The Webster University softball team is more than ready to play its first home contests of the season. The Gorloks played the first 16 games of their 38-game schedule on the road. They struggled in their spring break trips to California and Indiana, losing 11 of 12 games played.
“Toward the end of our trip to California, it just gets tough being on the road, living in a hotel for a week, having to get up early,” senior first baseman Hanna Brindisi said. “You’re with the same people every single day, not really getting a break, not being able to have your own space.
“But I think honestly, if anything, it helped us play better as a team. It’s going to be good to be on a field, practice and finally have our first (home) game this upcoming weekend.”
Webster, which has a 4-12 record, hosts Illinois Wesleyan University (8-1 overall record) in a March 24 doubleheader at Blackburn Park. The Gorloks then open St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference play with a March 29 doubleheader against Westminster College (5-5) at Blackburn Park.
“We always try to treat the first part of the season as just working on what we need to work on; we always preach playing our best once the conference starts,” coach Chris Eaton said. “Our goals are always to win conference, win the conference tournament — that’s what I tried to tell them when we left California.
“Our record doesn’t matter. Once we start conference, everybody is 0-0. Even after struggling hitting or pitching or fielding, once we start conference, everybody starts over. The girls usually buy into that. We’ve just got to learn from our mistakes and be ready once conference starts.”
The Gorloks entered their trip to California on a three-game winning streak. But that momentum did not carry over, as Webster was shut out in its first four games. Webster fell 9-0 and 7-0 to Azusa Pacific University (28-4) on March 10. The following day, the University of Redlands (16-4) beat the Gorloks 9-0 and 10-0.
As of March 20, Azusa Pacific is the No. 9-ranked team in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, according to the NAIA softball coaches’ top 25 poll. As of March 14, Redlands is the 10th-ranked Division III team in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association poll.
“They weren’t really as dominating as they seemed,” sophomore pitcher Trisha Thompson said. “But, it was also our first couple games and a lot of the California teams had played 10 or 20 games already. They had already seen a lot of pitching; we hadn’t seen a lot of batters. We look at it as practice for conference.”
On March 12, Webster lost both games to a 9-9 Whittier College team by scores of 7-4 and 10-2. The next day, the Gorloks earned their only victory of the trip when they knocked off California Lutheran University (8-16) by a 10-5 margin.
Thompson held California Lutheran to five hits and five runs, three earned, in eight innings pitched. She also struck out 15 while walking one. Sophomore utility player Samantha Powers went 3 for 4, as the Gorloks’ offense banged out 15 hits. Powers is the team-leader in hits (13) and runs scored (eight).
California Lutheran bounced back in the second game of the doubleheader, whipping Webster 13-0. It was the Gorloks’ eighth game played in only four days.
On March 15, Chapman University (15-6) beat Webster 10-3 and 11-3, which concluded the Gorloks’ California trip. Webster returned to St. Louis for a day, then traveled to Greencastle, Ind., to take on DePauw University, the No. 6-ranked team in the Division III NFCA poll.
DePauw (6-0) held on to win both the March 17 games by scores of 5-2 and 8-4. Even though Webster went 1-11, Brindisi said the two road trips will be good learning experiences.
“We just need to take these past games and really just learn from it, because the teams we played were all very, very good teams,” Brindisi said. “I know we made a few mental mistakes ourselves, but playing these better teams is only going to help us coming into conference. We’re going to be able to learn and build off that.”
The games against DePauw marked the first time Brindisi played this season, and the senior went 2 for 6 with a walk. Brindisi was one of the Gorloks’ top players last year, as she batted .328 and had a .647 slugging percentage. She also led the team in RBIs (45) and home runs (nine).
“She’ll definitely help us out,” Eaton said. “Not only for her bat, but defensively, she’s got a really nice glove. She helps our infielders when we have bad throws or stuff in the dirt — she can really pick throws. She’s a leader out there, too. She likes to talk and get everybody up out on the field. She’s definitely going to help us all around.”
Though the Gorloks have struggled out of the gate this season, Thompson said the team is still confident in its abilities.
“We’re just ready for a couple ‘W’s,” Thompson said. “We’re kind of going to work as hard as we can this week just to be able to get to that point, so we can regain a little of our confidence. Not that we don’t have any confidence, because we know who we faced and how difficult it was. Most of us are satisfied with our performance, how it’s been getting better, but we’re not going to stop trying.
“We want to win, we want to beat Fontbonne (University) and we want to win the conference. Everyone’s goal is to be conference champions. That’s what our main goal is, and we have to win in order to get there.”