Author: Malcolm MacLeod
The Occidental College softball team (1-9 overall, 0-4 SCIAC) opened up its conference season this weekend with doubleheaders against La Verne and Chapman. Hindered by injury, the Tigers did not come away with a win, falling Saturday to a winless La Verne 19-2 in the first game and 11-0 in the second. The squad then competed with a 1-3 Chapman team, allowing only three runs in the first game and losing 3-0 before narrowly dropping the second 4-3 after jumping out to a 2-0 lead.
Going into their first week of league play, the Tigers had high hopes after their first victory against Lewis & Clark last Sunday.
However, with both regular catchers — Kristine Kocjan (junior) and Meghan Luera (senior) — sidelined with concussions, Occidental called upon its other athletes to step up in unfamiliar positions.
“They’re not just catchers for us; they’re also big contributors at second and third when they’re not catching,” Tiger head coach Ali Haehnel said. “Losing those two for this weekend was a pretty big blow to our defense.”
Haehnel and assistant coach Claire Donyanavard even resorted to bringing in players from other sports to fill out the depth chart. Namely, volleyball newcomer Tiareh Cruz (first-year) and soccer captain and All-SCIAC selection Elissa Minamishin (senior) recorded playing time for the black and orange. Cruz got the starting nod at second base in one game and substituted in the other three, while Minamishin appeared in right field for two innings.
Despite the depth issues, shortstop and captain Jerika Barron (senior) found a positive in the fact that the team would have the opportunity to challenge itself.
“Everyone in the lineup is getting involved this weekend,” she said. “It’s just going to be a test of our versatility.”
First-year outfielder Alex Battest and everyday first baseman Morgan Giusti (sophomore) split time behind the plate, while usual second baseman Mariah Montgomery (sophomore) stepped shifted over to third base to fill out the Tigers’ infield.
“Mariah is just so flexible; I know she’ll succeed no matter where we put her,” Haehnel said. “And that frees us up to leave Jerika at short, where she’s more comfortable.”
Against La Verne, the Tigers showed promise at the plate with runs driven in by Battest and center fielder Jackie Shimamoto (senior).
Leopard first baseman Alexis Schiff (first-year) posed the greatest offensive threat to the Tiger defense, as she recorded a 2-run home run, a double and a triple on the day on her way to eight total RBI.
Though the Tigers went without scoring in the second game, their defense began to find its rhythm.
“We showed a lot of improvement between Game 1 and Game 2; I could see the girls starting to really settle into their new positions, and they played hard,” Haehnel said. “If our pitchers can start to hit their spots a little better, our defense will follow suit.”
Haehnel’s comment was validated in the team’s Sunday doubleheader against Chapman.
The Occidental defense held the Panthers to just three runs in Game 1, utilizing double plays from Shimamoto and Angelica Preciado (sophomore) to support pitcher Ali Goldberg (sophomore). Goldberg went the distance in the contest, scattering seven hits and walking three batters.
Shimamoto and Battest then led the Tigers at the plate in Game 2, combining for five hits and all three RBI. Shimamoto, who went 4 for 4 in the game, finished a home run shy of the cycle.
The defensive effort was facilitated by a series of double plays from Barron, Montgomery, Battest and Cruz.
Though disappointed by the weekend’s losses, the Tigers remain confident that the adversity they have faced in losing two of their best players will force the unit to improve around the diamond.
“There’s a lot of season left,” Montgomery said. “We’re still learning to adapt and play together as a team. But right now with all of these injuries, it’s going to be about coming together and overcoming adversity in the short term.”
Occidental travels to Whittier for a Saturday doubleheader at noon and 2 p.m.
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