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MW SOFTBALL: West enters tourney on a roll

WORTHINGTON -- Being the No. 1 seed heading into the MCAC Southern Division Softball Tournament might seem like a good thing on paper, but Lady Jays head coach Rosalie Hayenga-Hostikka knows that once the postseason begins, anything can happen.

"On paper, it is nice to be the No. 1 seed in the tournament," Hayenga-Hostikka said. "But realistically, it doesn't matter at all. Once you get out of pool play, you get re-seeded anyway. Anything could happen over those two days."

Finishing the regular season with an 8-2 conference record, the Lady Jays tied St. Cloud Tech for the best record in the Southern Division. However, Minnesota West won the tie-breaker based on its better record against Division III schools.

"Division records this year are a little skewed," Hayenga-Hostikka said. "All the games that counted for us were homes games, while other teams were on the road for all their important games. So, we know we can't put too much stock into anyone's record."

Minnesota West rides a four-game winning streak into today's pool play games against Riverland and Anoka-Ramsey.

"I think we really started to turn things around in the Fergus Falls game last weekend," Hayenga-Hostikka said. "We were able to improve even more at Riverland on Tuesday and we are feeling pretty good about how we have been playing."

However, prior to the streak, the Lady Jays were coming off an 18-day layoff due to winter weather and it showed in the way they played.

"We had a few tough outings at Rochester and at [Ridgewater]," Hayenga-Hostikka said. "We had a lot of mental errors, but we set a goal for ourselves to get better every game. We were playing to improve and get ready for the tournament."

If Minnesota West wants to make a deep run in the Divisional Tournament, they will need to play solid defense and cut down on errors on both sides of the ball.

"We have just one pitcher and she might have to throw in five games over two days," Hayenga-Hostikka said. "She is going to get tired and the other teams will hit her. That means everyone is going to have to play good defense behind her."

While the Lady Jays will need to play strong defense in the field, they will also have to continue to put runs on the board. Minnesota West outscored its opponents 36-9 in the final four games of the regular season.

"Another way we can help out pitcher is by scoring runs when we are at the plate," Hayenga-Hostikka said. "Our offense starts with our leadoff hitter Alayna Hall. When she is on base, a lot of good things happen. She causes the other team to have to focus on her, which allows our other hitters to do their thing."

Even though the Lady Jays will be relying on the top of the order to get on base and score them runs, Hayenga-Hostikka knows that the bottom of the order can be just as important.

"If we can get even a little production from the bottom of the order, that would help us a lot," Hayenga-Hostikka said. "I have always liked to have a strong player at the No. 9 spot who has a high on base percentage. They can really help out the top of the order if they get on base."

The No. 1 seeds coming out of pool play receive first round byes, while the No. 2 seed from Pool A takes on the No. 3 seed from Pool B, with the winners moving on to the semifinals. The teams that finish in the top three spots in the Divisional Tournament qualify for the Regional Tournament.

The Lady Jays open up pool play today against Riverland at 3 p.m. and then face Anoka-Ramsey at 5 p.m.