The Occidental women’s softball team (1-1) split a pair of knock-down drag-out games at Bell Field in their season opener against the Lewis and Clark Pioneers, taking game one 7-6 and falling 10-1 in the second.
Game One started out a bit unsteadily for the Tigers, with a series of errors that cost a Pioneer run early in the first. But after shaking the opening-day jitters, the ladies brought strong defensive heat to the diamond, with starting pitcher Olivia Thayer (sophomore) holding the Pioneers to their lone unearned run through the next four innings. Meanwhile, a steadfast offense took the lead.
In the bottom of the second with one out on the board, catcher Baily Stevens (first year) singled and advanced to second on a wild pitch from Lewis and Clark pitcher Kaili-Ann Akimseu. A double from outfielder Alex Battest (junior) brought Stevens home to even up the score. The Tigers took the lead in the bottom of the third after outfielder Dallas Gunny (sophomore) came home on a Mackensie Priley (sophomore) single.
Not ready to give up the fight, the Pioneers punched in a runner on a bases-loaded single followed in short succession by an RBI that put the visitors in the lead. With two outs and a runner on second, Battest responded for Occidental with her second double of the day to bring in Natalie Glover (first year) and tie the game at 3-3.
Lewis and Clark, eager to tally a fair-weather win, came back in the top of the seventh with a four-run rally, apparently sealing the Tigers’ fate. Designated player Morgan Giusti (senior), however, called their bluff and raised the ante with a knockout double into left field.
“That was one of the important, if not the most important, play of the game,” Battest said. “She had a do or die role, and after she hit that we came back and said, ‘It’s on.”
After the Guisti double, Cara Roberts (first year) singled to first, followed by a bases-loaded RBI from Priley. A sacrifice out from Alexis Funaki (first year) brought another Tiger home and an RBI at the hands of Stevens tied up the game. With two outs, two strikes and the bases loaded, Battest found the grass and delivered the Occidental win.
Game Two proved more challenging for the young Occidental team, and the Tigers could not recover from a five-run Pioneer scoring spree in the top of the sixth.
“Once we won, we were on a high and thought we could crush them,” Giusti said. “A couple of errors and [Lewis and Clark] doubles and our morale got down, and we didn’t bring it back up. We were just a little too confident.”
Battest agreed, adding that after coming off the high of game one’s seventh-inning comeback, they expected the win to come a little too easily.
“We forgot about the little things we needed to do to win,” she said.
Both Battest and head coach Alison Haehnel took a positive outlook to Sunday’s games, encouraged by the performance of the team’s nine first-year players, many of whom started in one or both of the games.
“Our two objectives for today were to win ball games and get as many first-years playing as many positions as we possibly could,” Haehnel said.
Low numbers plagued Tiger softball teams the past two seasons (last year only 13 players suited up). This season, however, the Tigers boast a robust 21-person team. Better than just a numbers boost, however, these new recruits came to play.
“I was really impressed with our first years,” Haehnel said. “Especially in the outfield. Kira [Elliot] and Nat [Glover] — They just play with veteran confidence.”
Battest and Giusti have noticed a change both on the field and off compared to seasons past, and are fully entrenched in their leadership roles. In addition to senior Mariah Montgomery, the three are the only upper-division students on the team — a privilege and a responsibility they do not take lightly.
“We all really love playing this year. That was not always the case in the past, and when everyone gets along it contributes to a positive energy,” Battest said. “Everyone, especially the first years, are so dedicated.”
Haehnel hopes to channel this energy and dedication into a successful season, and has her eyes set on the SCIAC championship tournament. The team, now at its strongest during her tenure as head coach, has just a few short days before beginning conference games on Sunday against Pomona-Pitzer, but Haehnel is not fazed, and neither are her players.
“I’m glad we had this loss happen today rather than later,” Battest said. “Because now we know what to work on … Plus, now everyone wants to win so badly.”
The Tigers next take on Trinity College (TX) on Saturday and Pomona-Pitzer on Sunday, both at Bell Field.