Softball capped a historic season with their first NCAA tournament appearance last week.
The Colonials (37-11, 23-1 A-10) took home their first solo A-10 title last weekend, knocking off Dayton 3–2 and 7–2 in the final two game series after enduring a loss to the Flyers in the first round of the tournament. After securing their first NCAA tournament berth, GW wrapped up the season with a hard fought 1–0 loss to Louisiana in the first round, followed by another 12–0 loss to McNeese State.
“We’re really excited for those fifth-year seniors,” head coach Shane Winkler said. “They got the opportunity to compete for a championship that they didn’t have last year. That group has really come full circle.”
After finishing the regular season with just one loss in conference play, the No. 1 seeded Colonials faced off against No. 4 Dayton in the opening game of the A-10 tournament. The Colonials stumbled in a 2–0 after they were unable to score following freshman infielder Megan Ward’s two-run triple in the second.
Despite falling to the Flyers in the opener, the Colonials battled back, taking down Saint Joseph’s 8–0 and the 2019 A-10 title co-champion Fordham 8–1 in dominant performances on their way to rematch Dayton.
“We just knew we were still in this and we were just going to fight like heck all the way back to the championship game, no matter what it took,” senior utility player Alessandra Ponce said.
Though the squad was held in check by Rams graduate student pitcher and outfielder Madie Aughinbaugh for much of the game, Ponce’s two-run home run in the bottom of the sixth triggered a GW offensive assault. The Colonials racked up eight runs to return to the A-10 final for the first time since 2019.
“That game was two years overdue,” Ponce said. “Luckily for us, we had a lot of the same team that was in that 2019 game. So it was really special for the upperclassmen to get to compete against them for that game. I think it was supposed to be written that way.”
With the win, GW faced the task of defeating Dayton twice after dropping the first game to the Flyers.
The Colonials edged the Flyers 3–2 in an extra innings affair to escape elimination and take on the Flyers in a winner-take-all final.
Graduate student infielder Amber Lotz kicked off the scoring in the second inning, stealing home off a double as senior outfielder Sidney Bloomfield stole second. In the fourth, Lotz cracked an RBI single to usher freshman pitcher Alexa Williams home and hand the Colonials an early 2–0 lead.
The Flyers bounced back in the top of the seventh, tallying two runs off a two-out RBI single from senior catcher Abby Ehrenborg to push the game into extra innings.
With two outs and the bases loaded in the ninth, Williams slapped a walk off RBI single into left field to bring graduate student utility player Jessica Linquist home and keep the Colonials’ title hopes alive.
The program’s first ever A-10 Pitcher of the Year and redshirt junior utility player Sierra Lange allowed just two runs on seven hits through nine innings, matching a career high innings played. After forfeiting two runs in the seventh, she rebounded and retired all six batters through the extra two innings.
GW captured the A-10 title in a 7–2 victory over Dayton to earn their first NCAA tournament berth.
The Colonials jumped out to an early 3–0 in the bottom of the second inning off RBI singles from Lange and Linquist and an RBI double from graduate student infielder Jenna Cone.
Bloomfield tacked on another run in the fourth off an RBI single from Cone before Ehrenbrog smashed a solo homer in the fifth.
Ponce capped off the Colonials’ scoring for the day, cracking a two run homer in the sixth to solidify the lead. Ehrenborg smacked another solo homer in the seventh but it was not enough to bring the Flyers back.
“It’s a crazy mixture of emotions,” Bloomfield said. “Some are crying, some are screaming, some started hugging immediately.”
NCAA Baton Rouge Regional:
With the A-10 title under their belts, GW prepared for a quick turnaround at the Baton Rouge Regional. The Colonials fell to Louisiana 1–0 in their NCAA tournament debut in an eleven inning pitcher’s duel.
“We’re really proud of our group,” Winkler said. “They fought all game long. I mean obviously Louisiana knew they had a fight on their hands. So our hats off to them but Sierra Lange was a warrior in the circle.”
Lange showed out yet again in the NCAA tournament opener. She played a career-high 10 plus innings, allowing just one unearned run on eight total hits.
“We were all so loose and relaxed together,” Lange said. “We knew we had each other’s backs. I’m so unbelievably proud of our team, keeping our composure during tight situations and not one second did I feel like we had pressure on us.”
Both teams failed to put a run on the board through 10 innings. Sophomore pitcher Kandra Lamb retired the first 18 Colonial batters she faced while GW also suffered a major offensive blow when Cone went down with an ankle injury in the first inning. The Colonials notched just two hits all game, one from Linquist in the seventh and one from Bloomfield in the ninth.
The Ragin’ Cajuns finally cracked through Lange’s sterling pitching performance, when sophomore pitcher and outfielder Karly Heath came in as a pinch hitter, sending a shot against the left-field fence to take the walk-off victory.
“We just didn’t have enough base runners, didn’t have enough well hit balls in play,” Winkler said. “But again that’s all you can ask for in a game like that, an opportunity to compete on this level and I think we opened up some eyes.”
After suffering a loss to the Ragin’ Cajuns, GW fell to McNeese State in the next round to end their first ever NCAA tournament appearance.
McNeese State took an early 3–0 lead off a pair of squeeze bunts and a home plate steal. The Cowgirls padded their lead with two more runs in the third, three in the fourth and two in the fifth to force a victory by the run-rule.
The Colonials were unable to generate much offense, amassing just four hits on the day. However, in the bottom of the fifth, Cone stepped onto the field as a pinch hitter despite her injury for one last at-bat donning the buff and blue. Cone knocked a single into right field, notching her 277th hit of her career as a Colonial.
Despite the loss, Winkler said he was grateful for the opportunity to compete and for all the seniors on the team who made their title run possible.
“This is our first time through NCAA regional play, so we’re excited,” Winkler said. “We’re really proud of where our program is, excited about where it’s going. We believe we have the foundation set now to do this year after year.”
This article appeared in the May 24, 2021 issue of the Hatchet.