Heading into the DII softball regionals, Molloy wasn’t even nationally ranked. They were the No. 2 seed in the East Region, one that has been dominated by the Adelphi Panthers in recent years.
That’s all different now.
Molloy is going to the DII softball championship in Salem, Virginia. It is the first appearance since the program made it that far in 2013. That means that no one on the current roster has ever experienced anything of this magnitude before.
“Of course every year we have the goal to win our conference, regionals, go to super regionals and advance to the [DII championship],” senior pitcher Chelsea Hawks said. “After coming back from two losses in our [conference] playoffs, we decided that we couldn’t dwell on it and needed to stay motivated for regionals where we would have another shot to prove ourselves as a team. As a team we said that we wanted to stay on top and keep the momentum on our side by staying in the winners bracket.
“I think that when we stay on top like this, everyone’s confidence levels are at a high and no one wants to come down from where we are. As a pitcher, my energy feeds off my teammates' high energy when we are winning.”
In fact, it was quite the opposite when Hawks arrived on campus. She, Ashley Fedor and Erin Clinton came into a program in 2014 that was fresh off a trip to the championship. Hawks and her companions — who would add graduate student Milan Botte in their sophomore campaign — didn’t see the NCAA postseason for their first two years.
“Erin, Ashley, Milan and I have been talking about a trip to the [championship] since we came in as freshmen,” Hawks said. “Winning super regionals and realizing that we were advancing to the [championship] was an unexplainable crazy moment. We’ve supported each other through a lot these past four years and this is just an amazing experience that we can all end our softball careers with.”
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During her four years, Hawks has become one of the premier pitchers in the East Coast Conference, if not all of Division II. This year there was none better as she took home the ECC Pitcher of the Year honors. She posted a career-best 1.89 ERA, winning 12 games and striking out more than a batter per inning.
“I think that each year I have played softball I’ve learned something new about myself and the game,” Hawks said. “I’ve been influenced by every single one of my teammates and coaches. Coming in as a freshman, I had just come off a really good year my senior year of high school. My first season in college was a reality check. I learned that hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard and what you do when no one watching is what will be the difference.
“Something else that changed for me was that I stopped caring what everyone thought of me as a pitcher, and just pitched because it was a game I loved competing in. I was determined to not let anyone beat me this year. I think something that makes me is the fact that I am a very competitive person but at the same time I know how to have fun with it.”
Molloy now has a tough draw in game one, having to face off against the tough pitching of West Virginia Wesleyan. Awaiting them in the next round is either DII’s No. 1-ranked Angelo State or a senior-laden Humboldt State team that fell just one game short of a national championship last season.
Hawks and her teammates got to this point behind a 37-16 record, the best mark that Molloy posted in her tenure. The Lions swept through their Regional bracket and then swept an Adelphi team who owned the East Region, being the Super Regional champion in each of the past two seasons.
Walk-Off Single From Harris Clinches East Regional Title https://t.co/sGBsPJfppF— Molloy Lions (@molloylions) May 19, 2017
It’s hard to imagine this success after Molloy’s slow start to 2017. A third of the way through the season, sitting at .500, head coach Susan Cassidy-Lyke knew they needed to shift their mentality.
“In the beginning of every season we set goals for what we want to accomplish by the end of the year,” Hawks said. “Although we kept those goals in mind, this year we decided to focus on each game one by one and not look any further. At one point in our season we were 12-12. This is when Coach started focusing on just one game at a time, and after we changed to this mentality we went 25-4. In the regional and super regional games, we focused on each game one at a time and treated it as if it were a normal conference game, not a championship game so we wouldn’t think too much into it.
“The collaboration and chemistry among everyone on this team is something that has changed as well. I feel as though everyone from freshmen to seniors is willing to help each other out both on and off the field. There’s no doubt that if you make a mistake, someone is always there to pick you up. Also, something that is different is that no one is relying on just one person to be the “hero” of the game. Everyone contributes and does their part.”
“Win or lose next weekend I want to be remembered as someone who never gave up no matter what the outcome of a game was and someone who always tried to pick up my teammates when needed,” Hawks said. “Going into the [championship], I want to remember every moment that I experience with my teammates, coaches and family in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I want to have fun and remember that if this was my last game, I want to leave everything I have out on the field and do everything that I possibly could with no regrets.”