On the screen was the selection show for the NAIA tournament, revealing which regionals the 40 teams would be relegated to.
The Lady Eagles didn’t have to wait long.
Not only did Reinhardt (40-6) come up in the first regional that was revealed — hosted by Belhaven University in Clinton, Miss. — but it claimed a No. 1 seed.
Coach Glen Crawford said the players were excited when they saw their draw.
“They saw that we were the No. 1 seed, but we also knew it was time to go to work and back up the No. 1 seed,” he said.
Even with the top seed, Crawford said the Lady Eagles aren’t feeling too much pressure. After all, they were a preseason favorite for the AAC title and entered the season ranked 13th in the nation.
“It’s like I’ve told the kids early on, they are reaping the benefits of everything from the class before them,” Crawford said. “There are a lot of freshmen on our team who are going to get everybody’s best because they are Reinhardt and they didn’t do anything to deserve it. They take it in stride, so I don’t if there is whole lot of pressure on No. 1.”
Of course, Reinhardt doesn’t want to go out and struggle, and Crawford doesn’t seem too concerned about that happening.
Reinhardt will begin the Belhaven regional Monday by facing LSU Alexandria (22-28) in the second game of the day. Belhaven (35-12) and William Woods (Mo.) (24-14) play in the other game.
Games in the double-elimination regional will continue Tuesday, with a regional champion crowned Wednesday. That team will advance to the 10-team championship tournament in Columbus.
The Lady Eagles are in the NAIA tournament for the third straight year. As the regular-season champion of the AAC, they received an automatic bid.
And while many of the players are young and haven’t been to the NAIA tournament, they all have big-game experience.
Two of Reinhardt’s top hitters are freshmen. Kaley Garmon is hitting a team-high .414 with seven home runs and 41 RBIs, while Shelby Sinclair is batting .400. Creekview High School product Alexis Chumbler, another newcomer, is hitting .373 with six homers and 35 RBIs.
The Lady Eagles’ primary pitcher, Maddie Monroe, is a veteran of NAIA tournament play. The senior is 24-1 this season with a 1.28 ERA and 196 strikeouts and 170 innings.
“There is a little fear of the unknown with so many freshmen who have not played on the national stage,” Crawford said. “To their credit, you can look at the high schools that they have gone to. They have all played in the state tournament and have played on big stages. They have tournament play. They have been to nationals with travel-ball. They have all played at the highest level, so I need to just have them go out and do what they have been doing the last three months.
“I’ve told them to go play our ball and make them play up to us.”