Second-seeded USC Beaufort will begin its Sun Conference softball championship defense at 11:30 a.m. Thursday when the Sand Sharks (35-9, 11-5) face seventh-seeded Ave Maria (27-27, 7-9) in their conference tournament opener at the National Training Center in Clermont, Fla.
USCB swept Ave Maria in two games this season, 9-0 and 9-2.
The Sand Sharks are ranked in the top 40 nationally in a number of categories, including batting average (.348, 14th), slugging percentage (.515, 17th), opponents' batting average (.231, 26th), runs/game (6.34, 27th) and ERA (2.39, 32nd).
Kristy Cook is 10th in the NAIA with three saves and has a 1.99 ERA, while Ashlie Layman is 32nd in the country with a .197 batting average against and 37th with 16 wins.
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Taylor Triplett's 10 home runs rank her 35th nationally and her .752 slugging percentage is 37th on the NAIA leaderboard. Triplett also ranks 38th with a .451 batting average, while Alexandria Simmons is 36th in the country with 15 doubles.