Softball: Owls gain berth in NCAA Regional Tournament

First tournament bid for program in over nine years

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Softball: Owls gain berth in NCAA Regional Tournament

versus Maryland on Feb. 15. Photo by Ryan Lynch.

versus Maryland on Feb. 15. Photo by Ryan Lynch.

versus Maryland on Feb. 15. Photo by Ryan Lynch.

versus Maryland on Feb. 15. Photo by Ryan Lynch.

Ryan Lynch, Staff Writer

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Tension hung in the air Sunday night as members of the Florida Atlantic softball team sat at Tilted Kilt in Boca Raton. They had just lost the final of the Conference-USA tournament 3-1 to Western Kentucky University on Saturday, giving the Hilltoppers the C-USA playoff berth.

The players were waiting anxiously for the clock to strike 10 p.m., when the NCAA tournament selection show was to air on ESPNU. Their only hope to advance to the postseason was to be selected for one of the 32 at-large bids, for which any high performing team could be picked.

“Considering it was the first watch party I ever participated in to see if we were picked for regionals, you could only imagine the anxiety and excitement,” said junior second baseman Melissa Martinez. “I looked to my right and one of my teammates was already in tears waiting for the announcement.”

When the show came on, the players grew silent in anticipation. Focus in the whole restaurant was shifted to the TVs. The team sat at the mercy of the selection committee.

As soon as FAU popped on the screen, the group exploded into a show of extreme joy. Players laughed, hugged and cried with teammates; it was a payoff that calmed all the nerves and fears of the whole process, a culmination of the regular season as a whole. A flurry of tweets accompanied the announcement, with players expressing their happiness or love for teammates.

Martinez was beside herself. “My mind was trying to process what was happening, but my emotions completely took over and I couldn’t think of anything other than how happy and excited I was for the opportunity.”

The tournament will be the first time any of the players on roster will be in the NCAA regional, as the Owls have not reached that point of the postseason since 2006.

The Owls were selected to go to the Gainesville, Florida regional, hosted by the no. 1 ranked team in the country, the Florida Gators. FAU has not played the Gators this year, but they have played their other two opponents in the regional (Hofstra and Florida A&M). FAU beat FAMU 18-0, and won one as well as tying one against Hofstra. Their first game is versus Hofstra on Friday.

“As for Hofstra and Florida A&M, we have beat them both and I am confident with the way our team is playing right now,” said Martinez. “but every game is different, so we have to bring our A-game regardless who we are playing. [We] can’t take any team lightly in this tournament.”

In the 21-year history of the softball program, FAU has never advanced past the regional tournament. But in moments like this, it seems anything is possible until the final out is made.