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Paige Affleck is an accomplished violinist. She's also a headbanger.

Affleck easily sees herself, onstage with this most delicate instrument, re-creating the jarring sounds of Metallica.

"To be able to play all of Metallica's songs, it's my dream job, I decided," said the BYU senior and master of the softball circle.

The most successful pitcher in Cougar softball history can easily see the comparisons of playing the music she loves on her instrument of choice to what she does on the field.

The best pitchers combine power and finesse.

"For me, it's always been a game within a game," said Affleck, who is scheduled to face No. 24 Auburn (39-17) in the opening round of the NCAA softball tournament Thursday. "The mental side is by far the most exciting."

Certainly, Affleck believes BYU, in its seventh consecutive NCAA appearance, can advance once more into the Super Regionals, something the Cougars (38-16) accomplished for the first time last season. BYU lost both games to Arizona in the Super Regional, including a tough 2-1 opening defeat.

It will be a difficult road for BYU this season in the double-elimination first round that includes host and 12th-seeded Washington (34-14) and Portland State (34-16).

The Cougars, after a slow start, have played their best softball down the stretch, going 30-3, including a doubleheader sweep of Utah on Saturday to clinch the Mountain West Conference championship.

"We don't usually focus on the other team," BYU coach Gordon Eakin said. "We focus on what we need to do."

Focus is also the key to Affleck, BYU's all-time leader in wins, strikeouts, innings pitched, shutouts, appearances and complete games. Coming off a 32-win season, the right-hander finished this season 24-11 with a 1.97 earned run average and 207 strikeouts in 217 innings.

Affleck, who maintains a 3.60 grade-point average while working on a master's degree in exercise physiology, is all about the mental side of pitching. When the Cougars are at the plate, Affleck is typically in a corner of the dugout — or behind it.

"I try to remove myself so I don't go up and down [emotionally]," she said. "I end up in my own little world, thinking about who is coming up, what I have to do to get them out and what they did last time."

Affleck seeks a rhythm, a contrast of hardball and feel to keep the opposing hitters uncomfortable, sort of like a concert violinist suddenly erupting into heavy metal.

"You're going to war and they have a weapon," she said. "You have what you have. That's what makes it so intriguing."

Twitter: @tribmarty —

NCAA tourney

• BYU opens the NCAA softball tournament against Auburn at 4 p.m. (MDT) on Thursday in Seattle.

• Paige Affleck is BYU's all-time leader in wins, strikeouts, innings pitched, shutouts, appearances and complete games.

• Affleck is a combined 56-20 the past two seasons, leading the MWC in wins both years.

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