Mesa seniors have helped softball team stick together
Other than the usual goals of winning a conference championship and reaching the NCAA regional playoffs, this group of seniors on the Mesa State College softball team had another, more personal, goal.
“We all wanted to leave our mark on this year’s team, especially having an extremely young team and the five of us being able to influence them,” senior right fielder Jamie Prather said.
“That was a goal for each and every one of us. I’ve only been here two years, but I know I wanted to leave something behind.”
The Mavericks are a longshot to win the RMAC West Division title, needing to win four and have CSU-Pueblo lose four this weekend.
Mesa State (21-15, 17-13 RMAC) plays West Division-leading Adams State (20-13, 19-9) at noon today and 11 a.m. on Sunday at Bergman Field. Before Sunday’s game, the five seniors will take a bow.
The regional playoffs are within reach — the Mavs are ranked ninth, with eight teams getting invites, including the winner of the conference tournament.
That third goal, though, the seniors have accomplished better than even they could have hoped.
They held the young team together when the Mavs lost nine of their first 12 conference games and were six games below .500 in the conference three weeks ago.
Turns out, they were just getting warmed up.
“Three weeks ago we were thinking we weren’t even going to make it to the (RMAC) tournament,” senior catcher Meagan Hennessy said. “I thought, ‘This is not happening. I’ve been there three years, and I’m not going out like that.’ ’’
Two games at CSU-Pueblo were canceled by weather, followed by four games snowed out in Nebraska.
“I don’t know what clicked, but it did, and I’m OK with it,” Hennessy said.
Coach Kris Mort made yet another lineup change and Mesa State swept New Mexico Highlands and took four at Western New Mexico.
Everybody started hitting, the defense was solid and the pitchers were holding opponents in check.
Mort inserted senior Kristen Silva in left, slid Gabi Parra to center and moved Dani Vallie back to second base.
Suddenly, Mesa’s the hottest team in the conference.
“You’ve got to have fun to play. That’s what the whole game is about, it’s the love of the sport,” Silva said. “You just relax and have fun. I talked to a lot of friends and they told me, ‘You’re out there because you love the game, that’s why you play.’ ’’
Jessica Rayman, a four-year starter, has been a big part of the turnaround. She and Sara
Jordan have become a good 1-2 punch as starters or out of the bullpen.
“We’re finally all playing together and things are coming our way,” Rayman said. “We’ve always hit the ball well, we’ve always played good defense, but it never fell our way. Finally it’s starting to. This is the time to do it, at the end of the season.”
Senior pitcher Alicia Newschwanger hasn’t thrown much this season, but has taken on the role of being the dugout leader.
“I’m still there on the bench, cheering my heart out,” she said, grinning.
“As seniors, we’ve wanted to keep things more positive this year and it’s definitely turned out the way we wanted it to.”
None of the five can believe this is their final weekend playing at Bergman Field, but they know they’ve got at least one more week to suit up. Graduation, finishing degrees and job searches can wait a little longer.
“It snuck up on me. It’s not supposed to happen yet,” Hennessy said. “It’s my birthday on Sunday, so it makes for a weird day. We need to come out with two wins. That’ll make for a good day.”