Softball finding stride in conference play

by Mark Cui | 4/10/17 1:30am

by Ishaan Jajodia and Ishaan Jajodia / The Dartmouth

Given its recent success of two league championships in the past three years, the Dartmouth women’s softball team faced high expectations entering this season. However, with an overall record of 6-21-1 thus far, the team has fallen significantly below the high expectations set for the season.

After winning back-to-back league championships in 2014 and 2015, the team had another successful campaign last year. Finishing with an impressive 27-15 overall record and a 15-5 record in conference play, the Big Green fell just short of the league title, losing 8-5 against Harvard University in the final game of the regular season.

So far, the team’s redemption campaign has fallen flat this season.

One major difference between this year’s team and last year’s is the personnel loss to graduation. Star shortstop Katie McEachern ’16, who holds school records in RBIs with 129, runs with 128, home runs with 40, hits with 203 and finished with a school-best batting average of .380, graduated last year. In addition, the Big Green added a total of eight freshmen: Calista Almer ’20, Sophia Ausmus ’20, Jade Bravo ’20, Tatyanah Castillo ’20, Morgan Ebow ’20, Tessa Grossman ’20, Micah Schroder ’20 and Loghan Thomas ’20. Given the loss of McEachern and the many new faces, the team has gone through growing pains during this significant adjustment period.

“This season, we struggled early putting everything together,” Breanna Ethridge ’18 said. “There were days when two of the three aspects of the game [offense, defense and pitching] would be on and some days even three, but we struggled to find the [win] early.”

However, given the short time frame and learning curve, the first-years, comprising nearly half of the entire team, have done an admirable job adjusting on the field.

“Each of them has played a very important role one way or another on this team thus far this year, anywhere from starting to pinch hitting to base running,” Ethridge said. “They have all jumped into a specific role and have embraced it, and they continue to compete with the upperclassmen every day on the field, pushing us to be the best players we can be.”

Maddie Damore ’17 echoed a similar sentiment, emphasizing that the freshmen and remaining members of the team have stepped up in place of the ’16’s class.

“The ’16’s were a big part of our team, but this year we’re seeing how a lot of people can step up to different roles that need to be filled,” Damore said. “We’re seeing contributions from all aspects, whether it’s offense, defense or the bench. It’s good to see people take on new roles and take charge of filling those roles.”

The team generally views the season in two parts, according to Ethridge. In the preseason, the team travels down south or out west to play some of the best competition in the country. Following spring break, the team begins to play Ivy League teams, a stretch the team considers to be the “main season.” So far, in the main season, the team has seemingly turned things around.

“We had a rocky start, but we learned a lot,” Damore said. “We got a lot of kinks out early on, which will be very important in the long run. It’s been a roller coaster, but we’re currently hitting our stride.”

The team is currently on a four-game win streak, including two wins over Cornell University and two wins over Princeton University. Ethridge attributed the wins as a total team effort.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say there was any key to the weekend we had against Cornell and Princeton other than the fact that everyone committed to their roles on the field,” Ethridge said. “There wasn’t just two or three people who solely helped our team win, but rather one through 18 contributed. They were truly team wins.”

Damore added that the team has improved its defense and fixed many of the little things that plagued them earlier in the season.

“We’ve cleaned up our defense,” Damore said. “We’ve focused on the little things in practice, and the little things add up to big things in softball. Our pitchers have also done a heck of a job, and it’s clear that all the little pieces are starting to come together.

The team has so far fared well against its Ivy League opponents, maintaining a solid 5-3 record in the conference. All three of its losses were by a mere one run — the team fell to Columbia University 4-3 and 6-5 on April 1 and lost to the University of Pennsylvania 8-7 on April 2.

In general, the team places a premium on the Ivy League games since only the winner of the Ivy League moves on to regionals. Feeling confident, the team looks to continue its hot streak against Ivy League opponents.

“Thus far, the Ivy League has been very unpredictable and each game has been a battle,” Ethridge said. “Currently, there is no team that is the top-dog, so every single game counts. At this point, every game in Ivy play is going to be a battle, and we are up [to] that challenge.”

Despite its current four-game winning streak, the team understands that there is still much to fix. The Big Green hopes to continue improving and focusing on one game at a time as the season progresses.

“Even after the good weekend, we recognize that there is still quite a bit to work on,” Ethridge said. “One of our sayings this year is ‘turn the page.’ Even though we had a good weekend, now it’s time to focus on the next weekend. Every day is an opportunity to learn and grow from the past. One thing we learned from last year is to not focus too much on the future, but rather focus on the next game or even the next out. Each game at this point matters so much that we can’t put too much pressure on what we hope to accomplish this season.”

Propelled by its recent win streak, the team maintains lofty goals for the season, hoping to win the Ivy League and move on to regionals. Damore, however, understands that unlike last year, each game will be a tough and close battle.

“The main goals are to win an Ivy League Championship and bring it back to Hanover and to get to Regionals,” Damore said. “We hope to continue getting all the pieces to work together. The games are going to be dog fights this year, but it will be an exciting rest of the season.”

The team will host Brown University next weekend in a four-game series.