No. 3 seed RCTC softball team 'very confident' heading into region tournament
RCTC, the No. 3 seed, will face No. 2 Anoka-Ramsey in the opening round of the softball Region XIII Tournament on Thursday in St. Cloud
ROCHESTER — The Rochester Community and Technical College softball team is not lacking confidence as it heads into the four-team Region XIII tournament this week in St. Cloud.
The Yellowjackets are the No. 3 seed and they went a combined 1-7 against the top two seeds during the regular season. But first-year coach Jaimi Stejskal said her team is “very confident” heading into the double-elimination event, in which the winner earns a berth in the Division III NJCAA National Tournament.
“We’re going into this tournament hungry to advance,” Stejskal said. “I’m excited for this team.”
Stejskal is not only in her first season coaching the Yellowjackets, but RCTC also has an entirely new roster from a year ago. Despite that, RCTC has posted a 26-20 record and has won nine of its last 12 games.
“We weren’t sure what we were going to have with all new freshmen and also a new coaching staff,” Stejskal said. “But this team worked really hard, is strong and has grown and has come together as a team.”
RCTC will face No. 2 seed Anoka-Ramsey Community College in the opening round at 10 a.m. Thursday. No. 1 St. Cloud Community and Technical College will play No. 4 Minnesota West Community College in the other first-round game.
The Yellowjackets were 0-4 against Anoka-Ramsey during the regular season, but Stejskal said playing better defense can fix a lot of RCTC’s woes.
“They have a strong, seasoned team, but we can play with them,” Stejskal said. “We just need to have consistent solid innings defensively. Usually we have one or two innings where we struggle and aren’t there to support our pitching.”
The Yellowjackets have excelled offensively this season. They have averaged 8.1 runs per game while hitting .390 as a team with a .448 on-base percentage.
“Our hitting is solid,” Stejskal said. “We are a strong hitting team so if we can jump right away and score and chip away each inning, there is a good possibility we will be able to take game five away from Anoka.”
Bella Mehrkens , a Pine Island High School grad, has been a key player both at the plate and in the circle for RCTC. She leads the team in batting average (.495), home runs (8), doubles (12) and RBIs (50). On the mound, the right-hander is 11-7 with a 5.53 ERA.
Third baseman Kelsey Grunewald, the team’s cleanup hitter, is batting .465 with 11 doubles, 5 triples, 3 home runs, with 48 runs scored and 44 RBIs.
“She is determined and aggressive and hungry and has been a great leader for us this year,” Stejskal said.
Leadoff hitter Journey Smith has played strong defense in center field and is batting .397 with 10 doubles, seven triples, four home runs, with 46 runs scored and 34 RBIs.
Abby Scanlan of Stewartville has also played strong defense at shortstop while batting .378 with 11 doubles, three triples, 42 runs scored and 31 RBIs while hitting in the No. 3 spot.
“When we have fun, we have success,” Stejskal said. “We just want to win each inning and put it all out there. We have nothing to lose so we’re going in hungry for that win in Game 1.”
The two winners in the first round advance to the 4 p.m. winners bracket final on Thursday. The losers play at 2 p.m. in an elimination game.
On Friday, play will continue at 10 a.m. The title game is at noon and the if game is at 2 p.m.
RCTC posted a 1-3 record against St. Cloud during the regular season and was 4-0 against Minnesota West.
“The girls know they can beat St. Cloud,” Stejskal said. “My team’s young, but they know they can do it. Our strategy is to work to win each inning. That’s the philosophy we have. We’re looking forward to the competition and feel confident that we have the ability to turn it on and do what we need to do to have success.”