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Dickinson State faces Cal State San Marcos in NAIA opening round

Press Photo by Royal McGregor Dickinson State freshman Alex Vargas hits against Valley City State during the NAIA Unaffiliated Tournament on May 3 at Gress Softball Complex.

The Dickinson State softball team possessed a meager 11-13 record on April 6.

From that point on, all the Blue Hawks did was win 14 of their last 15 games.

DSU punched its ticket to the opening round of the NAIA National Tournament on May 5, by winning the A.I.I./Frontier Conference Tournament championship at Gress Softball Complex.

The No. 4-seed Blue Hawks (25-14) face top seed Cal State San Marcos (40-10) on Monday at noon in St. Joseph, Mo., on the campus of Park University. Park is the No. 2 seed and faces No. 3 Marian (Ind.) at 9 a.m.

It's a four-team, double elimination regional with the tourney winner advancing to the national championships on May 24, at Columbus, Ga.

DSU lost to both CSSM and Park this season, losing by a combined three runs.

"We have a good idea of what they're about," said Blue Hawks coach Kristen Fleury, who was named A.I.I./Frontier Coach of the Year. "We're going to be able to use previous games in the season that we played against them in our favor."

The Blue Hawks feel that they are a much better team than the last time they tangled with the Cougars and Pirates.

"We were in there the whole time. Just one or two things could have changed the game," said shortstop Alex Vargas, who was named A.I.I./Frontier Freshman of the Year. "Everybody had their clicks in the beginning. Everyone was on their separate ways. But everyone came together recently and I think that's been really good for us."

DSU is making its fifth appearance in the NAIA tourney, where it is 14-10 all-time.

It's the second trip to the tourney under Fleury.

The dramatic season turnaround saw the Blue Hawks increase their hitting percentage and play better defense as the season progressed.

"We're getting solid pitching, we're playing defense well and we're actually hitting the ball. At this time of year, that's all you can ask for," Fleury said. "We didn't have all three of those things going for us early on in the season."

A fast DSU start versus CSSM is important.

"Our problem usually is we can't adjust to a pitcher," Vargas said. "If she's throwing something we can't hit, we'll go an entire game without adjusting. I think being able to adjust early in the game and having solid D, then I think we'll be fine."