As the Manhattan College softball team was practicing ahead of a six-game road trip in California from March 11 through March 13, it had one goal in mind: To win.
The team was in the midst of a five-game winning streak to get some early-season motivation. The Jaspers won a double-header against Hartford at home on March 1 and had three-straight wins at the Hampton Invitational from March 4 through March 6.
The Jaspers wanted to keep the momentum going, with preparations for the Saint Mary’s Tournament in Moraga, Calif.
“It’s awesome,” catcher Elena Bowman said of the win streak before embarking on the road trip, “it’s a great start. We’re making improvements in every game. I think it’s important for us to continue to go out and not be satisfied with that. It matters where we are in the end. Right now we’re playing some good softball so it’s exciting.”
Four of Manhattan’s six games in California were cancelled after rainstorms caused the field to be unplayable. Manhattan started and ended the tournament with rained-out games, but was able to play two games in between on Saturday. The Jaspers lost both, however, by one-run deficits. They fell to Towson and Saint Mary’s 1-0 and 2-1 respectively.
The Jaspers bounced back later in the week at the St. John’s Invitational in Queens going 2-2. The Jaspers opened the tournament with a 6-0 win over Howard, however, dropped the next two games, 2-1 against St. John’s and 8-6 versus Samford. The Jaspers concluded the tournament with an 11-2 thrashing of Fairleigh Dickinson.
“We have to take it game by game,” first baseman Jenn Vazquez said of the long road trip. “From these past couple of games on the road we’ve made our mistakes and its different than playing at home. We’re trying to find our groove and I think we are definitely picking up on it. We’ve won five on the road but it’s important to never be satisfied. Keep moving forward.”
Manhattan will return home and have four games within a span of about a week. That will follow by the start of the Jaspers’ MAAC play on April 2 against Siena. Vazquez and Bowman said that the team has been preparing and what they have learned on the road trip will help get them ready for tournament play.
“It dusts the rust off,” Bowman said. “It shows us what we need to work on. It shows us our areas where we are weak. When we come back to practice during the week, that’s what we focus on. It overall makes us stronger going into MAAC.
A major aspect that the Jaspers are focusing on this season is defense. They want to have strong pitching and defense every game, both Vazquez and Manhattan’s assistant coach Cat Clifford said. The team knows that it can produce offensively but that defense is the most critical.
“It’s important for us to just go out every game and play our best” Vazquez said. “We want to focus on things that maybe we aren’t so good at and to become great at those. I think the most important thing for us right now is to go out and play our defense. Keep winning games.”
“We’ve had some issues with giving other teams opportunities,” Clifford said. “Luckily our bats have been alive so we’ve been able to save ourselves. But we really need to make sure that we have good defense.”
So far this season, the Jaspers stand at 9-7. Freshman Lauren Pitney earned MAAC Rookie of the Week on March 8 after hitting a combined .412 with two home runs and 11 RBIs in five games the week prior, all Manhattan victories.
Stephanie Kristo, also a freshman, was named MAAC Pitcher of the Week on Feb. 23 after recording two wins during the season-opening invitational in Florida. She went 2-1 with 12 strikeouts over 14.1 innings pitched in three tournament appearances.
“We’ve had a good season so far and we want to keep that going,” Clifford said. “Go in with a good mindset.”