Howard Softball Fares Well in Fall Contest Versus Hampton
WASHINGTON, D.C. - When the Howard Softball Team departed in May from Ormond Sports Complex in Daytona Beach, it's safe to say that everyone was nothing short of devastated. The 2007 MEAC Champions went to Daytona with plans of winning back-to-back conference championships. The team returned nice players from that 2007 Championship team including senior ace, pitcher Dale McNeal, the 2007 MEAC Rookie of the Year, outfielder Courtney Young, and all conference third baseman, Kristina Cordova. The team entered the 2008 tournament with the #1 offense and the #1 defense in the conference and appeared poised to make softball history.
As it would turn out, Daytona Beach would not play out the way Head Coach Tonja Braxton and her crew had planned. After knocking off both of the Florida schools in day one of competition and the two #1 tournament seeds (Hampton and North Carolina A&T) being knocked out the first day, the Lady Bison found themselves on day two in two grudge matches with Delaware State and Norfolk State. During the regular season the Lady Bison defeated the Hornets in two out of three contests at DSU and did the same to the Spartans down at Norfolk State. However, the regular season would not be an indication of how the teams would perform in the post-season. When they needed their offense the most, Howard struggled to put together hits.
"We didn't hit timely, we didn't get bunts down and we didn't capitalize on opportunities to push runs across," said Braxton. "This was not one of our fastest teams, so manufacturing runs was not something that we had a lot of success with like last year. We were very much a stand up and hit team. We added insult to injury with bad base running," Braxton added.
Daytona Beach would come and go, the Lady Bison would have to settle for a third place finish in the conference championship. In the months since, Coach Braxton and her staff have spent time replaying, reliving and re-creating those moments where, by her terms "we did not seize the moment." The Bison softball team returned to campus in September 2008 with many new faces. Out goes Dale McNeal (P), Brianne Gutierrez (shortstop), Candice Tatum (2B), Mya Spencer (OF), and Fallon Jones (OF) who all graduated leaving some rather large shoes to fill. In comes the class of 2008 which includes three impact freshmen according to Braxton; Rebecca Kirshner, a middle infielder from Gaithersburg, Maryland, Ciera Gordon, an outfielder from Chattanooga, Tennessee and Trina Kindred, a utility player from Moreno Valley, California. In addition, the Bison have secured the services of transfer utility player, Aisha Ledet who comes to Howard after spending the last two seasons at SWAC powerhouse, Mississippi Valley State. Lastly, the Bison now have the services of last year's redshirts and transfers who had to do a year of residency; Carly Martin, a sophomore pitcher from Seton Keough High School in Maryland, Nicole Saez, a junior catcher from Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Tierra Maxwell, a senior outfielder from Mesa Community College in Arizona.
If Friday's performance is any indication, it appears that the Lady Bison are ready to reclaim their title as champions. Howard traveled to Newport News, Virginia with just nine players. This motley crew, without the services of All-Conference performers Cordova and Young, third year pitcher Christina McCoy, Maxwell and senior outfielder Sondra Jones, swept the Lady Pirates in the doubleheader. Sophomore pitcher Jessica Hurston pitched a no-hitter into the 6th inning and ultimately went the distance in the 3-0 shutout while sophomore pitcher Carly Martin gave Hampton more than they could stand in her six innings of work in game two. Emily Johnson closed the second game behind Martin. Martin secured the 12-2 win. Offensively, all nine of the Lady Bison contributed in the wins. Saez led the way with five RBI while Johnson, Ledet, Jennifer Bien-Aime and Martin turned in strong appearances at the plate. Each of the Bison freshmen contributed with one hit apiece and added strong defensive performances.
Coach Braxton was extremely happy after taking both games of the doubleheader and had good things to say about her "motley crew".
"I think if you poll our team, they will all tell you the same thing...we choked in Daytona, nothing more, nothing less," Braxton said. "We had all the pieces in place, we were well rested, we had the team, but we just didn't take care of business.
Coach Braxton went on to mention that the team had a lot of distractions last year, most of them self-inflicted. When all was said and done she feels like the team lacked focus at some points during the season and lacked good internal leadership and accountability to each other at other points. "
"We are doing some things differently this year and hopefully these things will make us more accountable to each other," Braxton elaborated. "There is no doubt in my mind that if this team stays focused, we can bring another championship here. If we lower our standards and accept mediocrity from each other, then we will again be sitting on the side, watching someone else play for our championship. That's just not what we want."
The team's self-proclaimed mantra for the year is without a doubt....It's all about the ring!
The Lady Bison return to action on Friday October 17 at 3 p.m. for the first Alumni Game in program history. After that, they will close their fall season with a tournament at Bowie State University on Sunday, October 26.