Samantha Dexter led the Eagles with 4 home runs and 35 RBIs in 2016.
Overland Park, KS - The No. 5-seed Avila softball team will begin their title defense on Thursday at 2 p.m. at Blue Valley Recreation Center (Field 23) when they face the No. 4-seed Culver-Stockton Wildcats in the first round of the Heart of America Athletic Conference Tournament.
Despite entering the 2016 Heart Tournament as the No. 5 overall seed, the Eagles will have a target on their backs as the defending champions after winning the tournament for the first time in school history in 2015. The Eagles were the No. 2 seed in 2015, and ran through the tournament undefeated to earn their first ever NAIA World Series Opening Round appearance.
The 2016 version of the Eagles enter the tournament with a lot of familiar faces from the 2015 team that won it all, including junior pitcher Tori Aziere and sophomore outfielder Abby King, both of which had breakout performances last season. King provided game-winning heroics in two of the team's victories, and Aziere was dominant while pitching with a torn rotator cuff in her throwing arm.
As for this year's opening round matchup, the Eagles will face a Culver-Stockton team that has won eleven straight games. Two of those victories came over the Eagles, both coming by a single run back on April 14.
Tori Aziere and Culver-Stockton's Sam Bolin were both brilliant in the circle in the first matchup between these two teams earlier this season, with the Wildcats besting the Eagles, 1-0 in Canton, Mo. Aziere struck out six over six innings, while Bolin struck out five in a complete game shutout. The Eagles seemed to have control in game two, and were about to force a split when Culver-Stockton rallied for four runs in the bottom of the seventh to steal a 6-5 victory and a sweep.
As in most 4-vs-5 matchups, this one could go down to the late innings, so the Eagles will hope to rely on their postseason experience they received last season when they won three postseason games with timely hitting in their final at bat. While the Eagles went 4-0 in this tournament last season, Culver-Stockton just missed making the tournament, finishing just outside of the top eight in Heart play.
The winner of Thursday's matchup will move on to face the winner of the Central Methodist vs. Missouri Valley matchup on Friday on Field 22, while the losers of each game will face off in an elimination game on Field 24. Both of Friday's games will be begin at 11 a.m.
Matchup: (5) Avila Eagles vs (4) Culver-Stockton Wildcats
Time: 2 p.m.
Location: Blue Valley Recreation Center, Overland Park, Kansas. Field 23
Media: Live Stats - Live Video