With two weeks in the regular season left, Drexel’s softball team is making its final push to qualify for the postseason.
The team has a number of important conference games left, and by beating the remaining teams in front of them, the Dragons could be on their way to the Colonial Athletic Association tournament.
In last week’s action, they did not take advantage of gaining ground on CAA opponent Towson University. Drexel lost two of three to close out its home schedule.
On April 18, the Dragons wasted a tremendous pitching performance from senior right-hander Shelby Taylor, dropping the first game of the doubleheader and series, 2-1. Taylor allowed two runs, only one earned, over the complete seven innings.
The Dragons’defense put them in a first inning hole after senior catcher Maddison Timoteo struggled to corral a passed ball and allowed a runner from second to come all the way home to score. The game remained scoreless until the Tigers tacked on an insurance run in the fourth when a two-out single drove in a run to make it 2-0.
Taylor drew the line there, and actually cut the deficit in half herself. After the pitcher led off with a walk, the Dragons used what they’ve been using all year to score a run: small ball. A sacrifice bunt and a sacrifice fly eventually brought Taylor in to make it 2-1, but the offense struggled the rest of the way.
Missy McCormick shut down the Dragons and topped Taylor on the mound. The junior went all seven innings, allowing just the one run and three hits.
Drexel would get away from her in Game 2 and used a big third and fourth inning to ride a 9-1 victory that only took five innings. Senior right-hander Rose Portiolli earned the complete game victory on the bump.
Towson played a very sloppy game in the field, and the Dragons took advantage. Only four of their nine runs were earned.
In the third inning, Towson took a 1-0 lead on a solo home run, and when Drexel came to the plate, its first two hitters were retired. But a two-out walk and a fielding error set the stage for a big inning. Three consecutive run-scoring singles from Taylor, sophomore Karli Boyer and junior Liana Newton put the Dragons ahead, and later in the inning another error led to a fourth run.
Ahead 4-1 through three, Portiolli had more than enough and cruised the rest of the way. Taylor added a three-run home run in the fourth and Drexel was able to split the day’s doubleheader.
Saturday, Drexel head coach Miranda Ervin handed the ball back to her winning pitcher from the previous day, but Portiolli was reamed for five runs, managing to record only four outs. The Dragons were shutout 5-0 to Towson in the rubber game.
Towson’s Maureen Hepner hit a three-run home run in the first inning, and McCormick again cruised on the mound. Drexel managed only three hits and struggled to push a run across after scoring nine in five innings the previous game, highlighting the inconsistency of the team.
“Hitting is contagious,”Ervin said. “When you are hitting, it seems like everyone hits. When you’re not, it seems like it’s affecting everyone.”
The lone bright spot from the game was the relief appearance Taylor gave. Tasked with stabilizing the game and limiting the damage, Taylor did not allow a run in relief of Portiolli over 4.2 innings. It lowered her ERA to 2.53.
Last season, she lost 14 games and posted an ERA of 5.61. Now in her second season pitching for Ervin, and fourth overall for Drexel, it represents significant growth from last year’s struggles.
“The big thing for [Taylor] is the preparation she is putting in this year,”Ervin said. “She made the changes we were asking her to make on the mound, and I just think her focus is there, more so than it ever has been.”
That leaves Drexel with a record of 17-21, ___ games back of the fourth and final spot in the CAA tournament and closing in on the team’s goal of winning 20 ball games.
Though they are behind significantly in the playoff standings, Drexel will have a chance to make up significant ground in their six remaining conference games — all of which are against teams they are chasing.
This weekend, starting April 26, they will look to start the chase by facing the College of Charleston on the road in a doubleheader Saturday with a finale on Sunday.
With Charleston currently one of the four teams in position for the playoffs, along with James Madison University, Hofstra University and Towson, Drexel will get a tremendous chance to cut into the damage and get back in the hunt.
“If we perform well against College of Charleston and perform well against Hofstra, we’re in the hunt to go to the conference tournament,”Ervin pointed out.
Drexel still has three games left against Hofstra before season’s end. They have defeated each of their conference rivals at least once, but the remaining six games, as well as three more out of conference, will all be on the road. Including games in neutral locations, the Dragons are 10-14 away from home, but Ervin does not anticipate it being too much more of a challenge.
“I don’t really think it will pose a challenge for us,”she said of her team’s resolve on the road, “We’ve played on the road before, we were gone all of February.”
In fact, she is embracing going out on the road. As the team is winding down the season, she sees it as an opportunity for the team to bond.
“I really feel like it creates an atmosphere of family again, and they get to be together,”she explained. “The challenge is them keeping up with classes.”
The games start on April 26 with a doubleheader at 4 p.m. It will end with a 1 p.m. matinee on April 27 before returning for three games against Saint Joseph.