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SMC Softball

Belles open season with 8-game slate, work out kinks of being a young team

| Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Spring break held a full slate for Saint Mary’s softball. The underclassmen-heavy team didn’t have an entirely successful week by record, going 2-5. But head coach Cassie Young said she was excited by the improvements she saw between games and what that means for the season. 

With their ticket to this year’s The Spring Games Tournament, the Belles prepared to face 10 opponents in six days. A cancellation and two postponements ultimately meant they would play seven. Young said that regardless, they were as ready as they could be.

“We tried to work really hard in practice to make sure we were prepared for that many games.” Young said. “We tried as best we could to simulate having to have six in the first three days that we’re here. And then only getting one day off to just play four more in two days. But yeah, it was a little bit tough with the traveling and then turn around and playing right away.”

Young said, despite their minimal experience, the “girls have done a really good job. Especially for being a young team.”

The difficulty of hoping right out of travel and into play set the Belles on the wrong foot, though. In their first matchup against the Coast Guard Bears, Saint Mary’s fell 19-4. 

“Our start was a little tough. But every game, we’ve been getting better making improvements across the board. The girls are really, I guess, taking in what we have to tell them and getting used to playing college softball.” Young said.  

A new coach herself, Young returned only three seniors and four juniors to their 19-player roster. All seven of them have only seen one spring break slate. The 12 underclassmen have yet to play a college slate. Despite that, Young also said that inexperience was what made it the perfect space for them to learn. 

“Everyone’s doing a really good job of just kind of absorbing the experience and also we’re learning and growing,” she said.

The Belles were able to progress during the week, especially with a couple of well-placed cancelations and postponements. The middle four-game stretch bounced between steep losses and narrow margins. 

In the early games both days, the Belles fell in wider margins but the afternoon games saw better momentum. Monday, March 7, Saint Mary’s opened the day against Bethany (W.V.) and couldn’t get their bats on the ball, falling 6-0. In the afternoon though, the Belles saw a better game and kept the Bethany Lutheran Vikings within two until the sixth where they led 4-1. 

The Belles attempted to steal the momentum in the seventh as junior outfielder Paige Madden stepped in to pinch run for sophomore catcher Natalie Quinlan who had been walked. Madden then stole second on a wild pitch and sophomore outfielder McKenna Shoupe put runners at the corners with her own single. Senior pitcher Mandi Hettinger brought Madden home and sent herself to first. She was right behind Shoupe as junior second baseman Rylee Hershberger stepped to the plate. She had the tying run on base and crack the ball towards left field but Viking third baseman Kaija Mork grabbed the forced out on third to call the game. The final score was 4-2. 

The next day, the Belles lost their momentum again in the morning as they took on Ohio Northern and fell 7-1. Later though, Saint Mary’s took on Marian. After a half-inning 1-0 lead from the Sabres, the Belles led for 6 innings after 2 early runs from Shoupe and Hettinger, brought in by junior second baseman Caitlin Trailer and sophomore shortstop McKenna Myers. The Belles were ultimately foiled by another third baseman, the Sabres’ Andrea Miller, who hit a home run to bring in two runs. The Belles fell just short of the win, 3-2. 

“We’re putting it together and that’s that is really gratifying to watch,” Young said after Tuesday’s games. The day after this, their most impressive performance on the week, was the day off though which Young said made her uneasy. 

“I felt like we had good momentum [on Tuesday]. We didn’t end up winning but I felt like we had good momentum coming out of that at least. I didn’t know if that would be a good thing or not necessarily a good thing to take two days off,” she said.

One day turned into two as both of their Thursday games were postponed and then never played but the extra day didn’t seem to hurt the Belles.

“Coming back that last day the girls played really well. They kept the momentum from earlier in the week and continued to get better every day,” Young said. 

Getting better eventually swung up into a pair of wins for the Belles. Against John Carroll, Shoupe hit a home run to bring Madden home in the third. John Carroll tied it in the fourth and fifth. Then, a Hershberger double in the seventh allowed Shoupe and junior outfielder Mac Pepper to score to close the game in a 4-2 win. 

Against Ohio Wesleyan, Shoupe scored early again off a Myers out. This was followed by 5 unanswered runs from the Bishops. Then, in the bottom of the seventh again, the Belles took five of their own to win it 6-5. 

“It just showed the girls that they can do it as long as they stay in and stay focused,” Young said. “They’re a good team. Just coming through the end of games like that, it did a lot for their confidence. So we’ll see how, we play Thursday again, so we’ll see how they carry that into their season.”

The Belles take the field again on Thursday to open conference play against Manchester. The first game of the doubleheader starts at 3:30 p.m. with another at 6 p.m. Young said she believes the team is in a much better place for conference play than they were just a week ago. 

“I think that you can tell just leaps and bounds compared to that first day we played,” Young said. “Everyone seems a lot more comfortable with each other and being out there again. That’s gonna come with time, like with actual game time experience. So I think they’re doing a really good job.”

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About Mannion McGinley

Mannion McGinley is an American Studies and Sociology major with a Journalism minor in Notre Dame's class of 2023. She is a member of the Glynn Family Honors program and currently serves as an Assistant Managing Editor at The Observer.

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