CLINTON, Miss. - Cool, calm and relaxed.
That's how Kirkwood softball coach Joe Yegge described his team at the NJCAA Division II national tournament Wednesday.
The Eagles scored nine runs in the bottom of the first inning and blasted Kankakee, 17-0, in five innings in the opening round of the World Series at Traceway Park.
Natalie Halvorson (26-8) pitched a one-hitter with five strikeouts with another impressive showing. Halvorson tossed a perfect game in the district finals last week against Nebraska Central.
Kirkwood (49-11) will face Phoenix (50-8) in the winners bracket quarterfinals Thursday at 3:30 p.m.
The Eagles are making their fourth straight appearance at the World Series and sixth trip in 11 years under Yegge. He liked his club's attitude on the big stage Wednesday.
"I think this is the loosest that I've seen our team (at nationals)," he said. "They're relaxed, they're playing loose, they're playing for each other. I think to get a game like that under our belt like they did, I think it's good for us."
The DMACC Bears, undefeated at 45-0 and seeded No. 1, are favored to win the tournament. Everyone else, including the fifth-seeded Eagles, are hoping to make their mark as well.
"It's one of the lowest seeds we've had in awhile," said Yegge. "There's one team down here that is probably expected to win it. We're just playing our game and doing what we do.
"We still have our expectations, but we're not caving to everybody else's expectations."
The first seven batters in the lineup got base hits for Kirkwood in the bottom of the first inning. Rachel Stewart led off with a single, Kenady Waugh got a single and Mayhew singled to drive in Stewart.
Kuch singled to load the bases, then Bevans unloaded for her grand slam and 17th homer of the year to make it 5-0 with nobody out.
"I think everybody took a breath of fresh air and just stayed relaxed with it," said Yegge. "I didn't expect 17 runs the first game. We're just playing relaxed right now, and that's how we have to approach this week."
Kirkwood scored four more times in the second inning, with Sonya McCormick collected a two-run double. The Eagles added another run in the third inning and tacked on three more runs in the fourth for the 17-0 bulge.
Halvorson tossed a 1-2-3 inning in the top of the fifth and the game was over.
If the Eagles defeat Phoenix on Thursday, they'll probably face DMACC in the winners bracket semifinals on Friday. DMACC swept the four-game series from Kirkwood this season in the ICCAC conference.
Phoenix, seeded No. 4, blanked Pitt, 6-0, in the first round. The double-elimination tournament runs through Saturday.
Kankakee 000 00 - 0 1 4
Kirkwood 941 3x - 17 18 1
W - Halvorson (26-8). L - Cole.