Hampered by injuries and inconsistent play, the Temple Owls softball team realizes it faces an uphill battle to make it into the Atlantic 10 playoffs this season.
It is a battle head coach Rocci Pignoli believes his team can win.
Heading into this season, Pignoli’s young but talented team appeared poised as a serious contender for the A-10 title, but critical knee injuries to freshmen Marissa McDevitt and Christine Harris coupled with inconsistent performances on the field have dashed the team’s aspirations.
“I think we’re a little bit under our expectations of what we expected this year,” Pignoli said. “A couple of tough circumstances with injuries have hurt us very much.I think everybody has really played to what we think they are capable of doing in spurts, but we haven’t had the consistency we need from people.”
Much of the inconsistency stems from having a fairly young and inexperienced team — especially in the pitching department — with five sophomores and five freshmen on the roster.
Throughout the season, the team has relied on a young trio of pitchers — freshman Elizabeth Naughton, freshman Bari Pflueger and sophomore Nanci Lima — to lead the team defensively.
Although Pignoli has been pleased with the overall performance and work ethic of his pitchers this season, he realizes that mental errors will occur with such an inexperienced rotation.
“They’ve made mental mistakes at the wrong times and that is a learning process,” Pignoli said. “We have two freshmen and a sophomore and it takes time to learn that. I feel very confident, though, that they realize what they were doing, and they are working really hard towards correcting it.”
Sophomore shortstop Katie Spencer has led the way for the Owls offensively this year. Spencer’s hitting has fueled the Owls’ offensive attack and provided Temple with a solid leadoff threat all season.
Heading into the Owls’ most recent contest opposite the University of Rhode Island, Spencer was batting a team high .330, with 11 runs scored, seven runs batted in, and an on-base percentage of .400.
Spencer’s sound performance at the plate this season has earned her nothing but praise from her coach.
“Katie has come a long way,” Pignoli said. “She went through that freshman transition and has handled it mentally and physically very well. We’ve had a lot of people [step up] at different spurts, but nobody has been as consistent as Katie.”
Also providing the Owls with an offensive spark this season have been freshman Ashley Caudill and sophomore Erin Byrne. Caudill is batting .230 with a team-high 13 RBIs, while Byrne is batting .223 with a solid nine RBIs and seven runs scored on the season.
With the Owls’ division schedule just getting under way, the team appears ready to bounce back from its early struggles. Temple’s recent doubleheader sweep of the Rams could be a sign that the late-season charge at the A-10 playoffs is under way.
After losing both games of a doubleheader to Dayton in their first divisional competition of the season, the Owls rebounded by sweeping a doubleheader against the Rhode Island on April 15.
In game one of the doubleheader, the Owls defeated URI 6-3. Lima picked up the win to improve her pitching record to 5-4, while Spencer provided the offense with four hits, one RBI and one run scored in the game.
In the second game, Pflueger pitched five no-hit innings, as Temple went on to win the game 5-4. Plueger’s solid performance notched her the win as she improved her record to 5-7 on the year, and Byrne powered the team offensively with a three-run triple in the third inning.
With the two victories, the Owls improved their record to 12-24 overall and to 2-2 in the division.
Pignoli said that for his team to make the A-10 playoffs, he believes they will need about 10 wins in the division.
Although he knows it will not be easy given the injuries and the slow start, Pignoli feels his team is coming together at the right time and will be able to reach the 10-win mark in the division.
“I think that a lot of people have made a lot of adjustments and changes in their game that will help,” Pignoli said. “It takes time and I’m hoping that we’re peaking at the right time with the A-10s coming up. We have our backs up against the wall, but I have a lot of confidence that this team can get it done.”