Amid the clouds and the fog, gold balloons floated and giant purple posters hung last weekend on the outskirts of a tall black fence in what turned out to be an emotional day for seven SF State softball players.
Family, friends and supporters of the SF State softball team came together to celebrate the accomplishments of seven graduating seniors and the journey they took to get there April 16 for Senior Day before concluding their last homestand of the season against the Humboldt State Lumberjacks.
In a pregame ceremony before the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader, loved ones took the time to remember the accomplishments of the graduating seniors – Lea Cardenas, Alyssa Esquibel, Ashley Jackson, Rachael Kroneder, Kelly McDonald, Kelsey Wood and Kendra Wood – and the journey they took to get there.
“Oh, Senior day. Yeah, it was emotional,” said head coach Cristina Byrne. “I have been with this first group of freshmen for the four years. They have helped build up this program and I am real proud of all the records that some of them have met.”
After the ceremony, the Gators (9-23) split the series’ final two games with the Lumberjacks (12-16), though they failed to win the series. After dropping the first three games, SF State avoided a sweep by winning their final home game of the year 6-1, though losing the series 3-1 and failing to move up in the California Collegiate Athletic Association standings.
“I was happy with the way we came out today,” Byrne said. “We continue to come back. We swung the bats well and scored some runs.”
Jackson, a right-handed pitcher, started the third game of the series on Friday for the Gators and threw four innings before leaving in the middle of the fifth for freshman relief pitcher Jordan Stanaland. The Lumberjacks swept the Gators in the first doubleheader, winning 6-2 and 8-3 respectively.
Despite walking five batters and receiving her 15th loss of the season, Jackson pitched well considering the amount of appearances she made in the series, Bryne said; heading into game three, Jackson, who leads the team in both wins, losses and ERA, had already accumulated 11 innings of work.
“Ashley works hard for us,” Byrne said. “In that third game, she was a little bit tired. We were at a point where I felt we needed a change. I was very proud of her performance.”
The Gators’ offense did most of their damage in the final game of Saturday’s doubleheader. They scored six runs on 11 hits while stranding eight runners in scoring position.
“I think in game three we were not doing the little things,” Kelsey Wood said. “In game four, we scored a lot of runs. The difference was that we turned things around in that last game.”
The Wood sisters led the way for the Gators in the series as they combined to go 3-10. Together they also drove in two RBIs, were walked six times and scored a total of three runs.
“It is nice to see that one of them is the pitcher and one of them is the catcher,” Byrne said. “They have been here for all four years. Both of them grew as players and I can count on them to take care of things. They are great technicians of the game and have taught the rest of the girls on this team.”
Byrne also said that it is always special when Kelsey and Kendra play together, especially bearing in mind that each has had several lingering injuries in their athletic careers.
“Kendra and Kelsey have dealt with severe injuries,” she said. “They’ve had elbow and leg problems. Kendra hasn’t been able to pitch much in recent years.”
For Kendra Wood, who toed the rubber in game four, her first win of the season came when her twin sister Kelsey took her place behind the plate, calling and catching the game. Kendra picked the Lumberjacks apart one-by-one. She nothced a complete game while allowing just one earned run on five hits, while striking out four on 91 pitches.
“It was great to finish this game out,” Kendra Wood said. “It was just nice to pitch today. I am more reserved and optimistic than my sister. She is more vocal and speaks her mind. It is a good mix. We make a good combo because we balance each other.”
Kelsey explained that the reason they make such a good pair is because she and her sister are always on the same page.
“As the catcher, I know her the best,” she said. “I really don’t need to think. I read her. I do not have to call timeout to communicate with her. This gives us an edge. I obviously know her better than any other pitcher.”