North Dakota State University is just five years removed from the NCAA Division II softball championship tournament.
Now the Lady Bison are headed for the NCAA Division I super regionals.
Nicole Rivera and Melissa Chmielewski each hit solo home runs as North Dakota State completed a surprising sweep through NCAA softball regional play with a 4-1 win Sunday against Tulsa. NDSU (38-18) now moves on to the 16-team Super Regional level.
The Lady Bison's reward? Defending national champions Arizona State.
Andi Padilla gave up just two hits and one earned run in the championship game.
Bison head coach Darren Mueller was ecstatic after the win, “The first thing I have to say is how proud of I am of our players. This is something that we dreamt about when we went through the transition and something we talked to them about when we recruited them."
The Bison opened their home schedule on Apr. 28. On May 2, the Bison celebrated their last home game of the season.
Mueller felt the long season on the road prepared the team for the run, "I think that helped us in the long run in preparing as a team and being with each other and playing at some big venues."
“The road is kind of our home and it is odd when we have a home series. I think that we are really comfortable away from home with a different crowd, we love it. We are used to it and I think that it helps in these kinds of situations," said Padilla
The Lady Bison will take on the Sun Devils for a place in the Women's College World Series.
Not only did NDSU throw a wrench in the tournament, Jacksonville State, in Alabama not Florida, punched their ticket to the NCAA Super Regionals Sunday night.
The Lady Gamecocks downed national No. 13 seed Tennessee twice after taking down Nebraska in the opening game of the day to earn a spot in the second round of the tournament.
"Like I said, this team had the philosophy, coming in here, that we will fight, we will fight, we will fight until the end. I’ve been on them that you take one inning at a time, one pitch at a time. You don’t look at three games.
"This morning when we woke up, all we were focused on was Nebraska, the first inning, the second inning, then the third inning. I’m sure these girls had the same mentality that I did," said Gamecocks head coach Jana McGinnis.
Jacksonville State will tangle with Alabama for the second straight year. The Crimson Tide shut down the Gamecocks in the regional finals last year.
Senior catcher Allie Barker has been the heart of the JSU squad. "Allie could play catcher anywhere in the SEC," said McGinnis, "but she grew up JSU. She has a pride in JSU."
Barker's father is a legend in Jacksonville and Barker felt obliged to continue the tradition.
Barker is eager to get to Tuscaloosa, where the Gamecocks are two games away from the World Series, “I think for me and I think also for the team, we’re going to have to keep doing it like coach said, one game at a time, one pitch at a time, one play at a time.
"Not worry about the name on the back of the jersey, just worry about our team, and sticking together, and playing as a team. When we play as a team, who knows what we can do. Just slow down the game, play it one pitch at a time.”
One pitch at a time is the Gamecocks' strategy.
Hopefully these two teams, North Dakota State and Jacksonville State, will represent their smaller conferences and smaller communities well.
Good luck, ladies.