The softball team has suffered their first lost series in six weeks after losing both games of a doubleheader last Saturday against Nova Southeastern University.
It was a grueling series for the Spartans as they won the first game against their Sunshine State Conference (SSC) rival by a slim 1-0 margin before losing 3-1 and 3-2 the following day.
It was a sour result for the Spartans on their Senior Day, where the team honored its six seniors in their last games at Naimoli Family Stadium. Those honored include: catcher Kandi Kuder, first baseman Meagan Burke, starting pitcher Julia Morrow and outfielders Jenna Halper, Lindsay Dring and Taylor Collins.
Despite the losses, the seniors had a strong showing at the plate with Halper delivering an run batted in (RBI) and two runs and Kuder having two RBIs in the doubleheader. Dring also contributed with a run but the Spartan hitting struggled against a strong Sharks pitching unit.
It was also a tough series for nationally recognized Julia Morrow who started all three games for the Spartans. The first game on Friday went smoothly for Morrow as she pitched seven shutout innings and only allowed four hits.
Morrow pitched a strong second game the next day but found herself at the losing end of the game. She pitched a complete game and managed to strike out 13 of the 28 batters faced, but allowed seven hits and an earned run.
Things began to unravel for Morrow in the series finale after she gave up two earned runs by the third inning.
The four-time SSC Pitcher of the Week was able to get the game back under control and pitched four scoreless innings but the damage was already done and Morrow received her seventh loss of the season.
While a series performance of 28 strikeouts and a 1.29 earned run average (ERA) would be a decent outing for most pitchers in the SSC, it was one of Morrow’s less impressive showings.
With her sights on the UT strikeout record and averaging over 11 strikeouts a game, Morrow is on pace for one of the greatest pitching seasons in program history.
“Julia is the kind of player that can lead a team after a loss,” said second baseman Alyssa Colletti. “If we can just stay focused and keep playing at the level we have been, then we will be fine moving forward.”
After the weekend losses, the Spartans have a 25-11 overall record and a 13-8 record in the conference. The Spartans started the season nationally ranked but have evolved from a team that was nationally recognized into a dark horse in Division II. The Spartans sit third in the SSC standings behind first-place Barry University and Rollins College.
The Spartans have proven they belong near the top of the SSC by winning their series this season against both Barry and Rollins and head coach Leslie Kanter is hoping the Spartans can snag a top position in the conference.
“This conference isn’t a walk in the park by any means,” said Kanter. “We have fought hard to get where we are and if we can just hold down the second spot in the table then I like our chances getting to the postseason.”
As of now, the Spartans sit on the edge of the NCAA South Region rankings and have jumped in and out of the South Region rankings throughout the season. With their season on the line, the Spartans will have to be at their best this weekend in their final SSC series against Lynn University.
The Spartans have finished in the top two positions in the conference every year since 2011 and a clean sweep of Lynn this weekend will guarantee the Spartans second in the SSC and likely a spot in the NCAA South Regional in May.
The Spartans will have to travel to Lynn University for the weekend matchup and have a 6-3 road record against SSC opponents this season. Led by Morrow, the Spartans will be fighting for a spot in the postseason and Lynn is the last obstacle between the team and a successful season.
Marcus Mitchell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org