The Leopards softball team completed another successful season finishing second in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference with an overall record of 29-17 and earning their second consecutive trip to the NCAA Western Regional Tournament.
The Leopards started off the season slowly, compiling a 9-8 record.
The team really hit its stride entering the Tucson Tournament in Arizona, where the Leopards went 5-0, including a win over defending national champions Wisconsin Eau-Claire.
They continued their strong run compiling a season-high 13-game winning streak.
“I’m extremely proud of where we started and the fact that we finished strong,” head coach Julie Smith said.
“Some mid-season pick ups really propelled us into the second half,” Smith said.
The Leopards earned the No. 2 seed in the SCIAC tournament falling just short of the finals in a 2-0 loss to Redlands, the winner of the tournament.
They entered the NCAA West Regional in Marshall, Texas as the No. 7 seed where they lost yet another tight game 4-3 to Louisiana College and suffered elimination.
“There were a few games I feel we shouldn’t have lost,” Smith said. “We made some mistakes but I am proud of them and what we accomplished.”
Overall, the Leopards placed seven players on the All-SCIAC team, which is determined by the leagues coaches.
Leading the pack is the SCIAC player of the year Senior Melissa Carlson who finished the season with a batting average of .462 and led the conference in hits, stolen bases and runs scored.
“It was unexpected but it was only possible because I had my teammates and coach around me,” Carlson said.
Ashley Meneely, Delaney Baylor, Ashley Paul and Lynsey Padilla were all included on the All-SCIAC team.
Baylor led the pitching staff with 16 wins to go along with a 2.11 ERA.
The Leopards also placed two freshmen on the All-SCIAC team, Diandra Burns and Tara Allis, providing the Leopards with a strong outlook towards the future.
Burns was second on the team in batting average, hitting .427 on the year while driving in 27 runs to go along with five home-runs.
“We’re knocking on the door and the kids coming in are going to be a big help,” Smith said.
In two years with Smith as head coach, the Leopards have found themselves in the NCAA tournament twice and at the top of the SCIAC conference both years, a great improvement in the program.
“It’s been a 180 degree turn around since Julie arrived,” Carlson said.
Despite the achievements the team must also suffer some important loses next season when they bid farewell to several key players, including Carlson, Padilla, Meneely and fellow senior Kari Granger.
“We have a strong young team but it’s going to be hard,” Diandra Burns said.
“It’s like losing a big chunk of the family,” Burns said.
Christopher Guzman can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.