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FRIDAY, MAY 18, 2007
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Top-ranked team knows Decatur, now ready for title

By Ashley Hargrove
sports@decaturdaily.com 340-2460

California Baptist's softball team knows all about Decatur.

Wilson Morgan Park has hosted the NAIA softball championships every year since 2000, and the Lancers have participated in the last three. They're back this year, and they're expected to make another long run in the tournament.

Head coach Mike Smith's Lancers have finished second at the NAIA championships the past two years. This year's tournament begins Friday and continues through Wednesday, and California Baptist (50-4) enters as the top-ranked team in the NAIA's final poll of the season.

"We've been to Decatur the past four years, and every year we've been here we've had to stop and eat at Big Bob Gibson's," head coach Mike Smith said. "The hospitality here is extremely nice. We love getting the chance to play here."

As for having gained plenty of experience in playing in Decatur, Smith added with a laugh, "It's nice to be able to drive around the town and not have to use a map."

The NAIA softball championships include 20 teams, and it's the focal point of their season. California Baptist is no different.

"Coming to Decatur for us is like going to Omaha and Oklahoma City for Division I teams," Smith said, referring to the locations of the NCAA baseball and softball tournaments, respectively.

Based in Riverside, Calif., California Baptist finished second last year to Mobile and to Simon Fraser in 2005, and Smith is hoping for a different outcome this time.

"The fire has been burning to come and win this thing," he said.

"When you get to this point, records don't matter. Everyone is at ground zero. If we play well, we have a good shot at winning."

The Lancers will open the tournament with pool play Friday at 9 a.m. against Virginia-Wise and 2 p.m. against Dickinson State (N.D.).

Pool play will continue Saturday, with California Baptist getting a rematch with Mobile at 9 a.m.

"There's no special game plan," Smith said. "We're just going to play every game like we've played all year long.

"Hopefully, we can play the game like we know how and come out with a victory."

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