PLANT CITY, Fla. - Any good general knows that you have to have all your troops available when you engage in a prolonged battle.
Such is the case for Northeastern A&M head softball coach Eric Iverson as the sixth-seeded Lady Norse face 11th seed Georgia Perimeter College Thursday at 1 p.m. in the opening round of the National Junior College Athletic Association Division I Fast Pitch Tournament at the Plant City Softball Complex.
“Not only do we feature four pitchers on our pitching staff,” Iverson said. “But, our entire 18-player squad is completely healthy and ready to go.”
Making their seventh appearance in the national tournament as the Region II representative, the Lady Norse have won six straight games and 36 of 37 while compiling a 50-5 season record.
NEO defeated Connors State 4-2 to win the Region II crown on May 6 in Oklahoma City.
“We're coming off a four-game sweep of the Region II Tournament, which is no small feat in itself,” Iverson said. “As a team, we know who we are and what we are capable of achieving. Now, all that's left is for us to keep going.”
Georgia Perimeter, of Decatur, Ga., earned a berth in the double elimination national tournament May 6 after fighting back through the loser's bracket of the Region XVII Tournament in Dublin, Ga.
Coach Ed Schutte's Lady Jaguars dropped a 4-2 decision to Darton College in the opening game of the regional.
On the brink of elimination, the Lady Jaguars won the next five games to capture their first-ever regional title.
The Lady Jaguars defeated Gordon College 5-0 and Abraham Baldwin College 5-4 on May 5 before eliminating Darton 9-4 and beating Middle Georgia 12-3 and 7-1 on May 6 for the championship.
“This team never gave up and found a way to win when their backs were against the wall,” Schutte said. “These players earned a trip to the NJCAA tournament with heart and a no-quit attitude.
“It feels awesome to lead this team to the nationals,” Schutte said. “They came together as a team and proved to other Georgia teams that they belong in the tournament.”
Entering the tournament with a 38-14 season record, the Lady Jaguars broke the school's record for most wins in a season. The previous record was 37 victories set in 1992.
During Schutte's seven-year stint as head coach, the Lady Jaguars has a 182-101 combined record.
“We know that Georgia Perimeter leads the nation in hitting with a .486 team average,” Iverson said. “They appear to be very solid throughout their lineup.”
The Lady Norse enter the tournament with a three-pitcher rotation that includes two sophomores.
Candace Handley, an all-Region II first-teamer of Broken Arrow, leads the Lady Norse mound corps with a 27-2 overall record.
Handley, who missed all last season with an injury, ranks 23rd in the nation with a 0.996 earned run average in 168.2 innings of work.
Handley has recorded 153 strikeouts and only 34 walks.
Veteran Emily Harp, of Sapulpa, has compiled a 7-1 record in 60.1 innings for the Lady Norse.
Harp has a 1.86 ERA with 40 strikeouts and 17 walks.
Freshman Faith Richmond, of Greenwood, Ark., is 15-2 on the season with a 4.13 earned run average in 95 innings.
Richmond has recorded 54 strikeouts and 34 walks.
“We lead the nation with a .910 winning percentage as a team,” Iverson said.
“We're swinging the bats real well right now and we think we can put some runs on the board.
“Not only do we have a mature lineup, but they play solid defense,” Iverson said. “We're not flashy in the field, but we make all of the routine plays.”
Ranked fifth in the nation with a .401 team batting average, the Lady Norse lineup features Handley in the leadoff spot followed by left fielder Tia Reich, catcher Shareena Pulse, shortstop Shae Peterson, right fielder Becca Carden, first baseman Marie Audette, third baseman Maria Bernal, designated player Leslie Hobbs, center fielder Erin Eddy and Kae Lani Bryan starting at second base.
Handley is hitting .422 with 34 runs batted in and five home runs in 173 at-bats.
Reich, a Broken Arrow freshman, has a .393 batting average with 29 RBIs in 178 at-bats. Reich has three home runs.
Pulse, a Skiatook sophomore, leads NEO with 13 home runs and 57 RBIs in 1666 at-bats. Pulse is hitting .422 on the season.
Peterson, a Broken Arrow freshman, leads the Lady Norse with 76 hits in 179 at-bats for a .425 average.
Peterson is tied with Pulse with 57 RBIs while hitting 12 home runs.
Carden, a Miami freshman, leads NEO with 13 stolen bases while hitting .423 with 48 RBI and seven home runs.
Audette, a Montreal, Quebec, sophomore, is hitting .351 with 24 RBIs and one home run while stealing nine bases. Audette has also pitched seven innings and earned a 1-0 record.
Bernal, a Tulsa sophomore, leads the Lady Norse with a .422 average in 154 at-bats. Bernal has three home runs, 34 RBIs and nine stolen bases.
Hobbs, a Bristow freshman, has a .410 batting average in 100 at-bats with 34 runs batted in and six home runs.
Eddy, a Broken Arrow freshman, is hitting .394 with 31 RBIs and three home runs. She has also recorded nine stolen bases.
Bryan, a Picher freshman, leads the Lady Norse infield with a .996 fielding average while hitting .308 in 39 at-bats.
Leading hitter for the Lady Jaguars is freshman outfielder Brittany Daniel of Dublin, Ga. Daniel ranks ninth in the nation with a .517 average in 145 at-bats. Daniel has 16 RBIs.
Freshman catcher Shelley Jenkins of Lawrenceville, Ga., ranks 12th in the nation while leading the Lady Jaguars with 15 home runs while hitting .458 in 153 at-bats.
Jenkins ranks second on the team with 50 RBIs.
Freshman pitcher Lauren Palmer of Cumming, Ga., leads Georgia Perimeter with 54 RBIs while hitting .419 with six home runs in 155 at-bats.
Palmer has a 13-5 record with a 3.87 earned run average in 103 innings of work.
Sophomore pitcher Missy Herren of Lawrenceville, Ga. leads the Lady Jaguar staff with a 17-8 record and a 2.69 ERA in 164 innings.
Herren has recorded 132 strikeouts and 39 walks. She is also hitting .375 in 40 at-bats.
Veteran infielder Kelly White of Oxford, Ga. is hitting .441 with 53 RBI and seven home runs.
White has compiled a 3-1 record as a pitcher with a 2.80 ERA in 25 innings.