For the first time in several seasons, they weren’t “just Blackburn.” They weren’t being looked at as a “cupcake team.” Last Wednesday’s softball contest between Blackburn and Greenville College proved that the Beavers have the potential to be a force in the SLIAC this season.
Despite concerns of postponement due to inclimate weather, the Blackburn women’s softball team traveled to Greenville, Illinois, to take on the Lady Panthers to open the Saint Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SLIAC) play.
It is no secret in the conference that Greenville has made a name for itself as a fairly dominant force in the conference, especially since its current senior class team finished runner-up in the SLIAC tournament in 2014 and 2015. Last season they one-upped those performances, winning the tournament and earning a trip to the NCAA Division III Tournament.
Greenville’s performances against the Beavers have also been dominant in recent years as the Beavers have struggled since the 2012 season where they swept the Panthers in all three of their matchups, including their victory over them in the SLIAC tournament. In the previous four seasons, the Beavers were 1-8 against Greenville and have suffered five run-rule shortened losses. Based off of the 3-29 record put forth by Blackburn last season, a similar result seemed inevitable as they took on the reigning champs, but Blackburn embraced the underdog mentality and gave Greenville a run for their money, nearly shocking the conference and coming close to an early season spoiler.
In game one of the doubleheader, Blackburn’s Kaitlyn Wade battled against Greenville’s ace pitcher, Brianna Anderson. The two fought inning for inning, coming up big for their respective teams in critical situations. While Wade managed to keep her team in the game, an untimely error in the bottom of the third gave Greenville a 2-0 lead.
Blackburn continued to battle with hopes of a comeback, but in the end, Anderson’s performance was just too much for Blackburn to match. With 17 of the Beavers’ 21 outs coming via strikeout, Blackburn struggled to figure Anderson out as she was on the verge of a no-hitter before junior Hannah Goett broke it up in the top of the seventh.
Despite Goett’s one-out double, Greenville was able to shut down the next two batters and hang on to a narrow 2-0 victory.
In game two, Blackburn’s Jensen Ballinger took the mound with determination in her eyes as she looked to lead her team to victory. The game started well for the Beavers as a single by Daniele Burnell drove in Lexie Yockey for the first run of the game; however another untimely error in the infield in the bottom of the frame allowed Greenville to regain the lead 2-1.
In the fourth inning doubles by Emma Trybom and Bobbi Morris for the Beavers, tied the game 2-2, but again, the Lady Panthers took the lead in the bottom of the inning. The following innings remained intense but scoreless, and as the last inning approached, the Beavers found themselves in a great position to tie or take the lead as they loaded the bases with no outs. With the dugout erupting and Greenville on edge and unsure, the Panthers called for a time-out.
Enter Greenville ace Brianna Anderson.
While again, the Beavers showed tremendous fight, Anderson was still in top form, forcing an infield popup and two strikeouts to earn the save and a 4-2 win.
Despite the results, the difference was clear, not only for the team but the conference. Blackburn were seen as exactly what the young team is: gritty, energetic and dangerous. While any loss is hard for a team, there was something in the air. It wasn’t disappointment or frustration. It was a butterflies-in-the-stomach moment as anyone in the huddle could feel “it.” And that “it can only be described as something special.
*The author is a member of the Blackburn softball team