Bart McAfee knows nothing comes easy in Sac-Joaquin Section Division 1 softball playoffs.
Merced High's failure to advance beyond the opening round since 2006 despite some quality teams is an indicator of that.
This morning's showdown with Roseville doesn't promise to be any easier.
The Bears' 10-day layoff, the overnight stay in Sacramento for the 10 a.m. start and the fact that Merced's prom falls on the same night for the second straight year all form a kind of perfect storm of distraction.
"I think we have one of the best lineups top to bottom that we've had in years, and we have two very good pitchers in Madilyn (Nickles) and Chelsea (Evans), but you just never know," McAfee said. "There's a lot of things that go against the Southern teams in this tournament.
"We've got a good league, but it isn't a great one. Some of these teams from Sacramento are forced to play real competitive games every single day.
"You look at some of the scorelines in our league and it's not nearly as competitive.
"The girls are ready. They'll be ready to go. but no wins are easy this time of year."
Still, if Merced (22-5) can advance to the double-elimination portion of the tournament, it looks like a tough out.
The Bears' 22 wins are the school's most in over a decade. Merced has a power arm in Nickles and a balanced lineup that's led by big bats Evans and Ruby Quiralte.
"In the playoffs, sometimes one hot pitcher is all you need," McAfee said. "We've got some pretty good ones, but the other teams are going to also."
Merced is one of four local teams that will be in action today.
Buhach Colony (13-11-1) Sierra Foothill League champion Rocklin (23-3) at 11 a.m.
A Southern League semifinal is set to take place at Stockton's Arnaiz Softball Complex in Division 6.
Le Grand (17-10) will be looking for a third trip to the section title game in as many years when it hosts a young Delhi (19-7) squad for a 10 a.m. tilt.
"It should be interesting," Bulldogs coach Gia Pridell said. "It's never easy to beat a team three times, and they played us pretty tough last time."