Former men’s basketball coach John Chaney swore by the tough non-conference schedule.
Apparently softball coach Casey Dickson does, too.
Dickson scheduled the three-day Arizona State University Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz. with the intent that her team would face perennial powerhouses California and Oklahoma State, as well as No. 25 Oregon State, Western Michigan, and Idaho State.
“When I played at the University of Oklahoma, we always played the best to be the best,” Dickson said. “Last year we played No. 1 Arizona. It’s all a learning experience from which we will take the strengths and then build and focus on them.”
Junior Courtney Norene, who is taking over third base for departed Atlantic Ten Conference Player of the Year Adrienne Repsher, agreed with Dickson.
“Whether we’re successful or not [in the tournament], we’ll have nothing to be afraid of in the [Atlantic Ten] season because we’ll have been there,” she said. “There will be no surprises, in big games we’ll know what to do.”
In the opening day of the tournament against No. 34 California and Western Michigan, however, the Owls seemed to allow their nerves to come into play, losing back-to-back games by a combined score of 22-2.
In the first game, the Bears’ offense erupted for 11 runs on 11 hits, beating the Owls 11-0 in only four innings of action. Cal broke open the game with two big innings, the six-run second and four-run fourth. Two, two-run doubles to centerfield by right fielder Valerie Arioto and catcher Heather Camara paced the Bears. On top of Temple’s poor pitching performance, Cal’s pitchers also managed to hold an offense that ranked 28th in the nation last season to only three hits, one for extra bases.
The offense woke up for one inning of play versus Western Michigan, but it came too little, too late. By the time the Owls got their only hits and runs of the game in the fourth inning, the Broncos were already ahead 6-0 thanks to a six-run first inning. Temple’s pitchers gave up five home runs, which accounted for nine of Western Michigan’s 11 runs in an 11-2 loss.
“I think the first day, our team was really nervous,” Dickson said. “But our team had a big talk after Friday about fighting to win and representing Temple University with pride. You could see the different demeanor on Saturday.”
The following day against No. 25 Oregon State and Idaho State, Temple hit some home runs of its own. The Owls stunned the Beavers 4-2 for their first victory of the season and the programs first-ever win versus a Pac-10 opponent in five tries.
Back-to-back home runs by Norene and senior Natalie Wagner erased a 2-1 sixth inning deficit, making a winner of senior Brianna Dairy, who held Oregon State to two runs on four hits.
“The coaching staff told Brianna to pitch to her strengths and what was working for her instead of focusing on the strengths of the hitters,” Dickson said. “People forget that she was an all-American in junior college. Now that she’s gotten back to 100 percent after shoulder surgery, I think you’re going to see a more improved staff that the team fights behind.”
That solid pitching continued for the Owls in the second game of the day, an 8-5 win over Idaho State. Junior Katie Burdeaux pitched five and two-third innings, giving up only two earned runs. Dairy followed her earlier performance with one and one-third innings of scoreless ball. Temple’s offense continued its power attack, getting a lead-off home run from sophomore catcher Krystle Metzler and a crucial, three-run home run from Norene to break open a 5-4 game in the seventh. The Bengals out hit Temple 11-5, but the Owls took advantage of three Idaho State errors to score five unearned runs.
“The Oregon State win was fulfilling since they’re ranked No. 25 in the country, but it was even better to stay on top for
another game and get a win instead of flattening out,” Dickson said.
After a 5-0 loss on Sunday versus Oklahoma State, the Owls will take their 2-3 record into next weekend’s Texas A&M Tournament, and, of course, into the Atlantic 10 portion of their schedule.
“No. 30 Fordham and No. 49 Massachusetts are our biggest competition in-conference and the teams we played this weekend are equal to them or even better,” Norene said. “This will definitely build our confidence and help us continue our success.”
“Over the last two years, there has been a lot of hype about my crazy scheduling, but I think we’ve proved ourselves against some tough competition,” she said. “If we play in our conference like we played Saturday, then we will win the Atlantic Ten Conference again.”
Jennifer Reardon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.