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Red Dragons hosting regional, set to face Widener

The SUNY Cortland softball team has earned a berth in the NCAA Division III tournament for the third straight season by virtue of winning the State University of New York Athletic Conference (SUNYAC) title and will host a four-team regional Friday through Sunday at Dragon Field.

The Red Dragons (29-12) will be the second seed and will open the double-elimination regional versus third-seeded Widener University (Pa.) (26-11) Friday at 1 p.m. Top-seeded Messiah College (Pa.) (34-8) will play fourth-seeded Johnson & Wales University (R.I.) (34-8) Friday at 3:30 p.m.

Play will continue with three games Saturday, starting at 11 a.m., and the championship round (possible two games) Sunday at noon.

The winner of the regional will advance to a two-team, best-of-three Super Regional May 19-20 against the winner of the St. John Fisher College-hosted regional at a site to be determined. In addition to the hosts, who are 36-6, the other teams in the field at St. John Fisher are Penn State-Behrend (26-12), William Patterson (28-11) and Manhattanville (30-13).

The eight Super Regional winners will play in the NCAA Division III World Series May 25-29 at the ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, Okla.

Cortland will be making its 22nd NCAA appearance, including its 10th in 11 years and 16th total under 23rd-year head coach Julie Lenhart. The Red Dragons have advanced to the World Series seven times during Lenhart’s tenure — 1998, 2003, 2004, 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2013 — and eight times overall. The Red Dragons were the 2013 national runner-up and finished fourth nationally in 2011.

Cortland won the SUNYAC regular-season title and then captured the league’s postseason tournament crown this past weekend at home. The Red Dragons started the tournament 1-1, but won their last three games, all on Sunday due to earlier tournament rain delays, and became the first team in the 34-year history of the SUNYAC to win three straight conference crowns.

Cortland has never faced either Widener or Johnson & Wales. Cortland leads its overall series with Messiah, 8-4, with the last meeting a 4-1 win by Cortland in Winter Haven, Fla., in 2015.

Widener and Messiah are both members of the Middle Atlantic Conference (MAC) Commonwealth. Widener won its first MAC Commonwealth title with a 4-3 win over Lebanon Valley, and eliminated Messiah earlier in the tournament. Messiah earned one of 20 at-large NCAA berths. Johnson & Wales earned an automatic berth into the national tournament by winning the Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) title for the third straight year.