Softball hopes to continue to stay competitive in playoff race

It’s been seven years since the Waynesburg University softball team qualified for the Presidents’ Athletic Conference tournament.

As of Monday’s doubleheader sweep at the hands of Grove City, which moved their PAC record to 5-9, the Yellow Jackets were in a four-way tie for fifth place in the conference, and two games behind the team they host Saturday, the Bethany Bison, for the fourth and final playoff spot.

As of this publication date, the Bison are 7-7 in conference play and 14-14 overall. Although Bethany failed to qualify for the postseason last year, it has placed in the top four in three of the past four seasons.

In 2017, the Yellow Jackets swept the Bison 1-0 and 10-9 on the road April 14. But head coach Richele Hall knows that her team will face a stiff test in its regular season finale April 28.

“Historically, Bethany’s always a very good team,” Hall said. “I really kind of expect the same thing I always expect from them. They’re usually very solid defensively for the most part. They have pretty good pitching…We’re preparing to make sure we take care of business on our end with Bethany.”

The loss of senior Cassie Weiss to a torn ACL has been a blow to the Bison’s pitching staff. Before her injury, Weiss led the team in wins with a record of 8-5, and also topped the staff with a 2.44 ERA. Due to Weiss’ injury, senior Sam Binkley has started 10 of Bethany’s 14 games in April, going 4-6 in that stretch. Hall feels that Binkley’s increased workload will lead to fatigue, which the Jackets’ could take advantage of.

“I think that [Binkley is] going to be pretty tired by the time Saturday comes around because she’s pitched a lot of innings the past few weeks,” she said.

Hall plans to start junior Courtney Messenger in the circle. As of Wednesday, Messenger is 10-8 with a 4.99 ERA. For Hall, Messenger having the necessary support from her offense will be essential to her success.

“We really need to buckle down and take care of business,” Hall said. “Having quality at bats and when we get runners on base, [we are focused] on scoring them. Because it’s going to come down to every run we get is going to be the difference between making it and not making it.”

Of the seven conference doubleheaders the team has played, Waynesburg has come away with just one sweep, which took place against Chatham, April 10. Hall said that for the team achieve its goal of making the playoffs, they would have to come away with two wins in one of the season’s final three series.

“Unfortunately, some things haven’t gone our way in the second games, or in [the games against Geneva] the first game of the doubleheader,” Hall said. “But they’re doing everything that they can do to win games, and sometimes the ball just doesn’t fall the way we want it to. But they know the importance of it, and it’s been stressed on them going down this stretch that we need to get a sweep at least one of these three series’ we have left to have a chance.”

The first game against Bethany is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. Saturday, April 28.

For Hall, the biggest key for the Jackets to score runs is getting hits with runners on base. It’s the desire to qualify for the postseason, Hall said, that will lead to them getting the job done in those moments.

“I really have a feeling that through this stretch here that our key hitters are going to step up when giving the opportunity and make that happen for us,” Hall said. “Because they want to make [the] playoffs just as much as I want to and the coaching staff wants to.”