For five innings Saturday, GW softball head coach Kim Staehle thought her team was on the verge of defeating Charlotte. The game was knotted at one run apiece, the Colonials needing only a break or two in their favor to record their first win in a week.
Then the fifth inning became the sixth, the 49ers began spraying the field with hits, and the tied score rapidly ballooned into its crooked 8-1 final.
“When I had my team meeting I said, ‘Okay, we won that game – we won the first five-and-a-half innings,'” Staehle said after the game. “Unfortunately, we did have a letdown in that sixth inning.”
Up to that point, sophomore Amanda Gabriel had been delivering the kind of crafty performance the Colonials’ (8-23, 4-8 A-10) struggling bats sorely needed from their starting hurler. The lone lapse in her first five frames – a solo homerun surrendered in the second inning – was matched two innings later by teammate Jackie Yaniga as the senior launched one of her own beyond the centerfield wall.
After retiring the first batter in the sixth, however, things began to snowball. The next batter singled on a chopper to left, beginning a rally that included five hits, a wild pitch, an infield error and ultimately seven runs. The inning fittingly ended on a hit, as Charlotte’s Keri Palma drove in both runners inherited by reliever Ali Pardo, only to be gunned down attempting to stretch her hit into a triple.
Staehle said she was disappointed in her team’s defensive performance in the half-inning that decisively swung the contest in Charlotte’s favor.
“This game is a lot about defense, and defense will always keep you in a game,” she said. “If we make some of those routine plays at shortstop and we’re not booting balls, that’s a different game.”
As much as a better defensive effort could have benefited GW, it may have eventually been for naught just the same as the Colonials struggled to generate any substantial production at the plate. The team managed just one hit and two walks to accompany Yaniga’s solo shot, giving them a meager total of eight baserunners over the weekend’s two meetings with Charlotte, the first of which was an 8-0 loss Friday afternoon.
“I think overall, confidence is always a hard thing to teach to young hitters,” explained Staehle, who said her hitters were being too tentative and inadequately working the count. “(I am) just trying to get across to them, ‘Listen, you’ve just got to be confident. See the ball, hit the ball.'”
It is a simple message, underscored by the faith in her players’ abilities that made Staehle sense an impending victory in what had been a tense pitchers’ duel. Despite the messy outcome Saturday, the second-year coach seems sure her team will deliver if they can put themselves in better position in the future.
“If we make routine plays, I know that we’ll be in a clutch situation hitting,” she said. “And nine times out of ten, we’re going to win that situation offensively.”