LAFAYETTE — The yearly battle to become the next Florida Atlantic begins in earnest Wednesday in San Marcos, Texas at the Sun Belt Conference softball tournament.
In the 15-year history of the tournament, the 2007 Florida Atlantic team has been the only team not named UL-Lafayette or South Alabama to emerge as the conference tournament champion.
But history looks like it could keep on repeating itself this season, as the Jaguars and Cajuns enter the tournament as the top two seeds, earning byes straight into the double elimination portion of the tournament.
With an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament on the line, some team will have to topple the powerhouses to keep its season going beyond this week’s tournament. In order to do that, it’ll have to get past Wednesday.
The first day of tournament action will be a single-elimination round. The tournament starts at 10 a.m. Wednesday, with a game between in-state rivals Georgia Southern and Georgia State.
The fifth-seeded Panthers just missed out on a top-four seed, meaning they have to win two games to advance to the double elimination portion of the tournament. The only question is whether they have the pitching to get through, because their offense was dynamite.
Georgia State led the league in home runs with 98, 21 of which came off the bat of SBC Freshman of the Year Ivie Drake. The Panthers batted at a .341 clip, and also led the league in scoring and total bases.
But they also struggled in the circle, where they finished the regular season with a 5.38 team ERA. And if they get past Georgia Southern Wednesday morning, they’ll likely face the league’s pitcher of the year in the night cap.
Jaycee Affeldt anchored the fourth-seeded Trojans rotation in her senior season, going 17-10 with a 2.51 ERA while also recording three saves. She will probably get the call in a win-or-go-home situation Wednesday evening against the winner of the Georgia Southern and Georgia State game.
UL-Monroe and UT-Arlington will play the second game, and the winner of that game advances to face a red-hot Texas State club in the last game of the single-elimination portion.
The Bobcats have won eight straight conference games entering the tournament, including a dominant sweep over UT-Arlington in the regular season finale.
After Wednesday’s action is complete, the tournament shifts into the double elimination format.
South Alabama is looking for its first title since winning back-to-back championships in the 2012 and 2013 seasons. The Jaguars will attempt to get back in the title game with the league’s second most stingy pitching staff.
The Jaguars almost exclusively went with freshmen Kalen McGill and Devin Brown and senior Farish Beard in the circle this season, and that trio responded by posting 2.51 ERA while posting a 34-10 record.
The Jaguars will face the winner of the Texas State and UL-Monroe/UT-Arlington game.
The Cajuns enter the tournament as the league’s best pitching and hitting team. Powered by SBC Player of the Year Lexie Elkins, the Cajuns belted 97 home runs and hit .355 as a team.
In the circle, the Cajuns held opponents to a .184 batting average, and allowed just 86 earned runs in 45 games.
The Cajuns will face the winner of the Troy and Georgia State/Georgia Southern game.
The championship game will take place Saturday at 1 p.m. All three Friday games and Saturday’s championship game will be broadcast on ESPN3.