The 2013 season was a disappointing one for the Eastern Michigan University softball team, as it finished the year with a 17-33-1 (7-14 Mid-American Conference) record. The team closed out the spring with a 2-0 loss to the Akron University Zips on May 5.
On May 8, the university announced it would not retain head coach Karen Baird for a 12th season in a press release.
“Overall I was disappointed with how our season turned out,” graduating senior shortstop Katy Blaharski said. “We started off well and we went through that cold spell. We were a lot better of a team than our record showed. We had a chance at the end of the season to try to make it back to the MAC tournament but we fell short. It was not the season that I was hoping for by any means.
There were definitely high points, but overall it was very disappointing.”
Blaharski, the team’s leadoff hitter this year, finished the season with a .328 batting average in 174 at bats. She started each of the team’s 51 games and had an On Base Percentage (OBP) of .354, with eight steals. She also drove in four runs.
(Editor’s Note: the “cold spell” Blaharski referred to was a stretch in which the team, following a 8-4 win over Central Michigan University on March 29, lost its next 13 games.)
“It’s never easy walking away knowing we could have done better and would have loved to make it back to the MAC tournament,” graduating senior pitcher Jenna Ignowski said. “I am proud of the girls for not giving in and fighting back in the end of the season. We gave ourselves a chance when everyone else ruled us out.”
Ignowski finished the year with a 10-8 record and a 4.60 earned run average (ERA) in 141.2 innings pitched. She appeared in 36 games, starting 23 of them, with nine complete games. She earned one save as well.
All season long, Baird, as well as many players on the team, stated over and over again that the team was full of “fighters.” While it was true, something that plagued the team all season long was finishing games successfully. Of the team’s 33 losses, 11 were lost in the fifth inning or later.
“I think the missing piece was finishing,” graduating senior outfielder Courtney Nicholson said. “We continually fought and fought to give us the chance to win every game, but there were a lot of games lost because we didn’t play for the full seven innings with that fight.”
Nicholson also started all 51 games for the Eagles. She had a .258 average in 151 at bats with two home runs and 13 runs batted in.
One bright spot on the team this season was two-time MAC West Player of the Week Amanda Stanton. The sophomore second baseman hit .321 in 148 at bats for the Eagles. She only missed one game all season and led the team with a .586 slugging percentage.
“I would say Amanda Stanton was a huge catalyst for the team and especially me,” Ignowski said.
“She had a big bat this year and played an outstanding second base. But what else she did was she got mad.”
“She [Stanton] came in clutch situations in so many games and we wouldn’t have won some of those if it weren’t for her,” graduating senior third baseman Nellie Coquillard said.
Ignowski said, “After we dug ourselves into a hole, she stopped caring about [people’s] feelings and just told it like it was. Although I hated every minute of hearing her tell me to ‘Quit walking people’ or ‘Come on Jenna!’ It fueled a fire in me to be better and figure it [the problems] out. Sometimes a team needs a person to call them out and be honest about what the team needs rather than pat egos. Stanton made me better.”
2014 will likely be a rebuilding year for the team as it loses five of its 11 players to graduation and hires a new coach to lead the team.
Stanton said the team has a lot of work to do if it wants to be successful next season.
“Next year we need to work on all aspects of the game, mostly on showing up determined from the get go,” Stanton said. “We need to come out in the beginning of the game and know that we can win. When our pitching, hitting and defense is all working, we can be unstoppable.”
Follow Al Willman on Twitter: @AlWillmanEcho