At the beginning of its season, the women’s softball team hung a sign in the locker room that read “Road to Oklahoma.” The team had set its sights on the program’s first-ever trip to the NCAA Women’s Softball World Series.
While it would be a hefty feat for any program to make it to college softball’s dream destination, the opportunity was within GW’s reach. The team was coming off its best season in program history. It was picked to finish second in the Atlantic 10 standings, and its entire pitching staff and several offensive standouts were returning.
Now, with 11 games left to play in the season, the 16-24-1 Colonials find themselves dead last in the A-10 standings, fighting just to grab a spot in the conference tournament.
This time last season, the Colonials were in a similar position, and they responded with the longest winning streak in program history, with 12-straight wins. But now, an underperforming pitching staff and lackluster defense has held GW back from capturing on the season they wanted.
Offense gets the job done
The Colonials’ offense has served as the team’s bright spot for much of the season. GW ranks third in the conference in total runs scored, total hits and total bases. They rank second in the conference in runs batted in, and first in the conference in steals.
Freshman Megan Linn emerged early in the season as a big bat for fourth-year head coach Stacey Schramm and has continued her tear for the Colonials. The freshman ranks in the top five of the conference in runs batted in, runs scored and hits.
“We’re doing our job offensively,” Schramm said. “Megan Linn – our lead off, a freshman – I mean every time she gets on, I feel like there is an opportunity for her to either hit it out, hit a double, whatever.”
The Colonials have also received a boost from sophomore infielder Morgan Matetic, who after batting just .086 last season is batting .333 and leads the team in home runs, slugging percentage and on-base percentage.
But even with GW’s young offensive bright spots, its producers from last year have struggled to carry over last season’s success.
Junior catcher Samantha Dos Santos has struggled to find a rhythm at the plate, batting just .184 with 21 strikeouts, after ending last season with 26 total.
While GW’s offense is powered by the team’s young talent, the Colonials rely on experienced hitters when the team is down late. The team is just 1-19 when trailing after four innings.
Junior Victoria Valos, one of the few upperclassmen who has had a solid offensive season, said the team too easily loses momentum.
“Hitting is very contagious and we feed off each other. When one person gets a hit we can keep going in that same inning,” said Valos, who tied the GW career home run record Wednesday against Hampton after she belted her twenty-sixth career shot. “On the flipside of that, if we don’t get that base hit or if we don’t get our leadoff on and reach those offensive goals, we feed off that energy too.”
Highs and lows on the mound
Senior Courtney Martin, the veteran pitcher who was slated to be the Colonials’ ace this season, has not lived up to expectations. Martin finished last season with a 14-13 record and a 2.10 ERA, earning herself a spot on the A-10 First Team all-conference.
In her senior season, though, Martin has floundered, pitching only 88.2 innings this season, while racking up 100 walks and a 5.53 ERA. Last season, Martin only walked 53 batters over 193.2 innings pitched.
“It just seems like when she throws the ball, automatically in her head, it’s like, ‘Oh, no, I don’t want to walk this kid’ instead of ‘I need to come back and throw a strike,’” Schramm said.
But the coach said she was confident Martin could get over her funk.
“She’s our strongest kid, as far as physically and mentally, so we are still depending on her to kind of overcome this little mental battle that she’s having and be there for her team,” she said.
Meanwhile, sophomore Meghan Rico has stepped up her performance on the mound and earned more playing time. Rico has recorded a 3.96 ERA through 159 innings on the season. Rico leads the conference with 135 strikeouts.
But with the long days and extra innings have come a few hiccups.
Instead of switch starting pitchers in between games as Schramm did effectively last season, she has opted to let Rico pitch against opponents for the entire series. Against La Salle on April 5, Schramm stuck with Rico the entire day. But with this strategy comes a caveat. While GW won the first game convincingly, it dropped the second as La Salle’s batters were able to face Rico for the seventh or eighth time, allowing them to adjust their approach and take bigger risks in at the plate.
“At this point I have to do what’s best for the team, and if that means Meghan Rico starting and playing every inning, then that’s what it is,” Schramm said. “Courtney has to prove herself in practice everyday for me to feel like she can hold her own on the mound and get over this little piece of adversity that she’s got.”
Good pitching must be complemented by solid fielding, another area in which the Colonials have yet to find their rhythm: They are tied for last in the conference in fielding percentage at .948.
The team has already committed 56 errors on the season, the second highest number in the conference. The team errors have resulted in 46 unearned runs so far this season, compared to last year’s 44 unearned runs. Schramm said the increase in errors stems from poor weather and field conditions early in the season, which kept them off the field.
“We really have not been able to consistently get outside on the dirt, on a full field, since two weeks ago,” Schramm said. “From February to the end of March we were outside maybe a total of six times. So it’s no surprise, you only get better and more consistent with practice and reps, and we weren’t able to do that.”
Players like Valos, the Colonials’ shortstop, said the errors have a mental component as well. She leads GW with 17 errors, after only committing 11 errors last season.
“It’s not a matter of remembering those errors but more about forgetting those errors,” Valos said. “I think our defense has been struggling when our pitchers need us the most.”
The team and coaching staff have to pull off a major comeback to finish the season on a high note. With eight conference games still left against Saint Joseph’s, Saint Louis, Dayton and Rhode Island, the Colonials can make it to the conference tournament if they take the majority of those matchups.
“We haven’t given up yet,” Valos said. “We understand we only have eight [conference] games left, but we are going to give it our all and believe in each other and believe we can turn this season around.”