Softball remains strong in home stretch

As the Pipers enter the heart of their season, the squad hopes to remain consistent and shut down their opponents.

Before a softball game, there’s one activity the Pipers perform in the dugout to relieve tension: “We love to play hacky sack,” first-year pitcher Brooke Chapman said. “It’s just something that gets our nerves out right before the games.”

Chapman said during the team’s conference opener against Augsburg, the athletes played hacky sack along with Lisa Borowitz, assistant coach, in the dugout during player introductions.

This new warm up routine seemed to work, because Chapman won her first conference game on the mound and the Pipers went on to win game two of the double header to sweep Augsburg on April 4.

The following series, the Pipers played St. Thomas, which is where first-year Casey Anderson stepped on the mound. Anderson revealed she was timid at first, to play against the highly ranked Tommies. Although the Pipers were swept by the Tommies, Anderson said she no longer looked at the Tommies as a team the Pipers couldn’t beat.

“We had a chance in both games to win. You know our bats weren’t there that day, but I think we played [well] defensively,” Anderson said. “As a first-year, it’s so much different than high school, so it’s fun to see that you could play with these girls.”

After the series against the Tommies, the Pipers bounced back and won nine of the next 12 games with an 8-2 mark in conference play during that stretch. The Pipers put themselves in the playoff picture, tied for third place in the MIAC, and were right where head coach Jim Rubbelke expected them to be.

“Going [into the season] I thought we had a good enough team that would be definitely playoff bound if things went our way,” Rubbelke said.

Rubbelke said one of the strengths of this year’s squad was their depth at pitching as the team added five first-year pitchers to the roster. He said the bullpen helped relieve pressure off of the starting pitchers because they didn’t have to pitch a complete game.

“We throw hard and we have different pitches,” Chapman said. “We like to work together because we have different styles. I know when I go out they’re going to put someone in who counters my style and hopefully that will throw the batters off.”

Chapman started the season winning her first seven starts.

“7-0 is really big, in college that’s kind of unexpected but my team has been strong behind me,” Chapman said.

Chapman said she’s been improving her control on her changeup to counter her fastball, which has been working on batters.

“The one thing she has done a very good job in is hitting those corners and changing speeds,” Rubbelke said.

 In addition to the five first-year pitchers, they have one first-year fielder who has also been near the top of the team’s leaders in batting average.

“Mary-Clare [Couillard] is just a tremendous athlete,” Rubbelke said. “She has great speed so she gets out to first base in a hurry.”

Couillard plays second base for the Pipers and her hitting has led her to be second in the batting order. Couillard said “knowing the team’s high expectations” is what helped the first-years perform well this season.

According to Couillard, it was helpful that all of the freshmen came in knowing what the team’s goals were, especially knowing that knowledge is key. 

“Just try to be confident,” Anderson said. “Staying confident in your abilities … just playing your best, not trying to do too much.”

 Chapman said it all started in fall practice when Rubbelke informed the first-years they would receive some playing time.

“He said he just needed to see who would step up and take those main spots,” Chapman said. “I think we all kind of proved ourselves in Florida on the spring break trip when we were given those opportunities.”

In the final stretch of the season, Rubbelke said he wanted to see his team adapt a “killer instinct.” He said the team played well in spurts and often times allowed their opponents to catch up by walking batters or committing errors.

“When we’ve got somebody down by five runs, let’s get them down by ten runs,” Rubbelke said. “Or we got them down by five runs, let’s not let them back in and give them two runs, make them earn it.”

Rubbelke said he’d also like to see his team score in five out of seven innings with the talent they have throughout the batting order.

“I think we have that type of a lineup where we should be able to put points up on the board every inning,” he said.

Rubbelke had implemented Anderson into the batting order late in the season to strengthen their offense. 

“Casey has really done a great job hitting the ball and has gotten better during the year,” Rubbelke said. “She has great power, she adjusts well to some inside, outside pitches. She’s definitely a big threat for us right now, hitting wise.”

Anderson had an opportunity to show what she could do offensively in game two of their double header against the St. Benedict Blazers. She pitched the first game of the double header, and then in game two she found herself in the batters box in the top of the ninth inning, in a 5-5 ball game with bases loaded.

Anderson drove in the game winning run that advanced Chapman, who started the rally, from third base to home plate.

“I swung and it landed where they scored and it was awesome,” Anderson said. “It was really a team effort, everybody was working hard that game and everyone was excited to play … it felt really good to just help the team that way.”

The Pipers’ early success with their young roster has Couillard fired up for the team’s future.

“I think it’s really exciting to have such a young roster,” Couillard said. “Our roster has a lot of potential for growth in the next couple of seasons, just with so many returning players.”

In the midst of the playoff chase to win the MIAC Championship, which is scheduled to be played Saturday May 3, Chapman said the team needs to remain focused.

“We’re right there, so we just have to keep winning. We have to play strong,” Chapman said.