a team-record 21-15 season in 2007, one that featured a first-ever trip to
the NESCAC tournament, Wesleyan's softball team came into the 2008 campaign
with realistic hopes of repeating last year's success.
“Our goal this season was to get better every day,” said seventh-year head
coach Jen Shea. “We knew we had a lot of talent but we needed to see how it
would come together.”
Come together was just what the team did, equaling the team record for wins,
three of those coming during the NESCAC Tournament, which the Cardinals
hosted May 3-5. Those three victories put the squad into a showdown with
Tufts for an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament as the NESCAC champion.
Tufts held a tenuous 4-3 edge heading into the bottom of the 6th inning
(Tufts played as the home team). The Jumbos erupted for a pair of three-run
homers to put the game away, 10-3, and win their second straight crown.
While it left Wesleyan one “W” shy of a remarkable year, it didn’t detract
from what has to be called an amazing season, considering the way it
Playing its opening 14 games in California, the Cardinal started 1-7 against
local teams, then went 4-4 during the Sun West Tournament to return to New
England sporting a 5-9 record. Highlights out west were a 9-6 victory over
Tufts and a 4-1 loss to St. Thomas (MN). The Tommies, whom the Cardinals
out-hit 8-6, finished their season 42-5 and were ranked in the top-10
nationally in Division III as an NCAA qualifier. Tufts was ranked 26th.
Not quite what the team was hoping from its western excursion, the Cardinals
still used the experience as a positive.
game against St. Thomas was the turning point for us,” explained Coach Shea.
“Meaghan [Dendy ‘10, pictured at left] pitched a great game against them and
to out-hit them was great. Then we won a close game vs. Puget Sound (4-3)
and the Tufts win really helped give us our confidence back. Definitely in
the back of our minds, the goal now was to win the NESCAC West because we
wanted to host the tournament.”
Back in New England, the goal became a reality as the Cardinals went 13-5 to
end the regular season with an 18-14 record. Wesleyan took two of three
games from both Amherst and Williams, and when Amherst took two of three
from Williams, Wesleyan claimed its first-ever outright Little Three title.
Sweeping three games from both Hamilton and Middlebury, the latter all on
the same day, Wesleyan fashioned a 10-2 NESCAC West mark and secured the top
seed. In even years, the West winner hosts the NESCAC tournament so Tufts,
Williams and Trinity came to Middletown May 3-5 for the double-elimination
tournament with a NCAA tournament bid awaiting the victor.
Wesleyan met NESCAC East runner-up Trinity in a first-round matchup. The
team’s had split a double-header a week earlier, Wesleyan winning 7-3 and
Trinity, 6-5. The tournament game was all Trinity as the Bantams rolled to
a 7-0 decision. That put Wesleyan into an elimination game vs. Williams, a
7-0 loser to Tufts.
The Cardinals subdued the Ephs, 13-3, led by Talia Bernstein ‘11 who went
3-for-4 with three RBI and a pair of runs scored. Next up was a rematch
with the Bantams. Jo Brownson ’08 paced the offense with a pair of two-run
homers as Wesleyan prevailed, 8-2. On the mound, Karla Hargrave ’08
defeated both Trinity and Williams, allowing 13 hits and five runs over her
14 innings of work. Ahead was 2-0 Tufts.
knew a loss would give Tufts the title. As the visitors, the Cardinals
trailed 2-0 when they came to bat in the top of the 6th inning. With two
runners on, Molly O’Connell ’09, pictured at left, launched her fifth home
run of the year, tying a team record, to put Wesleyan up, 3-2. Pitcher
Meaghan Dendy closed out the victory by getting the final six outs. She
yielded just seven hits and two runs, only one of which was earned, in
posting her second win over Tufts this season.
Now Wesleyan and Tufts would play again for the title and Tufts nailed down
Wesleyan placed four players on the all-NESCAC squads as Bernstein, Dendy
and Marcia Whitehead ’08, who set team marks for hits in a season (51 in
2008 as she led the team with a .398 average) and career (173), made the
first team while Hargrave was a second-team choice. Dendy also was Pitcher
of the Year. Coach Jen Shea shared NESCAC Coach of the Year honors with
Cheryl Milligan of Tufts.
By season’s end, the 2008 Cardinals tied or broke six individual and five
team records. In addition to Whitehead’s hits marks and O’Connell’s
record-equaling home run figure, Hargrave tied the record for hits in a game
with five vs. St. Mary’s (MN) while Bernstein set the record for doubles in
a season (10) and tied the seasonal RBI standard (32). The 351 hits, 51
doubles and 14 home runs by the 2008 Cardinals are seasonal records. With
21 wins, the squad matched last year’s record output and the 237.1 innings
thrown by pitchers Dendy, Hargrave and Anu Rimal ’11 is a seasonal high.
Other starters Becca Feiden ’08, who finished her career No. 2 on the all-time
Wesleyan hits list with 137, Julia Chamberlin ’09 and Katie Grogan ’09 all
returned from the 2007 team. Joining Bernstein as a key newcomer was Taylor
Zavadsky ’10, a top-notch catcher who filled a valuable spot in the
Cardinals’ lineup after transferring from Haverford College.
The 2009 squad will have some serious holes to fill as Whitehead, Feiden,
Hargrave and Brownson will don cap and gown shortly. But Wesleyan has
turned the corner and will build its softball forces around Dendy,
Bernstein, O’Connell and Zavadsky next spring.