The Seward County Community College softball team enters this weekends NJCAA Division I Region VI Softball Tournament as the two-time defending tournament champions. The past two seasons Seward County has hosted the tournament in Liberal, and also played on the road. This year the tournament will be held in El Dorado, Kan., on the home field of No. 1 tournament seed Butler Community College (43-11). The No. 2 seeded Lady Saints (47-11) open tournament competition on Saturday, May 5 against No. 3 seed Garden City Community College (29-17) at 1 p.m., and will play the winner/loser of Butler verses No. 4 seed Colby Community College (21-29). The winner of the two-day, double-elimination Region VI Tournament will advance to the NJCAA Division I National Tournament, May 17-19 in Plant City, Fla.

Seward County won the regular season series against Garden City, 3-1. The Lady Saints swept the doubleheader in Garden City 13-3 and 6-5, while picking up the win in game-one at Lady Saints Softball Field 3-2 (eight-innings) and dropped the nightcap 13-2 (six-innings). In four games against the Lady Busters this season, Seward County was led offensively by Jena Rue (.571, four doubles), Rachel Balencia (.500), Jennifer Collins (.462, two home runs, five RBI) and Haley Martin (.417). Seward County sophomore Dana McLaren won all of the Lady Saints games against Garden with a 3-0 record, 2.90 earned run average, in 19.1 innings pitched.

Garden City is led by right fielder Becky Diehl, who last time against the Lady Saints went 4-for-4 with four doubles and two RBI. This season, Diehl is leading the Lady Busters in batting average (.448) and is second on the team in home runs (11) and RBI (42). The other offensive threat for Garden City is Ashley Rowland, who leads Garden City with 11 home runs and 54 RBI. Rowland is also batting .394 this season. The Lady Busters top pitcher this season is Mandy Rutledge, who is 27-18 with a 3.22 ERA, with a team-best 105 strikeouts. Rutledge is the only GCCC pitcher to earn a win against the Lady Saints but has allowed 10 earned runs against Seward County in 12 innings pitched.

Seward County’s leaders heading into tournament play are Collins (.434, seven home runs, 48 RBI), Rue (.433, 81 hits, 23 doubles, 60 RBI), Balencia (.426, seven triples, 42 RBI), Lili Franco (.416, 14 home runs), Rachel Adaza (.389), Haley Martin (.383), Sarah Venegas (.380, eight home runs, 71 RBI), Melissa St. Clair (.360, 16 doubles) and Meisha Patterson (.356, 80 runs, 13 home runs, 61 RBI, 26 stolen bases). The Lady Saints pitching staff will depend on Dana McLaren (23-6, 2.88 ERA, 88 strikeouts) and Stephanie McCarthy (23-5, 2.60 ERA, 67 strikeouts).

If the Lady Saints defeat Garden City, they will play the winner of Butler/Colby at 5 p.m. on Saturday in the winners’ bracket final. With a loss in the opening game, Seward County will face the Butler/Colby loser in the losers’ bracket at 3 p.m. on Saturday.