NAIA Softball Championship Qualifiers Announced
KANSAS CITY -- The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) has officially released the field of 32 teams for the 2012 NAIA Softball National Championship, held May 17 - 23 at the Gulf Shores Sportsplex in Gulf Shores, Alabama. The event is hosted by the Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Sports Commission, in conjunction with the University of Mobile, for the second-straight year.
Among the 32 teams is Central Methodist, (40-12) which is breaking the longest drought of any team in the field. The Eagles last made the trip in 1981 in their only other previous action. That year, they defeated Wayne State (Neb.) 3-1 and lost to Wisconsin-Parkside 9-2 and Erskine (S.C.) 6-3.
The Eagles won the Heart of America Athletic Conference regular season and tournament championships for the first time since 2008. Central Methodist is 3-4 this season against six different teams (Bethany, Mobile, Oklahoma City, Olivet Nazarene, Shorter, Thomas) that qualified for the National Championship.
The National Championship opens May 17 with pool play beginning at 9 a.m. CDT. There are eight pools of four teams apiece competing through May 19 for the best record. Central Methodist will carry live video coverage of its three pool play games May 17-19.
The eight winners from each pool then meet in double-elimination bracket play, which starts May 21 at 10 a.m. There will be live video streaming from the NAIA starting with the 5:30 p.m. games on May 21 The pool play assignments and schedule will be announced on Wednesday by 3 p.m. CT.
The current field is comprised of 23 automatic qualifiers based upon their conference / independent / unaffiliated group tournaments, eight at-large selections, which were determined using the final Top 25 rating released today and the host berth, Mobile.
Defending national champion Oregon Tech (39-7) headlines the list of qualifiers. Champions out of the Cascade Collegiate Conference Tournament, the Hustlin' Owls went 7-1 overall during the 2011 National Championship to take home their first hardware. This trip is the third overall for Oregon Tech and the club is trying to become the third team in NAIA history to repeat.
Oklahoma City (40-18) is making its NAIA record 21st-straight trip to Gulf Shores. The Stars own the most national championships (8) and carry an all-time best 103-38 postseason mark to the Yellowhammer State. Oklahoma City is trying to capture its first title since 2007.
Top-ranked Concordia (Calif.) (top left picture) brings a 54-3 overall record into the tournament. Holding the top spot in the Coaches' Poll for the last six weeks, the Eagles broke the NAIA regular-season win streak earlier this year. They rattled off 44-consecutive wins before a loss to Azusa Pacific (Calif.) on April 17. Concordia is 6-7 all-time in three previous championship appearances.
Mobile (30-17) punched its 17th ticket to Gulf Shores, which is the second most-appearances among this year's participants. The Rams are 49-32 in championship action.
Overall, 18 teams have won at least one previous National Championship, with four of those programs holding multiple titles. Five teams in this year's field display at least one trophy on their campus: Lubbock Christian, Mobile, Oklahoma City, Oregon Tech and Thomas.
There are six rookies in the 2012 championship field: Auburn Montgomery, Bethany, Indiana Wesleyan, Southern Nazarene, Talladega and Williams Baptist. Last season, there were seven newcomers to the event. Besides this list, Indiana Southeast and Reinhardt are searching for their first championship victory.
There are 13 repeat qualifiers from last season. Conversely, of the teams that have appeared at least one previous time, Texas Wesleyan (25-17), out of the Red River Athletic Conference, is also dusting off the cobwebs. The Rams last played in the 1984 event.
Overall, there are 12 programs making at least their fifth National Championship. Of those teams, only Oklahoma City and Mobile are playing in their 10th-or-more event.