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Boxers fighting for tournament berth

Softball - Pacific can nab second place with games this week against Willamette and Linfield

Rain delays have forced the Pacific softball team to extend its season by a week, and the Boxers will be pushed to their limits by a pair of nationally ranked Northwest Conference opponents.

Pacific (29-7, 18-6) split a four-game series against Whitworth last weekend to stay in second place, but the Boxers will have to hold serve this week against No. 24 Willamette and No. 3 Linfield if they want to keep a hold on that runner-up position.

'We've got four games left and they're all important,' said Pacific head coach Tim Hill. 'I think that's a good thing. It's nice to be playing for something this late in the season. That hasn't happened in a long time.'

Linfield has already clinched the NWC Championship and a berth in the NCAA Division III National Tournament. For the Boxers, a strong showing in their final four games could not only secure a second-place finish, it could also land the team in the NCAA tournament.

Pacific is currently No. 5 in the West Region rankings, which are used to determine at-large seeding for the tournament. Wins over ranked opponents could help the Boxers' cause - otherwise the team could be on the outside looking in despite one of the best seasons in school history.

'We've got a real tough task in front of us,' Hill said. 'Willamette is playing real well right now. They're probably the best hitting team in the conference. And Linfield is Linfield. They're probably the best team in the country.'

Pacific was scheduled to play Willamette on Tuesday but results were not available at press time. A Pacific sweep would guarantee the Boxers second place in the NWC standings, while a split would leave second to be determined by the outcome of the Linfield series.

With all the permutations possible based on this week's results, Hill said the Boxers' task is simple - win.

'I don't quite understand the whole process in terms of how they decide what teams make the tournament,' he said. 'The best way of getting included is to keep winning. It's that simple.'

If nothing else, Pacific - which is unranked in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Top 25 poll despite having a better record than 16 ranked teams - can earn some much-needed respect with a strong stretch run.

'I think a lot of it is name recognition,' Hill said of the ranking and tournament selection process. 'I think we're right on the cusp.'

The NCAA tournament field will be selected on Sunday and brackets will be posted by 7 a.m. on Monday. To view the bracket, go to www.ncaa.com.