OCALA-- The College of Central Florida softball team isn't just going to the NJCAA National Tournament to see the mountains of Utah.
"We're going out there with the mindset of winning the whole thing," said CF coach Kevin Fagan, whose team qualified for its first-ever NJCAA Tournament earlier this month by winning the Atlantic District title in Pensacola.
"Florida always represents itself well and our mindset is to go out there and win. I feel good about our chances. We're organized and I feel that we have a good plan for when we get out there (to St. George, Utah, site of the tournament)."
CF earned the No. 8 seed for the 16-team tournament and will face No. 9 Lake Land (Ill.) on Wednesday at 6 p.m (EST).
If the Patriots win their opener, they will take on the winner between No. 1 Arizona Western (48-7) and No. 16 Spartanburg (S.C.) Methodist (36-12) on Thursday evening at 7.
A loss by CF sends it into the loser's bracket where they would play on Thursday afternoon at 4:30 against either Arizona Western or Spartanburg Methodist.
The defining moment of the tournament for CF (43-13) was an 8-7 win in 11 innings over longtime rival Santa Fe, winners of the Mid-Florida Conference.
The Patriots entered this season at 2-33 all-time against the Saints over the past decade and were 1-3 this spring entering the postseason against SFC.
CF battled back from a four-run deficit in the sixth inning and sent the game into extra innings, before capping ofF the 4 hour and 1 minute long game in the 11th.
"It's was huge to win that game," said Fagan. "Santa Fe had to win a lot of extra-inning and one-run games to win the conference title and to then come back and not only put ourselves in position to win, but get the job done showed a lot about our kids.
"They fought back to their credit and our kids believe that they are never out of a game."
CF might have lost in the FCSAA State Championship Game to Tallahassee (the No. 3 seed in the national tournament), but it showed how much it had improved from earlier in the season.
"We kicked it around some in the early going, but earlier this season we would have given up seven or eight runs in an inning like that," Fagan said. "We only gave up two runs in each of the first two innings and I think we've really matured as a team.
"They battled back from adversity and got things under control. Earlier this year, we had trouble giving up the big inning, but now our kids have been able to refocus."
The Patriots will go into the national tournament with one of the most potent offenses in the country.
CF has hit 63 home runs and has a slugging percentage of .521 and an on-base percentage of .407.
Jordan Lane (.392), Amy Szymanowski (.390, 19 HR), Autumn Hanners (.343), Taylor Morrow (.353), Lindsay O'Steen (.378), Cheyenne Blaha (.314) and Jessica Nathan (.313) have been the leaders at the plate for the Patriots on the year.
In the postseason, O'Steen is the top hitter, after a 12-for-23 performance at the state tournament.
"One through nine, we have players who can hit the ball out," Fagan said. "All year long, it has been different players stepping up and contributing.
"I like our lineup. We've got speed and power and play with a lot of confidence. We feel like we are never out of a game with the lineup that we have."
Nelson has won eight straight decisions and hasn't walked a batter in her last 23 innings of work dating back to early April. The Belleview High graduate went 2-0 in the state tournament, while Bowen and Hanners earned one win each.
CF's pitching staff will see a Lakers squad, which enters the tournament hitting .378 with 47 home runs. Lake Land is led by Sarah Lopsilvero (.479, 16 homers, 61 RBI) and Kaitlyn Crossen (.343, seven homers, 34 RBI).
In the circle, Lake Land is paced by Kaylee Childers (22-7, 1.66 ERA) or Carly Murphy (17-1, 2.10 ERA).