By Andrew Johnson

MUSKEGON – The Muskegon Community College softball team has two games remaining in the regular season, and the Jayhawks  have to win them both if they want to compete for a state title.LSJ Logo incert

That doesn’t mean the season will be over if they miss the Michigan Community College Athletic Association state tournament. Regionals still lie ahead, and MCC has already qualified.

But the chance to play in the state tournament next Saturday at Lansing Community College is important to the Jayhawks, and they want to earn their way in.Jayhawk

They are tied for second place in the Western Conference of the Michigan Community College Athletic Association with Kalamazoo Valley Community College and Kellogg Community College. They are 18-8 in the conference (34-12 overall) following Tuesday’s doubleheader sweep of Jackson College.

The top two teams in the conference make the state tournament.

But all the pressure is on MCC, because Kalamazoo Valley and Kellogg have completed their schedules with 19-9 conference records.

MCC will clinch second place and qualify for the state tournament with a doubleheader sweep of Ancilla College at home on Thursday, with the first game slated for 3 p.m. But if the Jayhawks lose even one of those games, they run the risk of finishing in third place or worse (due to the tie-breaker formula) and missing the tournament.

The state tournament combines the two top teams from the Western and Eastern conferences in a single-elimination format. The semifinals will feature the top seed of each conference playing the second seed of the opposite conference. The winners of the two semifinal games will meet in finals later on Saturday.

The winner of the state tournament will be crowned champion of the MCCAA.

“We talked about it today and late last night,” MCC Coach Ryan Schalk said about Thursday’s big doubleheader. “To finish in the top two would be the first time we’ve done it since 2012. For the team it would be huge. It’d show how far we’ve come.

“I expect we’ll be calm tomorrow because as a team they’re a pretty calm group. Sometimes they’re to calm, which could work in our favor, because they may not even think of the circumstances of the game.”

Although the state tournament means a lot to the Jayhawks, it isn’t their only goal in the next few weeks.

They have already clinched a place in the National Junior College Athletic Association Region 12 District I tournament scheduled for May 11-13 at Berliner Park in Columbus, Ohio. The tournament will include the top team from the OCCAC conference in Ohio and the top five teams from the Western Division of the MCCAA.

The champion of the regional tournament will advance to the NJCAA Division 2 national tournament at Traceway Park in Clinton, Mississippi May 18-21.

No matter where the Jayhawks end up being seeded in regionals, Schalk believes his team will be able to compete with anyone. MCC is currently ranked 20th in the nation in NJCAA Division 2.

“Going into the regional we know we can play with anyone who is going to be there,” he said. “Every team feels like they have a shot. Lansing Community College (which has clinched first place in the Western Conference) beat us four times, but there were one-run games. One hit or one run could make a difference. We split with the other top teams.

For the first time in his three years as head coach, Schalk has a team completely comprised of his own recruits, and he thinks it makes a difference.

“A big difference this season is that we have nine sophomores, so I think having nine instead of just a few has helped leadership,” Schalk said. “They kind of know what to expect this season.”

The Jayhawks have been led at the plate by Carrie Mesman with a .442 average and Katie Hendrickson with nine home runs. Briana Mairose leads the team with 45 RBIs on the season.

Morgan Engelsman leads the Jayhawks starting pitchers with a 12-3 record and a 1.89 ERA.