What a difference a week can make.
After starting the season 3-19, the softball team (9-21, 5-5 Atlantic Ten Conference) was left for dead April 3. Since then, the Owls have rallied to win six of their last eight games to work themselves into the playoff discussion.
Led by senior pitcher Katie Burdeaux, the Owls picked up A-10 wins against Rhode Island, Fordham and George Washington over the course of the past week. Also included was a doubleheader sweep of cross-town and Big 5 rival Penn.
Burdeaux, who is 4-10 on the year, has come on strong as of late, picking up three consecutive wins, while also hitting a decisive three-run home run against Rhode Island.
Coach Joe DiPietro suggested a change in coaching philosophy might have helped Burdeaux re-establish herself as the season moves on.
“In the past, she would be taken out as soon as she walked somebody or gave up a hit. I’ve let her fight through it,” DiPietro said. “Once she realized I wasn’t going to pull her quickly, she really started to settle in there and do her own thing.”
As equally impressive for the Owls has been freshman pitcher Sarah Reynolds, who is leading the team in wins with five, including a three-game winning streak that matches Burdeaux’s.
DiPietro attributes Reynolds’ strong freshman debut to her tireless work with pitching coach Laura DeZolt and to Burdeaux’s example.
“She’s learning how to throw at the college level,” DiPietro said. “Plus, when Katie goes out and throws a good first game, [Sarah] knows she has to go out there and match her.”
The Owls, who at one point in the season were held scoreless in three out of four games, have rediscovered their swings recently. Leading the way offensively as of late has been freshman infielder Christina Sykora.
Sykora, who started the season hitting .154 in her first 21 games, has connected for two home runs in the past four games, leading the team to a 4-0 record over that stretch.
Continuing to anchor the cleanup spot for Temple has been senior first baseman Courtney Norene. Norene, Temple’s all-time home run leader, leads the team in hits, home runs, RBIs and almost every other offensive category imaginable.
Instead of attributing the newfound offensive prowess to two players, DiPietro credits the change to a developing group mentality.
“The beginning of the season was rough. We had a whole lot of new players and a completely new coaching staff,” DiPietro said. “Eventually, we found our identity. People have finally relaxed and started to play hard.”
While their record still isn’t a pretty one, the Owls find themselves in sixth place in the A-10. Since six teams make it to the playoffs, if the season ended today, Temple would be in, a notion that seemed absurd a couple weeks ago.
But, unfortunately, the season doesn’t end today.
With St. Bonaventure a game behind the Owls in the race for the final playoff spot, the team has little room for error. Most of all, it cannot allow itself to become too confident, a fact that DiPietro is fully aware of.
“With eight games left in conference, we’re not overconfident,” DiPietro said. “We’ve been playing a whole lot better, but we’re not going to become too full of ourselves.”
If the Owls continue to play as well as they have recently, that might be easier said than done.
The Owls play a doubleheader with Delaware State Friday before traveling to Saint Louis to continue conference play against the Billikens over the weekend.
Kyle Gauss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.