April 15, 2010

FAYETTEVILLE - April Branch is on a mission.

Fayetteville State's first baseman and most feared hitter wants to make sure her team brings home a CIAA Championship.

The Broncos open play in the CIAA tournament today at Noon when they face Virginia State, the No. 2 seed from the Eastern Division.

VSU (16-17) won the teams' only meeting, 6-4, during the CIAA Round-Up on March 13.

Branch feels FSU's fate is tied to one thing -- hitting.

"Last year, we hit the ball but we just hit it right to them," she said. "This year, we've got to put our balls in the hole. As long as we hit, I believe it'll come."

Broncos head coach Miguel Justiniano believes Branch can carry the Broncos far in the tournament -- if she's given the opportunity.

Branch, a native of Pender, NC, leads the CIAA and is ranked No. 2 in NCAA Division II in walks.

"I expect big things from her during the CIAA tournament coming up," Justiniano said. "She's a quiet leader. She doesn't show a lot of emotions, but everyone knows that once she's on base she's going a lot faster than she looks. Everything she does is a positive thing on the field."

With an on-base percentage of .563 -- the highest in the CIAA -- Branch's walks are vital to FSU's offensive arsenal.

That doesn't mean she's happy about them though.

"It's hard and aggravating," she said of the constant walks. "Everybody else gets pitches and I usually don't. That's not fair.But, they help my team and that's all that matters."

According to Justiniano, Branch, a first-team All-CIAA selection, has to stay mentally sharp.

"The walks are frustrating to her and to all of us as a coaching staff," he said. "She just has to be selective and patient. They're going to make mistakes and she has to take advantage of those mistakes."

On the season, Branch has amassed team-highs in runs scored (29), RBI's (35), triples (2), home runs (3), total bases (48) and walks (31)



"I haven't coached anyone as patient when she is in a groove," Justiniano said. "When she's focused, there's no one I'd rather have at the plate. On any given swing, it could be a homer or a laser shot that no one is going to put their glove or body in front of because she's going to hit it so hard."

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