The CMS Softball 2012 season got underway with a Jekyll and Hyde split against Azusa Pacific, ranked #11 in NAIA.
The Athenas took the field in game one with seven of nine players competing in their first collegiate softball game ever; in a position they had rarely, if ever played or after a year away from the game due to injury. Centerfielder Megan Morris and third baseman Harmony Palmer were the only regular starters playing in positions familiar to them.
Consequently, the squad was caught flat-footed a couple of times and took some time to get the kinks out on offense as well. The season opening jitters and bumpy coordination on defense allowed the Cougars to blow a 3-2 ballgame open plating three and two runs in consecutive innings late in the game to win 8-2. The Athenas stranded 10 runners including bases loaded with no outs early in the game making plain that should they iron out the defensive miscues and put together some timely hitting, the results would change dramatically.
And they did.
As if a light went on, during the break between games, the squad huddled and collectively changed their mind-set. Though from the outside, they looked like the same team; from the inside, everything had changed.
Junior Harmony Palmer set the tone, leading off Game two with a shot over the left fielder's head allowing her to cruise into second. After advancing to third on a fielder's choice, she scored on a shot off the bat of senior slugger Amanda Banducci.
With the slightest of leads, senior pitcher Rebecca Gularte went to work. After getting out of a jam in the bottom of the second, the First Team All-SCIAC Gularte settled in retiring 11 straight batters. Utilizing a variety of pitches and relying on teammate and fellow senior Rebecca King behind the plate, the "Beccas" controlled an explosive APU offense through the next five innings.
Chelsea Durgin started the 7th inning rally with a single up the middle. Senior Emily Nordhoff took her place at first putting speed on the basepaths for CMS. Senior Michelle Brody executed a sacrifice bunt beautifully putting Nordhoff on second. After the Cougars recorded another out, senior Emily Lopez came to the plate with one final chance to put a run on the board for the Athenas. In her finest at-bat of the day, Lopez drilled a shot down the left field line and Nordhoff, known among her teammates as one of the best baserunners on the team, flew around third sliding hard into home to put her team up 2-0. With Lopez standing on second, senior Megan Morris drew a walk bringing up Palmer once again. The junior, former First Team All-American, is nothing if not a clutch hitter and she produced once again blasting a gap double to drive in Lopez and Morris putting the Athenas up 4-0 and effectively slamming the door on the Cougars.
Gularte took the circle in the bottom of the seventh with the poise, composure and confidence she had shown all game and quieted the APU batters for the shut-out victory. Gularte used her defense well, relying on outstanding play at short by sophomore Michaela Ecklund and senior Michelle Brody's spectacular stab on a line drive to record the 21st out.
Though the first game offered some trying moments, game two stood as a proclamation of things to come this spring.
The Athenas open their season at home on Saturday, February 11 against Occidental College. The day promises excitement as the squad welcomes family, friends and fans to the park to officially inaugurate the new Athena Softball scoreboard.