There’s an air of confidence going around the Pitt-Bradford softball team, and with the year the Panthers have put together so far, who could blame them?
UPB has compiled a 20-12 record thus far -- the most wins in a season since 2014’s total of 23 -- with four doubleheaders still to go. Last year, the team posted a 14-18 mark.
In addition, the Panthers sit at No. 3 in the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference with a chance to move up into one of the top two spots, which would give UPB a first round bye in the AMCC Tournament.
“The team just has a little swagger this year,” head coach Tina Phillips said. “There’s not a pressure to win, (the players) just go out and feel that they can win and should win.”
The swagger and confidence Phillips talks about began budding early in the season, following a 6-2 loss to Virginia Wesleyan -- Division 3’s top-ranked team that stands at 30-2.
“The kids really battled and only lost 6-2, and I think that showed us we can compete with anybody,” Phillips said.
As the confidence has grown, so has the win total. The month of April has been especially good to UPB, as the Panthers have gone 10-2 since the calendar turned, and were on a five-game win streak until an 8-1 loss to D’Youville Thursday.
So what sets this team apart from prior UPB teams?
Phillips points to leadership and chemistry along with some timely hitting and improved pitching.
The chemistry, she says, comes from this year’s core playing together at UPB for the past three years.
“Things are finally falling into place, and the players have put in some extra work this year,” she said.
The hitting has been a by-committee effort, with different players stepping up at different times.
“We had two straight games where Melissa Nye gets a big hit in the seventh, Lizzie Dzurisin had a game-winning hit against Westminster. We’ve scored runs in bunches, and it’s been a team effort,” Phillips said.
The improvements in the batter’s box are clear. The team improved its batting average from last year’s .279 to a gaudy .315 this year. In conference, that average jumps to .340.
Individually, Maddy Hillery has led the Panthers with a batting average of .435 and 27 RBI -- both team highs. Gabby Carpenter has batted .402 this year with 12 RBI, and Dzurisin has an average of .368 with 20 RBI.
In the circle, the core of the pitching rotation has been youngsters, with two sophomores and a freshman making up the bulk of the team’s starts in the circle. Sophomore Jordan Uhing leads the Panthers with an ERA of 2.40 across 96.1 innings pitched, and her record stands at 12-3.
Fellow sophomore Kerrigan Hoffman is 6-5 on the year with an ERA of 3.72 across 69.2 innings pitched, and freshman Melanie Davis has chipped in 41.1 innings pitched with an ERA of 3.73 and a record of 2-3.
Their pitching is clearly one of the major differences between wins and losses. When the Panthers have won games, the team ERA stands at 1.57, and during losses that ERA jumps to 6.67.
That difference is why Phillips feels pitching will be key as the team prepares for and then plays in the AMCC Tournament.
“When you go into the tournament, you’re not expecting to play in a high-scoring game, so pitchers, and everything, have to be clicking,” Phillips said. “You just hope all three phases come together.”
The team closes out the season with doubleheaders against La Roche today, Mount Aloysius on April 27, Pitt-Greensburg on April 29 and Juniata College on the 30th.
Of particular interest is the road matchup with Mount Aloysius, as the Mounties sit two games ahead of Pitt-Bradford in the AMCC standings.
Winning out, and sweeping Mount Aloysius, would give the Panthers a first round bye in the AMCC Tournament.
But no matter UPB’s first round opponent, the team is ready to make some noise in the postseason.
“We’re excited,” Phillips said. “We haven’t had these conversations in four or five years. We used to worry about just getting in, and now we’re talking about which seed and maybe a first round bye. It’s nice.”