In Review: Women’s softball find footing late in season

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The hallmarks of a demoralizing year plagued the Gators during their 1-13 start to the season, but their record did not prevent the young squad from establishing themselves as an enigma of the California Collegiate Athletic Association by the end of the 2015 season.

“So many teams would’ve packed it in early by now but they’ve kept fighting,” said head coach Cristina Byrne after a close late-season loss to the Cal State Monterey Bay Otters, the team ranked No. 5 in the nation. “I’m so proud of them for that. They came out here and proved to themselves they can hang with tough squads like this.”

Byrne lauded her team for recovering from the stagnant 14-game stretch at the beginning of the season, where they were outscored by an average of 4.36 runs per game. The Gators rebounded over the next 38 contests to cut that average deficit down to 1.63 runs per game, challenging the CCAA’s best squads and winning 11 games along the way to end with a 12-40 record.

The Gators looked on par with top-level clubs at times, which made their inconsistency against teams with similar records and penchant for coming out on the losing end of close games all the more unbearable for players, coaches and fans.

The production of the team’s pitching staff remained unchanged throughout much of the year, mixing lengthy outings from ace Megan Clark with a ‘pitch by committee approach on her off days, but a resurgence of tenured hitters and the blossoming of newer ones helped inspire the team to become more competitive.

Senior shortstop Courtney Gravel was one of numerous veterans who found her stride after a rocky start. Her .310 batting average led the team for the second consecutive year, catalyzing a late-season offensive surge.

“I think as the year went on we were better able to put together our defense and offense,” Gravel said. “Just getting to know each other better on the field helped us become more competitive.”

Gravel was joined by junior Jennifer Lewis and freshman Sara Higa as the team’s top hitters this season.

Although wins eluded the Gators often and in frequently agonizing fashion this season, freshman outfielder Delanie Chrisman said she took pride in the squad’s persistence.

“There kind of comes a time when a team decides whether they’re going to give up or fight when you don’t have a winning record,” Chrisman said. “I think we knew we put in too much hard work to hand anyone a win so we came out and competed aggressively.”

With the graduations of Gravel, first baseman Selina Rodriguez and third baseman Lucy Fernandez, coach Byrne will be building off of the performances of her younger athletes as the team looks forward to 2016.

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