 1999, the last time Troy State hosted the tournament, the Lady Trojans lost to FAU in the winner’s bracket finals and rebounded in the loser’s bracket to get another crack at the Lady Owls. FAU came out with a 6-2 win and their third straight title.

"We’ve had some tough luck against Florida Atlantic," Davis said. "It’s always tough to win that first one, but once you do, you know what you have to do to win again. Florida Atlantic is the team to beat and everyone is gunning for them, but they are used to that.

They know they are the top dogs and that someone has to knock them off. Maybe this is the year."

Tournament passes are still available and are set at $15 for all three days.

Admission for Thursday’s games is $10, Friday’s games $8 and the championship game on Saturday $5.