It is that time of the year when college sports teams go on incredible runs—upsetting higher-ranked teams, pulling off dramatic comeback wins and stringing them all together to take a shot at a championship. But this March, in Claremont, California, it is not Butler or Davidson, Norfolk State or Lehigh. It is the Pomona-Pitzer women’s softball team.
After an 8-game win streak, the Sagehens have vaulted themselves into third place in the SCIAC, with a 6-2 record behind 13th-ranked CMS at 7-1 and ninth-ranked Redlands at 10-0. Overall, P-P hosts a record of 13-7, a far cry from records of years past (16-23, 12-21, 6-16, 21-19, 15-24).
The streak started March 3 as the Sagehens completed two walk-off wins against La Verne to even their record in SCIAC at 2-2. Down to their last leg in both games, the team pulled through by way of singles from first-year Leah Bleichner PO ’15 and Jessica Liu PO ’15. After winning both of those games, the Sagehens played with a renewed confidence and have not looked back since.
In the next six games, everything seemed to fall right into place for the women in orange and blue, who have fielded every hop and smacked the ball into the gaps perfectly when they needed to.
The next series proceeded similar to the one before. After destroying Staten Island in the first game of a doubleheader, the Sagehens found themselves down two runs in the bottom of the seventh inning. After first baseman Bri Marcantoni PZ ’12 led the inning off with a single, Bleichner added another and subsequently stole second to leave the Sagehens with three outs to score the two runs needed to tie the game and send it into extra innings. They did not need one. Kathryn Rabak PO ’13 came to the plate and crushed a ball out of the park for a walk-off, three-run homer.
Not to be outdone, the next weekend, Meagan Tokunaga PO ’15, hit a walk-off single in the first game of a double-header with Whittier and a three-run homer in the second, complementing the pitching of Fiona Riley PO ’15, who only allowed one run in 15 innings of work.
Now on a six game streak, the Sagehens once again found themselves on the brink of defeat later that week against Puget Sound. Headed into extra innings, P-P gave up two runs quickly, looking unlikely that they would manage another incredible comeback. But like a classic sports flick, they once again pulled off a comeback thriller. Due to the international tiebreak rule, teams start extra innings with a runner on second base. So with Bleichner ready to charge home on a single, Marcantoni decided it was best to send a no-doubter onto Wig Beach to get the Sagehens back even at 3-3. The Sagehens then put together three straight singles to earn another walk-off win.
So what is it that is making the women’s softball team tick this year? It certainly seemed like the Sagehens were going to have a tough road forward after their top starting pitcher Carolyn Cross PO ’13 left the team a few games into the season. Cross made 25 of the team’s 39 starts last year en route to a 3.36 ERA, a rate of 3.85 strikeouts per seven innings and six complete game shutouts. The team also said goodbye to last year’s power-hitting catcher Aly Corley PZ ’11, who led the league in home runs in 2011 with 13.
The players behind the success of the team, as has been the case in every P-P sport this year, have been the first-years.
Riley has filled the second-starter role brilliantly, posting a 7-2 record in eight starts and six relief appearances, logging a 2.36 ERA and two complete game shutouts. She has complimented returning pitcher Caitlyn Hynes PO ’14, who has, with the exception of one outing, been extremely effective on the mound and at the plate. In addition to five wins, she has posted ten hits and four RBIs.
On the offensive side, the first-years have been a major force on the team. Emily Glass PO ’15 is hitting .419 with 9 doubles and 11 RBIs, Bleichner sits at .354 with a home run and 17 RBIs and Liu, slapping from the left side of the plate, has posted a .333 average and is second on the team with eight walks.
Along with those three are regular contributors shortstop Ari Roach PZ ’12 at .309 with 2 home runs and an astounding 14 walks in only 71 pitch attempts and Marcantoni at .281 with a team-leading three home runs.
While the softball team has strung together this series of impressive wins, there are some that would say it is an unsustainable pattern. You will often hear commentators claim that the road to success is not built on walk-offs or close-fought games; it is earned in blowouts and wins when not performing well. For now, though, the Sagehens are on a roll. CMS and Redlands better watch their backs as the “comeback kids” look to snowball their way into first place in SCIAC.