Lady Wildcats pull together at Pirate Classic

Courtney Scrib

Team chemistry cannot be built overnight, but, as shown by the women’s softball team this past weekend at the East Carolina Pirate Classic, it can be improved in a matter of days.

With eight returning seniors and the addition of eight new players, Villanova entered its opening weekend of play hoping to come away undefeated. Unfortunately for the ‘Cats, the participating teams, which included Fordham, Ohio, College of the Charleston and Radford, had the advantage of experience, with several of the teams having already played up to eight games. Villanova, who in early January was chosen by the Big East Conference head coaches to finish third in the conference, ultimately ended the tournament with a 3-3 record.

Despite falling below what they had hoped to accomplish, the team showed, especially in the later games of the three-day competition, that as long as they keep playing together, big things can be expected of them this season.

“Our team really grew over the weekend,” first baseman Kari Koller said. “The difference between Sunday and Friday was that we went from being individual players to one team.”

Last year Koller led the team in hitting percentage (.510), on base percentage (.399), RBIs (27), home runs (nine) and walks (29). After Sunday’s 6-0 victory over Fordham, she was only five home runs away from setting a new school record for career home runs.

“We have so much potential that I truly believe that if we continue to learn and steadily improve each time we walk on the field, we have what it takes to win Big East and whatever else lies ahead of us,” Koller added.

The tournament started on a successful note for the Wildcats on Friday as they grabbed victories in their first two games. After eight innings, the ‘Cats finally defeated the Rams, 3-2, to give senior pitcher Shannon Williams (2-1) her first win of the season. Later in the day, a home run by Lisa Kruger in the top of the fourth helped lift Villanova over Ohio, 4-2.

Saturday, however, proved a greater challenge for the Wildcats as they dropped two games, including a nine-inning battle with Radford that eventually went in the Highlanders’ favor. Prior to that game, Villanova was shut out by Charleston, 10-0.

“We had an off day,” Haynes (1-2), who pitched all nine innings in the 1-0 loss to Radford, said. “As a team, once we realize that we’re having an off day, we need to learn how to pull ourselves out of it and play ball the way we know we can.”

And that is exactly what the Wildcats did on Sunday morning.

In the championship round, Villanova played Fordham once again. However, unlike in the first meeting between the two teams, the ‘Cats dominated the game from the start. They got on the board early when Koller sent Sheri Donley, who had just hit a double, home off an RBI-single. One of the biggest highlights of the game came in the fifth inning when senior third baseman Shannon Wall blasted a three-run homer to help lead the Wildcats to a commanding a 6-0 victory.

After advancing to the semifinals, the Wildcats faced a tough Charleston team,and despite a solid effort, fell to the Cougars, 2-1. Pitching for Villanova was Haynes, and although she gave up two early home runs, she remained tough throughout the game. In three separate innings when the Cougars had runners in scoring position and no outs, she, with the support of the defense, pulled through and did not give up any runs.

“Kristen [Haynes] and Shannon [Williams] pitched great this weekend,” said Kruger, the team’s senior center fielder. “They kept the other team off-balanced and guessing.”

On Sunday, another one of Kruger’s teammates was applauded for her performance this weekend. Shari Donley, who went 2-3 at the plate in both games against the Rams and 2-for-2 in the Ohio game, was named the Big East Player of the Week. By the end of Villanova’s six games, the sophomore infielder was hitting .421 and had earned eight hits (half of which were doubles), four runs and four RBIs in 19 appearances at bat.

“We have great versatility on the team,” Krueger said. “We have multiple people who can play different positions, and we have power and speed in our lineup. We expect nothing less than to win the Big East tournament.”

The Wildcats return to the field on Feb. 25-27 when they compete at the Virginia Beach Classic.