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.
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.