The University of North Georgia (UNG) softball team will travel to Oklahoma City this week to compete in its fourth NCAA Division II Softball Championship after winning the NCAA Division II Southeast Super Regional tournament at home on May 16.
"Making the championship is a tremendous honor, and shows the team's dedication and determination," said Head Coach Mike Davenport, who has led the Nighthawks to eight conference titles since he began coaching the team in 2002. "For many of our seniors, their first season as freshmen was the year after our three-year championship appearance run, so there were high expectations and a lot of pressure. Now the team has gotten us back to the championship, which is not easy in our conference, and unique to this series is the venue, the place where the Division I College World Series has been held for many years. Our players have watched this venue growing up, so this really adds a special feeling to the honor."
The Nighthawks sealed their championship bid with a 2-0 win over Georgia College & State University during the second game in the best-of-three series. Courtney Poole – the team's ace pitcher – delivered a three-hit shutout to take her record to 42-3. The previous day, the Nighthawks won the marathon first game of the series 9-5 on a 12th inning walk-off grand-slam by Tiffanie Burns.
The Nighthawks start the championship series May 21 against 10th-ranked University of Indianapolis, whom the Nighthawks bested 5-3 at the beginning of the 2015 season. The team heads to Oklahoma City with a 49-7 record.
Davenport, who has a record of 597-184 in 14 seasons at UNG, added that UNG's program and Indianapolis' program have both changed since the teams faced each other at the beginning of the season. Indianapolis has one of best teams in the country every year, Davenport said, so the Nighthawks "will have our work cut out for us."
The last time UNG advanced to the national championship tournament was 2011; the program earned a spot in three championships in a row from 2009-11. For Sarah Phillips, UNG assistant coach, this will be the fourth time she has represented UNG at the championship – three times as a player and now as a coach.
The other seven teams in the championship tournament are Dixie State University, St. Mary's University, Shorter University, University of Indianapolis, Adelphi University, University of Central Missouri, and California University of Pennsylvania.
The softball team clenched its second consecutive Peach Belt Conference (PBC) title earlier this year.
During the season, Poole earned several honors and awards. She was named a top three finalist for the Schutt Sports National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) Division II National Player of the Year Award; the winner will be announced May 20. She also was named the 2015 Peach Belt Conference Pitcher of the Year as well as the 2015 Daktronics Southeast Region Pitcher of the Year.
Kim McMillan made the top 10 finalists for the Schutt Sports NFCA Division II National Player of the Year Award along with Poole, and both were named to the NFCA 2015 NCAA Division II All-Southeast Region first team and now qualify for selection to the 2015 NFCA All-America squad. Meagan May was a second team selection.
To follow the Nighthawks in their championship play, fans can visit http://ungathletics.com/sports/2015/5/17/15sbncaa.aspx?id=85.