A change of environment from snowy New Jersey to the tropical temperatures of Florida could have paid dividends for the slumping Rider softball team.
But it did not.
Two weeks removed from a 1-4 performance at the Elon Tournament, Rider traveled to Orlando, Fla., last week to participate in the Rebel Spring Games. They played 10 games in seven days, against 10 different teams, and finished the week with an unsatisfactory 3-7 mark.
Even at 4-11, the team maintains that hitting the panic button is not necessary.
“I think the only thing we could have changed was our attitudes and energy,” said sophomore pitcher Lauren Brunner. “When we picked up the pace of the game and had fun we played much more relaxed and got the job done.”
The softball team split two games in their final day of competition. In the first game, they fell to the Vermont 9-4. In the second, they upended Central Connecticut State (CCSU), 1-0.
Rider overtook CCSU in the seventh inning when freshman catcher Megan Kozlowski hit an RBI single with the bases loaded, driving in outfielder Desiree Harbaugh from third base.
“Megan came up confident in a very tough spot,” Head Coach Tricia Carroll told Rider Sports Information. “She just relaxed and hit the ball and wasn’t trying to do too much. She wasn’t trying to do anything that she hasn’t done before and even being a freshman, she stepped up and got the winning hit.”
In Rider’s first game of the last day, Vermont leaped ahead thanks largely to a Rider error that led to four unearned runs. The Broncs rallied with four runs in the sixth, closing the gap to just one, 5-4. But Vermont finished with four more runs in the seventh to overtake the Broncs and win comfortably, 9-4. The team left Florida with a 4-11 overall record.
According to Brunner, the team’s obvious youth is not a weakness, and in no way has contributed to the team’s poor start.
“Our current record isn’t the greatest right now but we can definitely get that turned around real quick,” Brunner said. “It doesn’t matter how small or young our team is because we have just as much talent as a bigger and older team.”
The team split another two games in the Rebel Springs Games, being shut out by Columbia, 8-0, and then recovering to defeat Butler, 5-2, the day before.
With the game deadlocked at 2-2 against Butler, freshman catcher Derrin Minnuni carried out a suicide squeeze that successfully brought in junior centerfielder Tiffany Day-Neutill to help the team pull ahead. Rider then added two insurance runs in the fifth to move forward with the win.
“Derrin has done a nice job for us so far,” Carroll said. “She puts the ball in play and doesn’t try to do too much.”
Against Columbia, however, Rider was shut out, producing just four hits.
“We need a consistent lineup that we can count on,” said Brunner. “Coach moved some people around to different positions and I really think it helped.”
In the beginning of the Rebel Springs Games earlier in the week, the Broncs fell to Yale, 9-1, and Dayton, 2-0, on the first day; Cleveland St., 3-2, on the second day; and Fairleigh Dickinson, 12-4, and George Washington, 6-1 on the fourth day. Rider’s lone win in that stretch came on March 12, pulling out a closely-fought win over George Washington, 6-5.
“We’re getting runners on base and getting them in scoring position,” said Carroll. “Then we are like ‘OK, we’re done’ and we need to find a way to finish and get the runs across. It’s a little frustrating but overall I think that the confidence of the team is growing as we get more games together.”
Day-Neutill became the 39th player in team history to reach her 100th career hit.
Good news: Only games against MAAC opponents count in terms of who’s in and who’s out come playoff time, meaning that the games played in Florida were no big deal.
“I think we learned a lot down in Florida about what we need to work on and where we stand as a team,” said Brunner. “I think for this upcoming weekend we should try out the lineup that we ended with in Florida and see if that continues to work for us.”
Broncs will host the annual Rider Invitational tomorrow, where they will face Villanova, Lafayette and Monmouth.