It took 20 hours for the Apache Ladies softball team to travel by bus to the NJCAA Division I National Tournament.
But as far as the Tyler Junior College squad is concerned the Apache Ladies would have journeyed by stagecoach to compete for a national championship.
TJC gets that chance beginning on Wednesday in St. George, Utah. The Apache Ladies (50-17) are seeded No. 8 and, ironically, will play another Texas team - Howard College (46-12) - in the first round at 4:30 p.m. (Central). The Lady Hawks are seeded No. 9.
There are 16 teams in the double-elimination tournament that is being played at the Canyons Complex.
If the Apache Ladies defeat Howard, they will play either No. 1 Butler (Kansas) (53-1) or No. 16 Snead State (Alabama) (30-39) at 3:30 p.m. Thursday. However, a loss means TJC will play at 6 p.m. Thursday.
Tyler is 3-1 against Howard this season. The Apache Ladies won 7-5 and 10-7 on Feb. 17-18 in Weatherford and 12-7 on March 4 in Big Spring. The Lady Hawks won 9-8 later that day in Big Spring.
TJC and Howard are joined by two other Texas teams - North Central Texas (Gainesville) and San Jacinto-South (Houston).
North Central Texas (41-24) is seeded No. 13, while San Jac (41-19) is No. 7. NCT plays No. 4 Chipola (Florida) (57-6) at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, while San Jacinto meets No. 10 Chattanooga State (44-11) (Tennessee) at 8 p.m.
“We have to have great pitching, that’s the key component and timely hitting,” TJC coach Maria Winn-Ratliff said. “There have been games where we’ve had some great hits, but unfortunately we couldn’t string some hits together. So if we get some good pitching in the circle from our staff and get some timely hitting and play good defense (we should have a good tournament).”
The Apache Ladies finished second in Region XIV to San Jacinto and have been ranked all season. They concluded the regular season with a No. 11 ranking. Howard is ranked No. 15.
“I’ve told them all along I think they are the best team in the country,” said Winn-Ratliff, who is in her first year as TJC coach but led Western Nebraska to five World Series. “They don’t have to prove it to me; they have to go prove it to everyone else.”