Posted: 05/17/2012 | Last updated: May 18, 2012 at 07:13 AM
NORMAN, Okla. – The Lehigh softball team made its final preparations for its upcoming NCAA Regional appearance with a workout on a hot, sunny Thursday afternoon at the OU Softball Complex. The Mountain Hawks (40-17) will be challenged right off the bat by the national No. 4 seed Oklahoma Friday at 7:30 p.m. (CST).
Thursday began with the Mountain Hawks taking advantage of some free time and nice weather by taking in some of the sights on the OU campus. The team then went through a two-hour workout at the OU Softball Complex, which was followed by the pre-regional press conference, where senior captains Audra Wood and Julie Fernandez and head coach Fran Troyan met with members of the media.
"We are absolutely thrilled to be out at the University of Oklahoma," said Troyan. "We were here in our first regional appearance back in 2001 and on that trip everybody was incredibly professional, treated us very kindly. It is hard to believe that people have gotten even better at what they do and more nicely since we’ve arrived and we’re thrilled to be in Sooner land and thrilled to have an opportunity to compete tomorrow night against one of the top teams in the entire land."
Oklahoma was the sight of Lehigh’s first NCAA tournament appearance back in 2001 and Troyan talked about what’s changed within the Lehigh program since the Mountain Hawks last visited Norman.
"We have been able to build more depth across the board with our program," Troyan explained. "Because of our success, we are recruiting each year players and a class that are slightly better than the class they are replacing. Audra (Wood), Julie (Fernandez) and the senior class are part of class that was a little bit better than the class they replaced and we just seem to be getting a little bit better. That’s just one of our goals on a yearly basis, to be a little bit better than the year before."
Lehigh has the tough task of dealing with the Big XII Champions, who enter regional play at 45-8 with a litany of stars, including pitcher and national Player of the Year contender Keilani Ricketts.
"Tomorrow honestly what we are trying to focus on is controlling ourselves and controlling our emotions," Troyan said. "We always talk about we can’t control with our opponent, we can only control ourselves. Our goal tomorrow is to play as well as we possibly can play. If we can do that, we’ll see how things shake out."
Lehigh owns a 6-14 all-time record in regional play. The Mountain Hawks have twice advanced to regional finals, reaching the third day of competition in 2006 and 2009, when Lehigh’s current seniors were just freshmen. They believe that previous experience will help the Mountain Hawks play a relaxed game come Friday.
"Our freshman year we played at Florida and made it to the final round there," Fernandez said. "That was the most fun I’ve ever had playing softball, and I was only a freshman. We were extremely relaxed."
"Our class was there in Florida our freshman year," Wood added. "We’ve been there, we’ve had the experience. I hope that we will be able to show the underclassmen that it is all right and we can just go out there like coach said just play loose. I think that our class can lead by example and I think that we will have some followers."
Following the workout and a team dinner, the Mountain Hawks enjoyed an evening out at L. Dale Mitchell Park, as they watched Oklahoma host Samford in the first game of a three-game non-league series.
Lehigh and Oklahoma will play in Friday’s second game, with first pitch tentatively set for just after 7:30 p.m. The Norman Regional will open up when Oregon State meets Tulsa at 5 p.m. All of Lehigh’s NCAA regional action can be heard online at Lehighsports.com. Pregame coverage on Friday begins at 7:15 p.m.