While many coaches will say that every conference game is a battle and none of them should be taken lightly, it’s clear some games have a little more at stake.
The Owls (18-17, 7-3 Atlantic-10 Conference) had their first tough stretch of the conference schedule last week when they hosted St. Joseph’s Univeristy (25-4-1, 9-1 A-10) and Dayton (17-18, 8-5 A-10).
The four games had the potential to completely reshape the top of the conference. The Hawks entered the week the top seed, with Temple and the Flyers trailing closely. If the Owls got swept in both double-headers they could have plummeted to the bottom half of the standings.
“We had a chance to really solidify ourselves in one of those top two spots,” coach Joe DiPietro said after the double-header against Dayton. “I tried to tell the girls these are the kinds of games that will come back and bite you, and cost you a seed in the tournament.”
When the week finally ended the Owls had split both series.
“You always want to be 4-0,” DiPietro said. “If we would have came out of here 3-1 I would have been thrilled, 2-2 to me is just not good.”
“We know that we’re better than both teams, and splitting with Dayton [Saturday] was kind of a big disappointment because we expected that we would kind of outperform them and win both games,” junior third baseman Devynne Nelons said. “It was a little upsetting but certainly not disheartening.”
Temple entered the week having a chance to leapfrog St. Joe’s and Dayton and grab the top spot in the A-10, if everything broke the Owls’ way. An 0-4 stretch, inversely, wouldn’t have bode well for the Owls’ season. But going 2-2 meant the Owls did relatively nothing to help or hurt their standings. It all depended on how the other teams around them did.
While DiPietro wanted more from his team this week, splitting a double-header with the Hawks, who entered the week undefeated in the conference, sent a message. The Owls were run-ruled in the first game, and bounced back and knocked around one of the better pitchers in the conference, freshman Liz Mendez, in a 10-1 victory.
“We were all extremely excited,” senior centerfielder Ali Robinson said about run-ruling their rival in the second game. “We know they were going to be two good games, and two games we had to come out and compete in.”
“I think that kind of game should have alerted the rest of the conference that we’re a team that shouldn’t be taken lightly and hopefully they all got the message by now,” Nelons said.
But while knocking off the Hawks was the highlight of the week, dropping a game 2-0 at the hands of the Flyers was equally as troubling. Ending the week 7-3 in the A-10, with Fordham (9-5 A-10), Massachusetts (8-2 A-10) and Butler (6-4 A-10) all playing Sunday, April 14, left a lot in the air for the Owls.
“This was a tough week for us, but even though we ended up splitting with both teams I think we have high hopes going into these next three weeks,” Nelons said.
“I think it’s still possible that we can end up No. 1,” Nelons said. “I don’t think we’re scared of Fordham or [Massachusetts] or anything like that. I think we’re just looking forward to the games and hoping to win every single one.”
The good news for the Owls is they have 12 games remaining in the conference to make up ground. It’s possible that St. Joe’s may lose more games, giving them a shot at the top seed. Largely their fate is still in their hands.
“As long as we’re working, our offense is on, our defense is on, we’re not too worried about not winning the games,” Robinson said.
“I think we’re as good or better than everyone this week, we just have to play like it,” DiPietro said.
But DiPietro said that settling these next few weeks is not an option.
“I try to tell the girls that a couple years ago it was OK playing just to make the playoffs, but not now,” DiPietro said. “Not now. We’re playing for a top spot…We have to start sweeping teams is what we have to start doing. This splitting stuff is just not good enough.
Jake Adams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jakeadams520.