The Swarthmore softball team came to Myrtle Beach hoping to start the season on the right note. They left with their best eight-game start in over a decade. In the 2012 Snowbird Tournament, the team went 5-3 over four days.
On Monday, March 5th, the Garnet opened their season with back-to-back victories over SUNY IT and Immaculata. In the first game, Swarthmore defeated the SUNY IT Wildcats 6-2, then beat Immaculata 9-5 in the second game. Highlights of the first day included outfielder Kate Smayda’s ’13 first career home run, which she hit in the bottom of the first inning against SUNY IT. The home run was just the beginning to Smayda’s fantastic performance over the course of the week.
“As the lead-off hitter, I worked on swinging at the first strike and not taking many pitches,” Smayda said. “Generally, that strategy allowed me to get on base and put myself in scoring position.”
Sophomore starter Sarina Lowe had a career performance, striking out 12 Wildcat hitters in a complete-game victory. “My curveball was working really well,” Lowe said of her 12-strikeout outing, “and it was really windy too, so I didn’t even know how the ball was going to move.”
Against Immaculata, first-year pitcher Chelsea Matzko struggled behind shaky defense, but was bailed out by a strong offensive effort and four shutout innings from Melissa O’Connor ’14 in relief.
On March 6th, Swarthmore had its first shutout victory of the season, blanking Penn College 9-0 in a five-inning contest. Lowe and Matzko combined for five scoreless innings on five hits, while Danielle Seltzer ’13 drove in two of the Garnet’s runs. That night, however, the team suffered their first loss of the year, falling to King’s College 5-4. Although the Garnet drew first blood by jumping out to a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first, the Monarchs came back against O’Connor and Matzko to take a 5-2 lead. Swarthmore was nearly able to come back in the bottom of the seventh; in a two-run inning, they put the tying runner in scoring position for third baseman Rose Pitkin ’13, who flied out to deep right to end the game.
Swarthmore split two games on March 7th, defeating Bluefield College 8-0 and falling to St. Joseph’s 4-1. Against Bluefield, Smayda added two more RBIs to her torrid start to the season, Pitkin drove in her eighth run of the season, and O’Connor allowed only one baserunner past second in a complete game shutout. In the second game of the day, Smayda hit her second home run of the trip and Matzko worked out of trouble over and over. In the fifth inning, the Golden Eagles finally broke through, scoring three runs to take a 4-1 lead and ice the game.
“I think all of the work that I put in during the off-season really helped me with this past week’s pitching,” O’Connor said in an email. “All of the pitchers also put in a lot of early morning hours during the preseason which were very beneficial; we were prepared to wake up early during break and didn’t have trouble playing games in the morning.”
On Thursday, March 8th, Swarthmore began its final day on the trip by losing to the Eastern Eagles 4-0. Eastern gave its pitching all the run support it would need in the first inning, jumping out to a 3-0 lead on three hits against Lowe. Eagles starter Janelle Fair was brilliant in a complete-game shutout.
The Garnet atoned for their performance against Eastern with a 10-0 thrashing of the Southern Vermont Mountaineers in the Snowbird Tournament finale. The Mountaineers could do nothing against O’Connor, who struck out ten batters in her second shutout of the year. Keyed by a two-run single from Smayda, the Garnet led 5-0 going into the late innings. In the seventh, the Garnet broke the game open with a five-run rally in which nine of the first ten batters reached base.
The 5-3 start is the team’s best through eight games since the 2007 season, when they also started 5-3.
In 2011, the Garnet lost their first eight games of the season and didn’t earn their fifth win of the year until April 7. If nothing else, the strong beginning has shown other teams what the Garnet already knew: that they can play with anyone.
“It was nice to come out of spring break with five wins,” Smayda said, “and knowing that we can compete with good teams.”
The team is currently enjoying a long rest after playing eight games in four days. They will resume their season next Tuesday, with a doubleheader at Philadelphia Biblical University. Their home opener comes a week later with an afternoon doubleheader against conference rival Muhlenberg.