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SMC Softball: Belles begin conference season

Joseph Monardo | Friday, April 1, 2011

When the Belles travel to perennial powerhouse Alma for their first conference game of the season this weekend, they hope to bring along their hot streak at the plate.

Saint Mary’s (10-3) will enter the game coming off a doubleheader in which they took both games from Manchester, but Alma (17-2) has been even hotter recently. The team currently rides a ten-game win streak.

Alma’s success at this point in the season is typical for a team that has not finished lower than third in the conference rankings in over 25 years, and has qualified for 14 of the last 16 NCAA tournaments.

“They are always tough competition. They are a smart ball club,” Belles coach Erin Sullivan said. “They are definitely going to be a challenge for us.”

The Scots are the Belles’ first MIAA opponent of the year, but the St. Mary’s players and coaches do not see any need to overemphasize the importance of their conference opener.

“We want to make sure that we are playing each game really well, from start to finish — that it is just a good day,” Sullivan said. “That does not always result in wins and losses. I think it is just that we want to come out strong and at least play very well.”

Senior captain and outfielder Hayley Bojorquez echoed her coach’s sentiment, but said it would be a welcome accomplishment if the Belles could capture at least one of the decisions.

“It is kind of crazy that we are playing them so early, but I think as long as we compete and we play our game, if we end up losing by one, but we gave our all — that is all we can ask for,” she said. “They are definitely going to be two really good games. So as long as we play our game, we should definitely come out with at least one win, I‘m sure.”

If the Belles can challenge Alma, it will be due to a successful day from behind the plate. In their two most recent outings, Saint Mary’s scored a combined 22 runs as the team displayed its offensive firepower. Bojorquez said that her team’s depth on the offensive side is a valuable tool.

“We just have to maintain our confidence and know our strengths, because we are such a great hitting team,” Bojorquez said. “We know that one through nine in our lineup, we are all capable of putting the ball in play, so as long as we maintain our confidence, we will be okay.”

Despite their impressive record thus far, in a number of games this season the Belles have fallen behind early, forcing them to play catch-up. Their tendency to start slowly represents an unwelcome trend the Belles hope to reverse.

“We want to start out a little bit stronger so that we do not have to come back from the bottom, but maintain the confidence in ourselves that we can come back from the bottom if we need to,” Bojorquez said.

As they try to show improvement and play an entire game of good ball, Saint Mary’s will also have to contend with the rigors of traveling to an away game. Sullivan said she hopes her team can display the mental toughness needed to put forth a strong performance.

“[We need to] have confidence when we go up there,” she said. “It is a long ride so we want to make sure that we are prepared for a long trip and we are ready to go when we get off the bus.”

The Belles will get two shots at taking a game from Alma Saturday, with the first pitch slated for 2 p.m.