West Florida has had a remarkable turnaround this season. Under the tutelage of second-year head coach Melissa Paul, the Argonauts have turned last season’s 19-win season into a distant memory.
UWF is riding a 15-game win streak that sees them sitting at a surprising 36-11 heading into their regular season finale this weekend in a three-game set with Shorter. Earlier this season they swept then-No. 18 Valdosta State. This past weekend they swept No. 21 Delta State.
“Momentum is huge in our sport,” head coach Melissa Paul said. “Hopefully that’s carrying us. We don’t ever talk about [the win streak], we harp on the process and doing the little things right, and it showed up this past weekend. We played good defense, our pitchers shut them out and we did little things: we got bunts down, we cut off balls in the outfield, we kept them out of scoring position. Those little things are showing up to be big things as we get into the post season.”
The Argonauts have been doing it with a small roster — carrying only 15 players — and a very young team with only four seniors on board. Those seniors, however, have been instrumental both statistically and as the much needed leaders this young team needs. Centerfielder Emily Pettigrew for example is batting a team best .397 atop the order and doing all of those little thing Coach Paul preaches. Kalyn Chapman is simply doing anything they ask. She’s currently 18-5 in the circle, while also leading the team with six home runs.
“We finally had leaders in place this year,” Paul said. “They are all good in the roles they are in. Emily Pettigrew has been a great centerfielder, all while battling injuries early on. Kalyn, I didn’t bat her a lot last year. We knew she had some power, so finally this year we said let’s get her in there. She hits the ball hard, if she connects, it’s going to go somewhere.”
Freshmen Rachel Wright and Rhiannon Sassman have been a pleasant surprise this season, leading the charge of the many youngsters on UWF. Wright recently won both the GSC Freshman and Player of the Week awards, an honor Sassman achieved earlier in the season. Sassman is red-hot, currently on a 14-game hitting streak, having gone 4-for-8 over the big sweep of Delta State.
“[Sassman’s] her hardest critic. She gets so frustrated with herself, she seems like she’ll almost take herself out of the game in the cages before the game, and then she’ll come out and go 3-for-3,” Paul said with a laugh of her star freshman. “She’s a heck of a hitter. It was a tough spot for her, we brought her in and she ended up having to catch for us. We took her out of position even though she needed her reps at shortstop. Then we had an injury at third and she’s been absolutely phenomenal over there. I think it’s helped her with her hitting more knowing she’s more comfortable on defense now. She made big sacrifices for us early on in the year.”
Remarkably, this UWF squad has done their damage in the GSC as road warriors. 25 of their 47 games this season have been at opposing schools, and the Argonauts have come out 17-8, showing the moxie of this young squad.
“I’m very proud of what these girls have done on the road," Paul said. "We were a little beat up in the middle of the season, but they persevered and they’ve come through and they are fighting hard.”
UWF still has a bit of a way to go in order to get back to that first NCAA tournament since 2010. Paul knew she had the pieces in place, and now they are certainly heading in the right direction. With seven teams in the GSC ranked regionally, it will be a daunting task, but that hasn’t slowed down the Argonauts one bit this season.
“It’s something we hoped for, but our expectations were high," Paul said. "Last year we had to replace eight starters and had 11 new starters on the team, it was a lot to get done. This year we really attacked the culture in the fall and worked on being good teammates and it’s shown up big time. They’re getting it done and finding success.”
Elsewhere in the GSC
The University of North Alabama clinched the GSC this past weekend with a sweep on Union. They outscored their opponent 30-0 over the weekend clash. UNA now has a program best 43 wins. The Lions are 5-2 against nationally ranked teams, including a 12-2 victory over then-No. 1 and reigning champion North Georgia to start the season.
Mississippi College made program history this weekend, as senior Carlie Sargent threw the Lady Choctaws first perfect game. The Lady Choctaws rose victorious 6-0 behind Sargent’s performance, defeating the then-No. 25 ranked UAH. Sargent struck out five to improve to 15-8 as Mississippi College wraps up its second full season in the GSC.
Perryman vs Foley Part I
The much awaited matchup of two of the nation’s best pitchers this weekend was all that was expected. UIndy’s Morgan Foley went head-to-head with UMSL’s Hannah Perryman in a heavyweight bout that ended with the Greyhounds on top 3-2. The two strikeout artists combined for 25 strikeouts as Foley led the way behind a one-hit, 18-strikeout performance. Foley improved to 31-1 after the game, while Perryman went to an amazing 38-3. A sixth inning three-RBI double off of the bat of UIndy's centerfielder Jessie Noone proved to be the game winner.
A new face atop the PSAC
West Chester — the last team to hold a No. 1 seed after the regular season before Lock Haven’s reign began — is making a strong push to end the regular season atop the standings riding a nine game winning streak. Sitting at No. 7 in the nation is this week’s IWLCA Poll, the Golden Rams have shot their way to the No. 2 scoring offense in the nation at 16.60 goals per game. WCU is led by junior attack Ashley Pyle who is currently tied for the PSAC lead in goals at 51 with Lock Hurst’s Rachel Engler.
Standing in their way is Mercyhurst — the No. 8 team in the nation — who is tied at 9-1 atop the standings with WCU. Last week they dropped their first PSAC contest to now-No. 14 Indiana (Pa.). This coming weekend, they will celebrate Senior Day with the grand finale against No. 10-ranked Lock Haven.
Should both teams win out, the No. 1 seed could be decided by March 19th double-overtime thriller in which Mercyhurst rose triumphant over WCU 9-8. MU’s senior attack Emily Gebhardt scored the game-winner after they mounted a four-goal comeback in that contest.
Game of the Week pits the nations top two teams against each other
DII’s last two undefeated teams squared off in Garden City, NY on Tuesday. The No. 1 ranked Adelphi Panthers welcomed the No. 2 Le Moyne Dolphins in a battle for Northeast-10 supremacy. At the end of the night, the reigning national champs were left standing as the lone undefeated team left in the country.
The Panthers handed Le Moyne their first loss of the season behind a 10-8 victory. Adelphi actually fell behind 2-0 early on and trailed at the half 3-2, however they mounted a huge second half comeback. AU was led by a well-rounded attack as Michele Scannell, Rachel O”Brien, Emily Keeling and Jacqueline Jahelka chipped in two goals a piece.
Up and down week for Dowling
The Dowling Golden Lions’ week started on a high note, but didn't end the way they would have liked it. They started the week with an upset, only to find themselves on the wrong side of one a few days later.
Junior attack Alyssa Milano scored four goals as the then-No. 12 Golden Lions upset the No. 3 ranked defending East Coast Conference champion LIU Post. The 8-5 victory handed LIU Post their first ECC loss of the season and gave the Golden Lions sole possession of first place behind a 5-0 record.
Later in the week, they would drop a heartbreaker in a non-conference game that featured two of the nations top 20 teams. No. 20 Stonehill would defeat Dowling 10-8 in a close fought battle.