WILLIAMSTOWN >> It wasn't entirely unexpected, but the Williams softball team's coaches and players are happy to once again be hosting an NCAA Division III Tournament regional.
The Williamstown regional will feature the NESCAC champion Ephs, Great Northeast Athletic Conference champion Johnson & Wales, Little East champion Western Connecticut and New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference runner-up MIT.
"We're excited to play any of those teams," said Williams coach Kris Herman. "We played Western Connecticut and MIT already, so that's great.
"We don't know a lot about Johnson & Wales, but we know it will be an exciting tournament."
The three-day tournament begins Friday at 1:30 p.m. when Western Connecticut (23-17) will play Massachusetts Institute of Technology (28-11). Then at 4, Williams (32-9) will play Johnson & Wales (31-10).
There will be three games on Saturday, with the championship and "if" games set for Sunday afternoon.
From there, the winner of the Williamstown Regional will play the winner of the Tufts Regional in a best-of-three Super Regional. The Jumbos, four-time defending NCAA Division III champion, will play New England Collegiate Conference champion Becker on Friday in a first-round game. The other part of the Tufts bracket has NEWMAC champion Worcester Polytechnic Institute will play Commonwealth Coast Conference champion Salve Regina.
Last year, Williams lost to WPI in the final game of the Williamstown Regional.
But 2016 is a different season and Johnson & Wales is a different opponent. It's a foe that the Ephs have not seen before.
"A team like MIT that has a dominant pitcher, it's good to know about them, and like Tufts they can really crush the ball," said the Eph head coach. "For the most part, it's about us."
By that, Herman is talking about how the Ephs are playing and what they're doing on the field.
"We're working to get better every single day," the coach said, when reached shortly after the Division III Selection Show aired on NCAA.com. "I'm real happy with our team individually and collectively."
Williams freshman pitcher Mackenzie Murphy was once again named the NESCAC pitcher of the week. It's the fifth time she's earned the honor.
Murphy won twice last week, including pitching the Ephs to an 8-3 win over Tufts in the NESCAC tournament championship game. She hit .500 in the tournament with two doubles and five runs-batted in. She continues to lead NESCAC with a 14-3 record and a 2.31 ERA. She has struck out 76 hitters in 104 innings and has only walked 20.
Heading into the NCAA Tournament, Williams' Erica Li is third in the conference with a .428 batting average and Lexi Curt is seventh at .415. Li leads NESCAC with 62 hits and 43 runs scored. Murphy is fifth in the league with 32 RBI.
It's the third consecutive season the Ephs have played in the NCAAs, but the first time since 2006 that they enter the tournament as the NESCAC champion.
This isn't the only NCAA regional with a local connection. In Ithaca, N.Y., Ithaca College will host a regional. One of the four teams is MASCAC champion Worcester State. The Lancers, who have Pittsfield native and St. Joseph graduate Marissa Avanzato on the roster, will play Moravian on Friday in upstate New York.
The Ephs have Monday and Tuesday off, and return to work on Wednesday.
When asked about how she thought the year might go, Herman referenced a March 20 game when Williams scored six runs in the sixth inning and got a walk-off RBI single from Li in the seventh to beat Wellesley 7-6.
"I knew we were going to be good the whole way. We learned a lot last year. We have six seniors and we knew we would be good," said Herman, who is in her 13th year at Williams. "We have a really strong roster from one through 19.
"In our very first game, we were down 6-0 and came back to win 7-6. We've had so many come-from behind wins and we knew that we had something special."
That goes back on display Friday.
Contact Howard Herman at 413-496-6253.