OU softball understands gravity of World Series appearance

Greg Mast
The Ottawa Herald

Ottawa University softball team’s run to the NAIA World Series has not been easy.

Ottawa coach Jay Kahnt, who has guided the Lady Braves to four NAIA World Series berths, said getting to the World Series is a tough chore.

The Ottawa University softball team won its second NAIA Opening Round tournament in program history this past week.

“It is not easy,” Kahnt, who earned his 499th career win the regional title game. “You have to be really good for three-to-five games, depending on the [regional] bracket. We were playing top-20 or top-30 teams in the country every time.”

Kahnt said seven or eight regional top seeds did not advance. He said top seedings and rankings are not always an indicator of who plays for a national title.

“We played well,” he said. “We have been fortunate this is twice in five years. There are no guarantees.”

Kahnt figures the 10-team, double-elimination World Series is wide open.

“Every team down there is a team that thinks they can win it,” Kahnt said. “You have to come to play. One bad game puts you in the loser’s bracket. You have to stay out of that loser’s bracket as long as possible.”

No. 20 Ottawa (44-5) received the fifth seed and opens the World Series 3 p.m. Thursday in Columbus, Georgia, against fourth-seeded College of Idaho (42-17). The Yotes were ranked No. 15 in the final NAIA poll.

Kahnt said the key to Ottawa’s success is to play free and easy.

“We try to play to our identity,” he said. “Why change now. It has worked for us in for 49 games. We are just playing softball. We have already proved we can beat some of the best teams in the country. Let’s just be us. It is still softball. Approach this like it is any other game.”

Kahnt said having fun is a big part of Ottawa’s success this season.

“Enjoy the process,” he said. “They believe in themselves and what they are doing. They are playing for each other. This team has that chemistry to allow themselves to play loose and be themselves.

“It is a true team effort. They have everybody’s back. Our bench has been phenomenal in keeping the energy up. We are all into this together, great things can happen.”

Ottawa is the hottest team in the country, bringing a 23-game winning streak into the World Series. The Lady Braves have proven they can win in a variety of ways.

“There is no one way to attack us,” Kahnt said. “There is not one way to beat us. You have to truly beat us in seven innings. We put up 11 twice in the Opening Round, which is against a top-25 team. We can win a 3-1 game which we had to do against the No. 2 team in the country.

“We can generate runs in a lot of different ways. We can play small ball. We can bunt for hits.”

Ottawa has a quick-striking attack. Ottawa is ranked first in triples and top-20 in doubles.

“We were able to score crooked numbers, which is what separates us,” Kahnt said. “We can throw [runs] up there in a hurry.

We understand that games are not won or lost in one inning. If we are down three or four, we are Ok. We can score five in an inning. It allows us to play more freely too because we understand that we are never out of a game. When you have that confidence, it allows you to play more relaxed.”

Junior ace hurler Casson Rassmussen has put together an All-American type season. She has 29 wins and tossed all but three innings during the postseason.

“That is what we recruited her for,” Kahnt said. “She has done everything we could have asked for. She has been phenomenal so far. She has battled. Her job is to keep us in the game and eventually the offense will come through. When you know the offense can get you runs, it makes pitching a little easier.”