BRIDGEWATER, Va. – After dropping a litany of close games last year, a young Bridgewater College softball team hopes to build on its experience in 2017 and make another push for a spot in the ODAC Tournament.
Despite finishing 9-29 overall and 2-16 in the conference last year, Bridgewater lost 10 of its contests by three runs or less.
"Closing is our hurdle that we have to jump over this year," said second-year head coach Lis Schulz. "We can start the game and score the runs, but finishing games and making it through the sixth and seventh inning without getting nervous or expecting a lost is really important."
The most notable setback in 2016 was a 3-2 heartbreaker against a team who ranked #2 in the nation in Emory. BC took a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the sixth on a RBI double and single. However, Emory responded in the seventh by loading the bases and pushing across a pair of runs on an error and a hit by pinch to avoid the upset.
BC was in contention for a bid in the ODAC Tournament through majority of last year, earning crucial doubleheader splits against Shenandoah and Roanoke to stand one game behind Randolph for the eighth seed.
In the final week of the 2016 regular season, the Eagles hosted a doubleheader against Randolph and needed at least a split to keep their playoff hopes alive.
BC found themselves in a familiar situation during game one, holding a slime 2-1 advantage heading into the seventh. Nonetheless, Randolph rallied on an RBI double and a sacrifice fly to win game one and went on to capture game two.
"Leaving the future of our season in the hands of others was very unsettling," Schulz said. "It put a lot of pressure on us and made us perform at a much lower level than we are capable of. This year we will work hard to control our future and set up our own destiny."
The Eagles return majority of its starters for 2017, but lost two impactful players to graduation in Brianna Cox and Brooke Throckmorton. Cox served as the top arm with 18 starts on a 3.71 ERA and led the team in hits (39) and RBI (29) while Throckmorton was a .278 hitter that ranked second on the roster in runs (17) and RBI (13).
In the circle, the Eagles will rely more on a pitching by committee this year. The most experienced of their arm talent is third-year veteran Hannah Trala. She made 19 appearances in the circle and had six starts, averaging 3.97 strikeouts per game and a 3.84 ERA against ODAC batters.
Sophomore Carolyn Campbell earned nine starts, logged 43.1 innings of work and recorded a save against Southern Virginia during her rookie season.
Junior Anna Patterson will see action in the circle after missing last season due to injury and Schulz expects freshman pitcher Brooke Louden to make an immediate impact. Louden was a two-time All-Conference player at Greenwood High School in Millerstown, Pa.
"The good thing is all four of our pitchers bring something different to the table," Schulz said. "I think it's going to be a little bit more of mixing it up this year, but they are all going to put their own work in."
The other key returners include sophomores Lindsey Talley and Victoria Gontarz and junior Hannah Nyquist. Talley enters the season as the Eagles best hitter after posting a .330 batting average, 20 runs, 34 hits, 12 RBI and a home run.
Gontarz was exceptional last year at third base by hitting .283, ranking second on the team in doubles (9) and notching a .374 on base percentage. Nyquist registered 19 hits, 12 runs and was second on the squad in stolen bases (6).
Bridgewater opens the season this Sunday with a doubleheader at Methodist. The next contest will be held at home against Mary Baldwin (March 1), followed by a second consecutive trip to the Rebel Spring Games in Kissimmee, Fla., March 5-10.
"The goals for this year are to play each game with a 110 percent and give it all we have," Schulz said. "I think we will surprise a lot of teams and have a great shot at getting into the playoffs this year."