“I see us going to Regionals.”
Tatiana Cortez’ words garnered the nods of her two teammates, Annie Murphy and Allyson Frei, and head coach Ashley Obrest. These four members of Boston College softball believed this prediction to its very core, and it was going to be the driving force behind the season. Frei echoed the statement, saying that the tough schedule of the season would better prepare them for what lies ahead in postseason play. They spoke succinctly, both displaying determination in the matter-of-factness of their words.
The way they all looked, sitting at the table and talking about it, it was like they were staring down Virginia Tech and Florida State right then and there. They might as well have been wearing their uniforms.
This season, there would be no disappointing 6-16 conference record. No dismal bubble was going to bring the team down this time (even though sometimes, it really does come down).
This season, there are a few tournaments to win.
But first, it’s important to know where these Eagles are coming from.
BC softball’s most recent bid for NCAA Regionals was in 2003, when the Eagles still played ball against Big East teams. The seasons when the team clinched a spot in Regionals saw it winning more than 35 games and dominating conference play.
Once 2006 came around and the first season in the ACC commenced, BC was expected to perform at a new level. There have been seven losing seasons since the switch to the ACC, with the worst and most recent in 2013, when the Eagles went 14-38. That was the same year that the bubble, which covers Alumni Stadium for spring sports to practice, collapsed under the weight of the snow piled on the top. With no place to continue their training, the Eagles had to travel to neighboring areas, often practicing late into the night and travelling back to campus even later. It’s no surprise that the program faltered under those circumstances.
BC’s most recent season ended with a 27-24 record, along with the aforementioned 6-16 conference performance. There was no regionals in sight—the Eagles would lose their final game in the ACC Quarterfinals against Florida State, a team that went 20-3 in the conference and put up a good fight in the NCAA Super Regional round.
Obrest, with the rest of the team behind her, wants this year to be different. With five new Eagles joining the team, a tough schedule early on in the season, and revitalized hitting, she wants to take the girls to where they have never gone before—at least not in the ACC. She believes she has the tools to do so.
There are five freshmen donning uniforms for BC this season, and, when added to the six sophomores already on the team, the 18-player roster is heavily stacked to the younger side. The most impressive of the new recruits include Carly Severini and Loren “Lexie” DiEmmanuele. Severini is a power hitter who has already earned her first double in collegiate play and demonstrates the potential to put runs on the board. DiEmmanuele, with a .355 batting average over her first 10 games, displays the type of consistent hitting that Obrest needs. The five steals she has earned show a speed that the team needs to make hits count, as well as a deft understanding of being a part of an aggressive offense.
But the influx of new additions also proves a paradox. Last season, 12 of the 17 players on the roster were freshmen and sophomores, and Obrest explained that the source of the last year’s problems was youth. Her concern about the lack of experience in last season’s freshmen, however, does not seem to carry over into this one, and looks upon the youngest on the team as extra options when in a bind. The fact that DiEmmanuele has started in nine of her 10 appearances shows that she may not be an extra option, but rather, an already integral part of the team.
BC softball of 2015 saw a .250 batting average, and its combined opponents’ average was .262. By comparison, Florida State, the ACC’s best in regular-season play, had an average of .289. The difference is huge. In it lies a 49-14 season, an automatic bid to the first round of the College World Series, a trip to Regionals.
Obrest knew going into the season that the hitting would have to change. Last season, the team was plagued by failure to use hitting to its advantage, particularly when a player couldn’t come up with the hit needed to bring a runner in. The failure to use situational hitting left runs unscored and games lost. Ten games, including the ACC Quarterfinal against Florida State, came down to a one- or two-run deficit to tie it up. Obrest wanted to not only fix the situational hitting, but also up the consistency of the hitters. She has combatted this by putting the team through more live hitting and instilling a positive outlook for when at-bats have not come as easily.
“Hitting’s contagious, too, so even if kids are stringing their good at-bats but not necessarily getting on base it gives the next person some confidence,” Obrest said.
The freshmen also have Murphy and Cortez to look up to, two of the strongest hitters on the team from last season. Murphy led the team with .310, and Cortez was right behind her with .304. If you want to learn about consistency, just look to them. They combined for 66 RBIs, so they know how to keep players from getting stranded on second or third. They make runs happen.
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Though Cortez has struggled so far this season—her average is one of the lowest at .130—Murphy has picked right back up with .310, contributing heavily to the Eagles’ uptick in their average, with the team’s collective batting average at .255. The biggest contributors are freshman Allyson Moore, who has an average of .400, and sophomore Chloe Sharabba with an average of .379. To have the best bats come from younger players confirms Obrest’s idea that this season, there is no problem with youth. These players have already developed enough in preseason to be prolific contributions to the team.
The Eagles have already played 10 games in two tournaments to start the season, and their 4-6 record so far is unconvincing. Frei, who was especially looking forward to matchups with Maryland and University of Oregon, faced a 9-1 victory against the former and a 4-0 loss against the latter. Despite playing in the Big Ten, Maryland is fairly comparable to BC, so the win displays a preparedness to dominate for in-conference games.
Oregon, on the other hand, finds itself in the Pac-12, the most dominant conference in the Women’s College World Series, with 24 of the 33 total World Series won by a member of the Pac-12. The last four World Series, however, have been dominated by SEC teams, which displays a downturn for Pac-12 teams. BC’s loss against Oregon was not by a large margin, so it has the potential to play up to snuff against teams in the NCAA Tournament.
With their home field too wet to play on, the Eagles will have to travel for the first part of the season. Their home opener won’t happen until Mar. 23, over a month into the season. It’s a long time to be missing home-field advantage and to lack the comfort of familiarity on the diamond. The first ACC games, against Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, come one after the other. Before that, BC will get used to playing teams in the SEC, including Auburn, which made it to the College World Series last season.
Frontloading a schedule with heavy-hitting opponents is an interesting strategy. With scheduling as the one thing she can control, Obrest believes that the move will force the girls into better habits, and by seeing the level of play that dominant squads present, will up their own game. Based on the smattering that the Eagles have already faced so far, this may backfire on them. But once they slip into ACC play, Obrest may get the reaction she was hoping for.
Murphy said it best: “Our schedule’s tough, but I think this team this year is tough too.”
The path to Regionals is a long one, and the beginning step has two roads. The Eagles can either win the ACC Tournament so that they receive an automatic bid, or they can be selected by committee. From there, there are two rounds until Regional finals, during which they will face tough opponents, most likely including Fordham and James Madison.
Competition like that should be taken seriously. But this year, BC isn’t a team that’s going to take things lying down. After a 12-year drought, the Eagles want to get to Regionals. Why not the World Series? Why not win the whole damn thing?
They say the journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step.
Featured Image by Emily Fahey / Heights Senior Staff