Softball team earns postseason berth

Sophomore catcher and utility player Carey Grace Peebles celebrates with assistant coach Whitney Hawkins after getting on base against the University of West Alabama Feb. 28. The Lions are the No. 3 seed in the GSC tournament.

The UNA softball team has reached the end of the regular season and is gearing up for postseason play. The first order of business is the conference tournament, which UNA has not won in softball since 1987.

The No. 14 Lions clinched a berth in the GSC tournament earlier this season. Going into the final series of the regular season, the Lions were sitting in third place in the conference behind two more of the nation’s best teams — No. 10 University of Alabama-Huntsville and No. 1 Valdosta State.

“Our mindset for the tournament is just to take it one game at a time,” said senior outfielder Libby Olinger. “We want to come out aggressive and playing to our ability, not our opponents. I believe if we do this we can beat anyone in the tournament.”

UNA still feels the pressure, although it secured the No. 3 seed for the tournament.

“From here on out, everything is so important,” said head coach Ashley Cozart. “Every game matters.”

The format for the GSC tournament changed since last season. Only the top six teams in the conference standings make the postseason. Going into the final weekend, the final seeding had not yet been determined, but the top six teams have been decided: Valdosta State University, UAH, UNA, Shorter University, Union University, and Delta State University, respectively.

Lee University and Mississippi College — both of which had better conference records than Delta State — are not eligible for the tournament because both are still going through the reclassification process.

The absence of the Flames and Choctaws may benefit the Lions. UNA was 1-2 against Lee in the regular season and did not face Mississippi College.

Statistically, the competition may seem to fall off after the three and four seeds, but the girls are not overlooking any team.

“I don’t think (team records) will play a part in it,” Olinger said. “So many teams can get hot at the right time.” We are going to focus on ourselves and what needs to be done to win no matter who we are playing.”

There is a chance UNA could face UAH or Valdosta State. Despite Valdosta State’s consistent ranking as the No. 1 team in the country, the team feels UAH could be the biggest competitor in the tournament.

“We beat them three out of three at our place, so (UAH) is going to be hungry to beat us,” Cozart said.

Revenge is a great motivator, but UNA is confident they can dispel any hopes of Charger retribution.

“I think UAH will be out for revenge. They are a great team and not many teams sweep them,” Olinger said. “I believe they will give us the most trouble, but I know we can handle it.”

The Lions are not just playing in hopes of a GSC championship but also have eyes set on hosting the regional tournament when the NCAA postseason revs up. UNA’s play in the GSC tournament could have an effect on the regional as well.

“Right now we’re sitting in second for a regional bid and everything that happens from here on out could affect that,” Cozart said. “We just really want to be able to host that regional.”

Hosting the regional would be a historical moment and a huge advantage for the Lions.

“Home field advantage would be awesome. It would be great to have all our fans there and playing on our field,” Olinger said. “It would also be the first time for UNA to host regionals so we are going to give it our all to have the home field advantage. It would be another history making moment for us.”

Valdosta State will host the GSC tournament in Valdosta, Georgia starting April 30.