Temple’s game against Central Arkansas was over, but the players weren’t going anywhere. The two teams headed to the outfield, where the student-athletes and coaches formed a circle – alternating Owl and Bear – and joined hands while the Central Arkansas coach prayed for Temple and wished them all the best moving forward.
The Board of Trustees approved a decision in December to eliminate the softball team.
“It was a very, very thoughtful moment,” sophomore second baseman Leah Lucas said. “It was really cool to have a coach and a team feel for us and give us their condolences. It was really good to see a team genuinely care about what has been happening to us.”
“That was probably the most genuine gesture I’ve ever seen in my life,” freshman center fielder Toni Santos said. “Every single person on my team was crying.”
That moment, however, came at the end of an 11-3 loss. It was one of the worst games of Temple’s season – which has gotten off to a rocky start.
The Owls (7-11) have struggled with errors and hitting. Members of the team said their fielding problems are due to a lack of practice.
“There are some times when I feel like our team hasn’t really been prepared,” Santos said. “It’s not anyone’s fault. It’s just due to weather conditions. We haven’t seen dirt since the fall.”
Temple has made 30 errors during the course of the season, including 11 in a three-game stretch. The Owls have given up 17 unearned runs. In losses to Mount St. Mary’s and Florida Atlantic, an unearned run was the difference in each game.
The team has also struggled to hit with runners on base. Temple has stranded 131 runners so far.
Earlier in the season, coach Joe DiPietro said the cuts were affecting the team’s play.
“They’re trying to play hard, but their focus isn’t here,” DiPietro said after the Mount St. Mary’s game. “I mean, with the cuts and them being affected. It’s just been hard for them to focus.”
But now DiPietro said the cuts cannot be blamed for everything.
“I don’t want to sit here and say every time we lose it’s because they’re affected by the cuts,” DiPietro said. “They’re affected by the cuts every minute of every day. It’s not the reason we win and it’s not the reason we lose.”
Lucas said the cuts are “not really hurting us that much.”
“We’re still together as a team and pulling for each other,” Lucas said. “We’ve been struggling a little bit, as you can see by our record. But we’re still in good spirits, trying to turn the season around and get back to how we play softball.”
Temple has performed well in some aspects. The Owls’ pitching has generally been solid, and they are undefeated when they score first. But errors and lack of timely hitting have offset the benefits of good pitching, and Temple has scored first only four times this season.
Temple has also had trouble putting away close games, with a 1-7 record in games decided by two runs or less.
“It’s a shame,” DiPietro said. “Just to see them go through this and know there’s really nothing I can do, it’s just killing me. And they know it, too, that they’re not playing to anywhere near their abilities.”
“It’s a little bit of a struggle,” Santos said. “It’s not that we don’t want to win, it’s not that we are wanting to lose, it’s just – we really have no words for it. But we all love being here, and we’re making the most out of our season. And that’s pretty much all we can do with what we’ve been handed.”
Despite their early struggles, the Owls remain confident in their abilities.
“I’m 100 percent sure that we’re going to turn it around,” Santos said. “All of us, we’re self-confident, self-motivated, self-driven. We’ll get it done. We’re not going to let this final season or the cuts affect how we play.”
“One person just has to be a spark,” DiPietro said. “One of those kids has to step up and say, ‘Let’s go.’ And I think that’ll happen; it’s just not happening as fast as everybody had hoped.”
Don McDermott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.