A-10 Championship preview: Softball returns to the postseason

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo by Dan Rich | Photo Editor

Sophomore Rochelle Draper high-fives her teamate during a series against Fordham in April. Draper leads the Colonials with 14 sacrifice hits on the season.

In search of its first-ever Atlantic 10 title, GW softball returns to the postseason this week after a three-year playoff drought.

The Colonials will also have an unfamiliar advantage. The program, which has only reached the A-10 Championship three times since its inception in 2003, will host the six-team double-elimination tournament for the first time from May 11 to 14.

A regular-season campaign that started off slow but gained momentum entering league play concluded this weekend at Saint Louis, where GW dropped the series but clinched its first postseason berth since 2013 and avoided a sweep with a 7–3 win on Sunday.

GW’s relatively young 15-player roster, which features just six upperclassmen, swept La Salle in its opening A-10 series in March and picked up key series wins over St. Bonaventure and Rhode Island in April.

The Colonials faltered, however, against conference powerhouses like Fordham and Massachusetts, going a combined 0-6 against the two teams and taking just one game against Saint Joseph’s in its penultimate three-game clash.

Led by two of the A-10’s top-five hitters in juniors Monica Macchiarulo (.384) and Megan Linn (.375), as well as sophomore pitcher Sarah Costlow (13-13), who boasts a 2.52 ERA, the Colonials finished the year with a 10-13 A-10 record, going 23-27 overall, to capture the No. 6 seed in the 2016 A-10 Championship.

The first pitch of the tournament is slated for Wednesday at noon between No. 4 Saint Louis and No. 5 Saint Joseph’s at the GW softball field, which underwent a complete playing-surface renovation last summer.

“This has been an interesting season, and this team is so resilient,” head coach Stacey Schramm said in a release last week. “As long as we avoid any distractions that keep us from focusing on the present, we are difficult to beat.”

No. 6 GW will take the field Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. against No. 3 Massachusetts. If the Colonials lose, they will play in game one of the loser’s bracket later that day at 5 p.m. If GW wins, they’ll face No. 2 Dayton at 2:30 p.m. Thursday.

Here’s a closer look at the other five A-10 title contenders:

No. 1 Fordham (18-4 A-10), first-round bye
Since 2005, A-10 softball has been ruled by two dynasties: Fordham and Massachusetts. One of the two programs has won the league crown in each of the last 11 seasons, but recent history favors the Rams.

The team has won three consecutive championships and four of the last five. Fordham was even predicted to complete the four-peat in the 2016 A-10 preseason poll back in February and looks poised to meet expectations.

Freshman infielder Jessica Hughes (.354) guides a high-powered offense with four Rams’ hitters batting .346 or better. As a team, Fordham leads the A-10 with a batting average of .297 and a .378 on-base percentage (OBP).

Pitching however, is one of Fordham’s few areas of weakness. The Rams arms have allowed the fifth-most earned runs in the league play with 48 and boasts just a fifth-best 3.57 team-ERA.

No. 2 Dayton (14-5-1 A-10), first-round bye
The Flyers, picked to finish third in the preseason poll, have thrived in conference matchups due to a stellar defensive effort.

Despite going 12-14-1 in its out-of-conference slate, Dayton had been almost unstoppable against A-10 opponents, dropping just two contests heading into the final week of play. The second-place squad also handed Fordham two of its four defeats, but lost three straight to the Minutewomen to end its season.

Dayton’s strongest weapons reside on the mound. The Flyers sit atop the A-10 with an impressive 1.97 ERA and have conceded just 88 earned runs across 45 games – compared to Saint Joseph’s, which has given up a next-best 101.

The Colonials did not play the Flyers this regular season but were swept handily at Dayton last season when the Flyers outscored them 13 runs to one across three games.

No. 3 Massachusetts (15-6 A-10)
The Minutewomen have won seven of the past 11 A-10 championships, cementing the team as a conference powerhouse and continuing their strength into this season.

A slow 7-16 out-of-conference start did not discourage Massachusetts coming into A-10 play. They picked up series victories over George Mason, Rhode Island and St. Bonaventure along with sweeps of GW and Dayton late in the season.

Senior infielder Taylor Carbone leads the Minutewomen in the batter’s box. Her .382 batting average, .453 OBP and 37 RBIs are all team-highs out of the three hole. Redshirt sophomore Jena Cozza provides the power for the team with 12 doubles, 11 home runs and a .701 slugging percentage.

The Minutewomen also boast one of the best arms in the conference. Sophomore pitcher Meg Colleran is 11-5 with a 2.00 ERA and 64 strikeouts in A-10 matchups.

No. 4 Saint Louis (14-8 A-10)
The Bilikens clobbered the Colonials in their first two games this past weekend, outscoring GW 17–3.

The Saint Louis offense has been strong all year, posting a .272 team batting average and knocking an A-10 leading 42 home runs. The squad also scored a hefty 225 total runs this season, second-most in the A-10 behind Fordham, which has played five more games.

Their bats are led by junior Mackenzie Peter, hitting .343 on the year, while go-to starter, senior Brianna Lore has thrown a lukewarm 3.78 ERA this year.

Despite holding the Colonials to just three runs on Saturday, Saint Louis failed to sweep their final series Sunday. The Bilikens allowed five runs to score off three errors, as Lore gave up eight hits and two earned runs in four innings pitched during GW’s four-run victory Sunday.

No. 5 Saint Joseph’s (10-12-1 A-10)
On the first Sunday of May, the Hawks took down the Colonials 12–1 in a rubber match blowout.

GW was only the second three-game series that Saint Joseph’s won this year, but the Hawks pitching has been able to keep them in contention for the conference crown.

The Hawks have the deepest staff in the A-10, including three pitchers with ERAs lower than 3.00. Freshman Ashley Ventura leads the team with a 12-7 record and 104 strikeouts, while senior Anna Lauterbach adds 81.2 innings with a 2.14 ERA.

Offensive struggles have restricted the Hawks from earning a top seed, recording a middle-of-the-pack .267 team batting average. But recently their bats have been on fire, coming into the final weekend outscoring GW and La Salle 24–8 in the previous two series.

Matt Cullen contributed reporting.

All records current as of May 8. All statistics current as of May 7.

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