Bill Lafond is quickly developing a slogan for his Dawson Community College softball program: "Come to Dawson and see the world."
World Series, that is.
For the third straight year, the Lady Buccaneers have advanced to the Junior College Division III World Series. This year's national tournament starts Friday in Joliet, Ill., and Lafond is more than a little optimistic about his team's chances.
"We are one of the two or three best teams in the (eight-team) field," said Lafond. "Our goal for three years has been to still be around on Sunday for the championship game. This year we won't be satisfied with anything less than that."
The Lady Bucs will face DuPage, Ill., in Thursday's first round at 1 p.m. Mountain time. The winner will play a quarterfinal game at 5 p.m. Thursday and the loser will fall into loser-out play Thursday night.
Lafond feels this year's team is the strongest in his four years as DCC's head coach.
"This is the best team I've coached," he said via cell phone Tuesday from Chicago. "This is the first team I've had that is very good in all aspects of the game … we have great pitching, great hitting and we play great defense.
"I've come to expect us to hit the ball up and down the lineup in every game … and I've come to expect our pitching and defense to shut down the other team in every game."
The Dawson offense is led by sophomore second baseman Brooke Lowman of Laurel and sophomore outfielder Kaila Fowler of Great Falls.
Lowman, who bats in the cleanup spot just behind Fowler, is batting .389 with 10 doubles, five triples and four home runs.
Fowler, a junior college All-America basketball player for Dawson, is batting .385 with six home runs and nine doubles.
Other leading hitters for the Lady Bucs include shortstop Michelle Block of Florence (.383), freshman catcher Laura Harthan of Whitefish (.328), sophomore third baseman Chelsea Rathie of Billings (.324) and sophomore first baseman Amanda Babon of Frenchtown (.364).
In addition to a good balance of power hitters, singles hitters and bunters, Lafond said the most impressive thing about the Lady Bucs offense is their patience at the plate.
"We've scored about two-thirds of our runs from the fifth inning on," he said. "Our girls don't get too excited if a pitcher shuts them down the first time through the order. They stay patient and wait for a pitcher to make a mistake, and then jump on it."
Sami McDonald of Laurel is the ace of the DCC pitching staff. The sophomore right-hander is 16-8 on the season with a 1.97 ERA and 115 strikeouts in 149 innings.
"Sami started the season a little slow, but she is just dominating right now. Her ERA so far in the postseason is 0.97," said Lafond, whose team went 3-0 at last weekend's Division III Region 13 tournament. "She's a hard thrower who likes to jam hitters inside … she hits a lot of batters because she likes to pitch inside so much, but she usually comes back with a couple strikeouts."
Rathie, with a record of 11-8, is the team's No. 2 starter.
Dawson is 28-17 overall this season and 8-1 against Division III junior colleges. Lafond said the significant number of games DCC played against four-year schools has paid big dividends.
"Every time we lost a game, we learned something from it," he said. "The maturity of this group is one of their best qualities. We have 10 sophomores, and eight of them played at last year's World Series … that's one of the reasons why I like our chances so much."
(Mike Zimmer can be reached at 657-1291 or email@example.com)