Spring break trips haven’t always been so kind to the Webster University softball team. In Chris Eaton’s first season as Webster’s coach, the Gorloks posted a 2-6 record at the 2009 Rebel Spring Games in Kissimmee, Fla.
In 2010, Webster went 3-5 and was outscored by a total margin of 27-15 at the Rebel Spring Games. The following year, the Gorloks opened their spring-break trip to Florida by winning four of their first five games. But Webster was shut out in two of its final three contests and finished the trip with a 4-4 mark.
In 2012, the Gorloks hit rock bottom. Webster traveled to California and lost 9 of 10 games in a six-day span. The Gorloks then lost a pair of games to DePauw University in Indiana, dropping their spring-break record to 1-11.
The team’s 2012 trip to California and Indiana got off to an incredibly poor start and never really improved. Webster was outscored by a 35-0 margin in its first four games.
Worse, on the second day of the trip, one of the Gorloks’ vans was broken into. Eaton said players’ wallets, purses and cameras were stolen. Because several players had their IDs stolen, they wouldn’t be allowed to board the flight back to St. Louis. So, Webster Director of Athletics Tom Hart had to ship new student IDs to the team in California.
Though the Gorloks’ 2013 spring-break trip to Florida likely couldn’t go any worse than the 2012 trip, there wasn’t reason for an abundance of optimism, either. Webster entered the ’13 Rebel Spring Games with a 1-3 record. Gone from the team was a trio of graduating seniors — Julie Hartung, Tabatha Bahre and Hanna Brindisi — who meant so much to the Gorloks’ offense and defense last season.
Also not returning were four non-seniors — Ashley Meagher, Danielle LaVenture, Kristie Konersmann and Kristin Rolla — who decided not to play softball this year. LaVenture, Konersmann and Rolla started nearly every game in 2012. Meagher was an All-Conference pitcher each of her first three seasons at Webster and was the 2011 St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Year.
But a funny thing happened on Webster’s supposed path to another .500-or-below record during spring break.
The Gorloks won.
And won some more.
Despite the team’s 1-3 start, despite all the lost players and despite the always-brutal spring-break competition, the Gorloks went 5-2 during the 2013 Rebel Spring Games and are now 8-5 overall. It was the first time the Gorloks had an above-.500 record during spring break since 2008, when Webster went 6-2 in a trip to Tucson, Ariz.
Unlike in 2012, the second day of Webster’s 2013 spring break trip was memorable for all the right reasons. Though Webster fell 3-1 to Muskingum University (Ohio) in the first game that day, the Gorloks bounced back to beat Catholic University of America (D.C.) 2-1 in Game 2.
In the win over Catholic University of America, freshman Rachel Franck pitched a no-hitter in just her second collegiate start. Despite Franck’s no-no, Webster actually trailed 1-0 heading into the bottom of the seventh inning. But senior Aly Watson drove in freshman Leah Sutton and Franck to give the Gorloks a walk-off win.
Because Webster lost so many players from the 2012 team, numerous freshmen and transfers have had the opportunity to play right away this season. None have shined brighter than Franck. The standout freshman is 4-0 with a 0.59 ERA on the mound. At the plate, Franck is batting .429, the third-best average on the team.
And she’s doing it all with a heavy heart. On Feb. 27, just three days prior to Webster’s regular-season opener, Rachel Franck’s brother, Danny Franck, died at the age of 12. He had been in an 11-month battle with brain/spinal cancer. Rachel Franck said she’s dedicating this softball season to her younger brother.
“He was my whole world,” Rachel Franck said. “I love that kid so much. I just love playing every game for him. … I feel like he has been through so much, and I should be able to push myself to play for him and work hard for him.
“… (Softball has) definitely taken my mind off some things. My teammates and my family are really supportive, and so are the coaches. They’ve really helped me through this situation. They’ve been really great.”
Rachel Franck’s remarkable early-season success is something the suddenly hot Gorloks — winners of seven of their last nine games — can rally around. With what has typically been the most challenging portion of their schedule already conquered, the Gorloks could have a very special season in store.