For a group having to climb out of bed at dark-thirty on a Sunday morning, the Angelina College Lady Roadrunner softball team was fairly cranked up as the players loaded their gear onto the bus taking them to Utah.
Most of the players, anyway.
There were a few bleary eyes, but for the most part, the Lady ‘Runners showed the excitement one might expect from making a trip to a national tournament.
“We could leave at three in the morning, and I think they’d be excited about this opportunity right now,” head coach Mark Mattson said. “We’re ready for the long haul.”
The players, coaches and staff members left at 6 a.m. on Sunday bound for St. George and the NJCAA Division I National Championship tournament. The players wore their practice t-shirts issued way back before the season began – the shirts sporting the number “1430” along with the words “Dream the Dream.”
The 1430? That’s the distance from Lufkin to St. George. The team has had this particular trip in mind – and as a goal – from the very beginning.
It’s the program’s second trip to St. George. The Lady Roadrunners of 2014 won the national title in one of the strangest runs imaginable: A 39-hour plane trip filled with delays, the team’s arrival on the day the first round began and an impressive march through the field culminating in a national championship.
Mattson said this time, the staff plans on arriving early enough to enjoy the entire experience – not to mention get a little rest before the first pitch.
“The first time, we coaches didn’t get to experience a lot of the stuff taking place at the beginning of the tournament, so a lot of this will be new for me, too,” Mattson said. “We’re going to get there early this time – hopefully – and be able to enjoy some of entire tournament experience.
“Other than that, it’s just go loose, play free and enjoy the experience. That’s our philosophy, and we’ll be alright.”
AC (40-11) finished the regular season ranked No. 16 and will face a tough draw in the tournament’s first two rounds: First up is No. 6 Salt Lake Community College, which finished the season with a 47-6 record. The Lady ‘Runners face the Bruins at 6 p.m. EST on Wednesday.
Should the Lady Roadrunners win that matchup, they’ll likely face a familiar foe in Round 2: The No. 5 Tyler Junior College Lady Apaches (57-7), winners of the recent Region XIV conference championship held in Lufkin.
And while the team certainly would love a little advance intelligence on a new team, Mattson said it’s even more important for the Lady Roadrunners to do what they’ve been doing all year.
“The one thing we wanted to check out was the pitching,” Mattson said. “That’s usually the difference maker in our game. Salt Lake has a very good pitcher from what I hear, but other than that we’re preparing for the things we want to do the right way. That will determine most outcomes in the games we play: Can we take care of what we’re supposed to take care of and do what we do? That’s the most important factor for us.”
During this past week’s tournament, members of that 2014 team attended the regional tournament in support of the AC program. Their presence, according to Mattson, provided a boost for his current players.
“I think our girls get it,” Mattson said. “With a lot of our former players showing up, the girls caught the meaning of how big it is to accomplish something like this, to be grateful for and to make the best of the opportunity.”
NJCAATV (njcaatv.com) will broadcast the semifinals and finals only. All other games will be available on StatBroadcast (statbroadcast.com). All other tournament information is available at https://www.sgcity.org/njcaa/.
The e-mail address for AC’s Sports Information Director is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sports Information Director Gary Stallard, who also serves as a Liberal Arts Instructor, begins his eleventh season with Angelina College. Following a career as a U.S. Marine, Stallard completed his bachelor’s degree at Stephen F. Austin University, where he majored in English and Journalism. For more than 16 years, he has worked as a sports writer/columnist/photographer for the Lufkin Daily News; he continues to contribute free-lance articles on occasion. Stallard has won several awards for writing, including the Golden Hoops Award for basketball writing in 2003, Regional Sports Writer of the Year in 2004, and the Texas Press Association’s first-place award for column writing in 2007 and in 2014. He has also done basketball, football and baseball radio and live streaming play-by- play and color commentary for an ESPN affiliate. Currently Stallard serves as play-by-play broadcaster for AC basketball, baseball and softball games.
Prior to arriving at Angelina College, Stallard taught English at Lufkin High School for four years. He currently teaches Developmental Writing classes at AC. He and his wife Susan live in Lufkin.
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