BY MICHAEL BRYNDA
It has been a rocky season for the Drake University softball team. And with just a few weeks to go, there isn’t much time to turn it around.
The Bulldogs were on a five-game losing skid entering the weekend of April 22-23. Their overall record is an underwhelming 20 and 24, and they have won only three of their 17 conferences matches in 2017.
Part of the reason for this season’s struggles has been the absence of star pitcher Nicole Newman, who underwent Tommy John surgery for an elbow injury this month.
“Clearly, it is a loss that we don’t have her,” senior Megan Sowa said. “We are doing our best to come together as a team and work with what we have, work without her because that is really all we can do right now.”
Junior Kailee Smith has taken over most of the pitching responsibilities in Newman’s absence; she threw 76 innings in March alone.
She described not having Newman as available as a “huge loss,” largely because she is “a huge leader on the field and off the field.”
Newman finished last season with 22 wins, 13 losses and an earned run average of 2.96. She also broke the Drake single-season strikeout record with 286 Ks and was named the Missouri Valley Conference Pitcher of the Year.
Last season, Drake’s team ERA was 4.10. This year, it’s 0.32 higher. And the bats have been suffering as well.
In 2016, the Bulldogs scored nearly five runs per game. Right now, their average is below three-and-a-half.
“How we’ve been performing is just not how we want to be performing,” Smith said. “We all know we are better than what we are showing.”
There’s area to improve, particularly in the mental game, according to Sowa.
“This year really has shown that we have to work as a team to be successful,” Sowa said. She called the season both “humbling” and “hard.”
It certainly has not been the season the Bulldogs were hoping for. They were 30-24 last season and earned a no. 2 seed in the MVC Tournament. Right now, the Bulldogs still need to fight to qualify for a tournament berth.
However, not all hope is lost.
The top eight teams in the conference make the tournament. Drake is currently tied for ninth, two games back from a clinching seed with 10 left to play.
The homestretch of the season is rapidly approaching. The Bulldogs know there is only so much time to amend what has been a subpar season thus far and make a run in May.
Smith was very optimistic for the remainder of the season.
“I feel it in my heart that we are going to come out this weekend and have the most intensity we have had all season,” Smith said.
Although this season has not lived up to expectations, do not count out the Bulldogs yet. This team has shown flashes of brilliance this season. Drake handily beat the Big 10’s University of Iowa by a score of 11-1 on March 11 and swept conference-rival Indiana State by not giving up a single earned run over three games during the first weekend of March.
The Bulldogs will be on the road until May, but will close the season at home with a three-game series against Loyola on May 6 and 7.