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Jeff Kolpack, Published May 08 2013

NDSU not overlooking Summit tournament field

FARGO – The Bison are hot, they’re playing at home, and they’re the four-time defending Summit League softball champions.

Still, North Dakota State head coach Darren Mueller had a stern message for his team this week: Don’t expect a fifth title to be gift-wrapped.

That’s one reason why the NDSU coaches are treating the Summit tournament that starts today at Ellig Sports Complex like a road game. The reason, Mueller said, is simple: His team has played only three games all season on its home field, so why change now?

Final exams are done, school is out and all that is left is softball. That’s not always a good thing, either, Mueller said. So all of the players will get the same kind of itinerary they got on the road.

“We’re trying to get them to understand that even if they have all of this free time, we have to make sure they’re not sitting in their rooms trying to think up all of these concoctions that could happen and trying to predetermine things,” Mueller said. “We’re trying to treat this as an away game as much as we can.”

NDSU has won 17 of its last 18 heading into today’s 1 p.m. first-round game against Missouri-Kansas City. Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne plays South Dakota in the other first-round game at 4 p.m. All games are at Ellig and because of the weather, NDSU didn’t play a game there until last weekend.

“It’s kind of weird being here,” said pitcher Whitney Johnson.

For Johnson, it’s another chance to reach an NCAA tournament. She’s the only senior on a team that is loaded with youth for one of the few times in Mueller’s NDSU coaching career.

NDSU last hosted the tournament in Johnson’s freshman year. The previous seasons’ regular-season champion is pre-determined to be the host site.

USD gave the Bison their only Summit loss this year at Ellig. NDSU swept South Dakota State in April at the Fargodome.

“We’re so used to playing at different fields all year that we’re just treating this as another field,” Mueller said. “We’re not putting much emphasis of being at home.”

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia