Softball on the cusp of A-10 championship heading into final weekend series

Media Credit: File Photo by Lillian Bautista | Hatchet Photographer

Freshman outfielder Sidney Bloomfield runs to first base in a softball game against Saint Joseph's last week.

With one weekend left of regular-season play, softball is in a three-way battle to secure a spot in the Atlantic 10 Championship.

Despite their record-breaking regular season, the Colonials (30-18, 10-10 A-10) currently occupy sixth place in conference standings – the final spot eligible to qualify for the championship.

GW’s 30 overall wins on the season is the second-most in the conference, trailing only Massachusetts – which is undefeated in conference play – with 31 wins. But the Colonials’ 10 conference wins have them falling short of comfortably securing a spot in the tournament, with two teams on their heels vying for the spot.

For much of the season, the Colonials have struggled to find consistency – both in the field and at the plate. Head coach James DeFeo said the team must turn out more steady play in the final series to have an opportunity to play next weekend.

“We have to get back to playing locked in, focused pitch-by-pitch softball,” DeFeo said. “That’s the only way we’re gonna get to where we wanna be eventually. We just have to be consistently locked in mentally.”

The Colonials’ final regular-season weekend series is against fifth-place Saint Louis – a team also pushing to retain its seed and stay in the championship lineup, coming off of a series sweep against La Salle.

GW has won three out of its last four three-game series against A-10 competitors and split a two-game series against St. Bonaventure.

“We know that we need to go into Saint Louis and take the series,” sophomore infielder Elena Shelepak said. “Since we acknowledged it, I think it’ll make us not as pressured when we get there. We know what we have to do, we have a goal, we have a game plan, so we’re just going to go and execute.”

Shelepak said the series victory last weekend against Saint Joseph’s – which is currently seventh in conference standings and the third contender for the final playoff spot – gives the Colonials crucial confidence as they head into the end of the season.

If Saint Joseph’s sweeps its series against St. Bonaventure and the Colonials lose all three games against Saint Louis this weekend, Saint Joseph’s would score the sixth spot and move on to the championship. If there is a tie between any of the three teams, the spot will go to the team with the best overall record.

Although other teams’ performances are out of the Colonials’ control, the team is focusing on the aspects of the game players can work on to put themselves in the best position to secure a tournament spot.

“I think as long as we focus on every facet, we control our own destiny,” senior outfielder Morgan Rinehart said. “So it’s really up to us.”

DeFeo, who is in his second year helming the program, said the team needs to focus on its league-leading offensive performance to clinch a postseason spot.

“When we have good at-bats, when we’re aggressive – good things usually happen,” DeFeo said. “That’s the mindset we have to stay in going into Saint Louis.”

At the plate, sophomore utility player Jenna Cone leads the A-10 with 58 runs batted in and is second in batting average, hitting .391 overall on the year. Junior infielder Marta Fuentes and freshman outfielder Sidney Bloomfield are first and second in the conference in stolen bases with 29 and 21, respectively.

As a team, GW leads the A-10 in runs scored with 304 and team batting average at .328, with eight Colonials hitting above the .300 mark. The team is second in home runs with 38. Nationally, the Colonials’ offense is ranked No. 6 in the NCAA in batting average and No. 8 in runs scored per game.

The team has set three program records this regular season. In their last series, the Colonials broke the record for most wins in a season, and Cone set the record for most consecutive games reaching base. Earlier in the season, the team held a program-record 13-game win streak.

But DeFeo said the significance of setting program records is overshadowed by the team’s uncertain playoff status.

“Right now, it doesn’t mean much at all,” he said. “We’re fighting to try and get into the tournament, and that should be our goal. It’s a dogfight right now.”

In their last run at the playoffs in 2016, the Colonials found themselves in a similar situation – traveling to Saint Louis for the last series of the season, on the cusp of advancing to the postseason. They clinched the final spot in A-10 playoffs in the final game of the series.

Last year, GW finished seventh in the conference and did not advance to the tournament.

Shelepak, who is batting .359 on the year, said she believes the team is a genuine contender to take home a championship this season.

“If you look at the series, there’s been a loss here and there for pretty much every team, so based on who shows up that day, every team has a great chance of winning,” she said. “If we get in there, just watch out because we’re coming for you.”

The Colonials will open the series against Saint Louis Saturday. First pitch is scheduled for 1 p.m.

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