LSUE freshman catcher Abbey Higginbotham
LSUE softball earns No. 1 seed in National Tournament
For the fifth time in the program's storied history, LSU Eunice has earned the number one seed in this week's NJCAA Division II Softball National Tournament at Traceway Park in Clinton, Miss. LSUE (47-6) will face Hagerstown CC in the opening game of the tournament today at 1:30 p.m.
The Bengals come in red hot, currently on a 12-game win streak and fresh off the team's fifth Region 23 Championship.
"I was very proud with how our team has started to hit its stride in the last few weeks," LSU Eunice head coach Andy Lee said. "We were able to thrive in a tense environment at Regionals and I hope that carries over this week to Nationals."
LSUE is matched up with the 16-seed, Hagerstown CC, representing Region 20 with an overall record of 36-9. The Hawks are making their fifth trip to the National Tournament and the program's first since 2006.
Hagerstown is led by reigning NJCAA Division II Pitcher of the Week, Emily Talbert. The sophomore threw four complete game victories to put her Hawks in the National Tournament and sports a 13-3 record and 2.19 earned run average this season. Hagerstown team earned run average is 2.35, ranked 11th in NJCAA Division II.
The Hawks' offense has the 13th best team batting average in NJCAA Division II (.377), with five batters over .400 including leading hitter Cierra Beaver and her .466 average.
"We're going to have a tough challenge in our first game with a talented Hagerstown team," Lee added. "They're riding a hot arm into Clinton and those teams up north are typically a very difficult opponent."
LSUE will once again rely on the pitching duo of Heather Zumo and Jensen Howell. The pair limited opponents to under three runs in each of the Bengals' Region 23 Tournament games and only two total earned runs. Howell also sparked the Bengals offensively with two home runs in LSUE's Region 23 Title game.
No. 1 LSU Eunice and No. 16 Hagerstown are joined by No. 4 Highland, No. 5 Itawamba, No. 8 Madison, No. 9 Johnson County, No. 12 Louisburg and No. 13. Kankakee on one side of the bracket.
The other side of the 16-team double elimination tournament includes No.2 Des Moines Area, No. 3 Phoenix, No. 6 St. Louis, No. 7 Kirkwood, No. 10 Illinois Central, No. 11 Sinclair, No. 14 Cuyahoga and No. 15 County College of Morris.
The Bengals return to the National Tournament for a ninth trip with a 34-8 record and five National Championships. LSUE is the one-seed for the first time since 2014.
The Bayou Sports Network will have a live audio feed of all LSUE games at the National Tournament. Should the Bengals advance to Game 27, all games will be broadcasted on NJCAA TV.
Notre Dame connection
A pair of former Notre Dame standouts are on the Bengals’ roster and each freshman has contributed to LSUE’s march to the National Tournament.
Abbey Higginbotham has split time at catcher with sophomore Hannah Carpenter (Friendswood, Tx.) and has played in 34 games, starting 27 of them. In 84 plate appearances, the Church Point native is hitting .310 with eight doubles, a home run and 15 RBI.
Kennedy Smith, another freshman, has played sparingly in the outfield. The Rayne native is hitting .294 with a double and two RBI in 17 plate appearances.
The Bengals have are looking for their sixth national championship and third in the last four years.
Notre Dame has had at least one player on LSUE’s roster in four of their five championship seasons - Taylor Simon (2013), Taylor Boulet and Alexa Thibodeaux (2014), Allie Daigle (2016) and Mima Doucet (2017).
In 2011, Iota head coach Leah (Andrus) Marcantel was a leader both at the plate and in the circle for the Bengals during their first championship run.