In the bottom of the first inning of the second game of a doubleheader against Benedictine College on Tuesday, Stephens College’s Joni Ahern lined an RBI double into the right centerfield gap.
It’s a rare lead for the Stars, who go up 1-0. For a few minutes, at least, they can look at the scoreboard over the left field wall and be happy with what they see. It’s the kind of moment a 2-26 team needs.
“We’re always excited when we have the lead,” says Ahern, the team’s leading hitter and ace pitcher. “Because it hasn’t happened often this year.”
Benedictine tied the game in its next at bat, and although Stephens briefly regained the lead by a 2-1 margin, Benedictine rolled to a 10-2 win, sweeping the doubleheader. Still, Stephens chooses to focus on the positives. Wednesday, the positive was gaining experience in playing with leads.
“Some things happened in this last game that put us in a situation that we haven’t been in too often, and that’s playing with a lead,” said coach Chris Collier. “So, that’s a learning experience. Playing with runners in scoring position is not something that is real common in our season, so I’m happy with the way they performed.”
With the losses, Stephens ends the year, its first year with a softball team, 2-27, losing the last 19 games of the season. Collier, though, said it’s been year of progress for the team, which became the first Stephens athletic program to win a game in its first year.
“What we try to focus on is we wanted to be a better team this game than we were the first time we played this season, and we were,” he said. “We’re a better team now, and we’re building a foundation. I’m sure it’s probably hard on them, but I think they all buy in to the fact that this a foundation that we’re putting in place for this program, and we’re going to focus on the positives of that.”
The Stars admit that losing has been tough for them, but say they have still enjoyed this season.
“We knew it was going to be a hard season because it’s our first year,” Ahern said. “It was difficult, but we still had fun pretty much every game. I love softball, and any chance I get to play softball, I love it.”
Collier said one of the toughest obstacles this season was having a team where none of the players had ever played together before and having them develop unity. First baseman Lisa McEntyre, though, says her team has accomplished that.
“This isn’t an individual thing,” she said. “This is definitely something that has brought the team closer and has unified us as a team. You just try to pick each other up, and we’re really good at doing that. We’ve been successful in that area.”
The program has had to deal with difficulties beyond just losses on the field. It only had 10 players on the roster this year, and did not have its own field to play on, instead playing home games at Rock Bridge and the Antimi Fields at Cosmopolitan Park.
Collier also said it was sometimes difficult to get all the players together for practices with the academic responsibilities that are given first priority at the school. But, Collier says, he is happy with how the team has handled those issues.
“Every team faces challenges, and it’s the attitude with how you face challenges that’s important,” he says. “I’m proud of the way that they’ve overcome adversity quite a bit this year.”
The players and the coaching staff both said the problems they’ve faced have been worth it for the opportunity to be a part of something special — the start of a new athletic program.
“It’s history, you know,” McEntyre says. “It’s been awesome. I’ve improved as a player and as a person just being out here with all these different girls who offer so much to the team.”
Everyone involved in the program said they are looking forward to next year, because, as Ahern said, “Things can only go up from here.”
“Our future is a very bright future,” Collier said. “I’d like to see us with a few more people on the team so that we can utilize different strategies and substitutions, things like that. And I hope that we can just continue to focus on going about things the right way. There’s a lot of different ways you can approach any athletic program, I want them to do it the right way.”
Stephens had a tough time winning in its inaugural campaign, but its players don’t have any difficulty keeping their heads up.
As McEntyre stands in front of the team bus after the final two losses of a season filled with them, she has a huge smile on her face. She thinks back to the bottom of the first, and laughs.
“Yeah, that was awesome.”