Amidst multiple single-season and career achievements, the University of Redlands softball team battled through a campaign of change, as it embraced a new philosophy under first-year Head Coach Liz Slupinski. With heart and determination, the Bulldogs finished the 2017 season with a 14-26 overall mark and a 10-18 record in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) that resulted in three All-SCIAC honorees.
The Bulldogs got things started by splitting their season-opening doubleheader against in-region opponent Whitworth University (WA). During the 6-4 win in the first game, junior shortstop Shannon Skrzynski (Pomona, CA) initiated the offense with a solo home run with two outs in the bottom of the third. Sophomore pitcher Lindsey Mifsud (Belmont, CA) went the distance in her first start of the season to earn the win from the circle. Unfortunately, the celebration was short-lived, as Redlands dropped the night cap in a 3-11 decision.
The Maroon and Gray jumped back into the win column a week later when it snagged the opening game of a doubleheader against George Fox University (OR). After the Bruins regained the lead in the top of the third, the Bulldogs answered with a four-spot in the bottom half of the frame. Freshman designated player Nicole Stanzione (San Marcos, CA) capped off the scoring when she uncorked a long single to center field to bring home two runs, including sophomore pinch runner Jordyn Smith (Highland, CA). Although the Bruins attempted the comeback in the remaining innings, Mifsud kept them at bay en route to her second-consecutive, complete-game win.
The month of February proved to be a challenging one for the Bulldogs, as they endured a five-game skid that included their opening SCIAC doubleheader against Whittier College. Despite the losses, senior third baseman Summer Smith (Redlands, CA) impressed at the plate with four home runs and two doubles over the five games.
Redlands kicked off the competition in March with its first extra-inning game of the season, which came in a hard-fought 8-4 victory over Chapman University in 10 innings. After giving up three early runs, the Maroon and Gray chipped away at the deficit by adding a run in the second and two in the third. Down 2-3, with two outs and a runner on third, junior first baseman Ursyla Baumgarten (Penngrove, CA) blasted a deep single down the right-field line to plate the equalizer. Redlands took the lead when junior second baseman Elise Ramirez (Redlands, CA) turned a hit-by-pitch into a run scored on a sacrifice bunt and two singles in the top of the sixth inning. After Chapman tied it up in the seventh, a battle ensued into extra innings, but with one out and a runner on in the top of the 10th, sophomore left-fielder Jennifer Ng (Pleasanton, CA) launched a long ball over the left-field fence for the Bulldogs' 6-4 lead. The rally continued for the Maroon and Gray, which led to two more runs for the 8-4 final tally. Beyond its success at the plate, the team came up with the necessary defense to close out the win, as Mifsud sat down three of the final four batters to keep the Panthers off the board. She pitched all 10 innings while fanning six for her third victory of the season.
Unfortunately, the Bulldogs struggled to maintain this momentum and fell short in their next three games before securing a nice conference win at Occidental College. The visiting team got off to a hot start, as senior left-fielder Marissa Romero (Manteca, CA) doubled down the left-field line, which set up junior catcher Lali Garza's (Granite Bay, CA) two-out single to plate Romero for Redlands' first run. The scoring continued in the top of the sixth, as second basemen Hayley Romo (Port Orchard, WA) recorded an RBI to plate Baumgarten before Redlands took advantage of a costly fielding error for a 4-0 win.
Although the team suffered a three-game setback, senior center-fielder Amanda Ang (Santa Cruz, CA) hit a double or triple in seven games of a nine-game stretch between February 25 and March 13.
A few days later the Bulldogs secured an important series sweep over Pomona-Pitzer Colleges in conference competition. The Maroon and Gray scored early and held off a late push by the Sagehens to secure the 4-3 win in the opener before rallying in the sixth inning of the nightcap to collect the 5-2 triumph. With runners on first and third, sophomore designated player Mika Imoto (Vista, CA) laid down a sacrifice bunt for S. Smith to sneak home for Redlands' 1-0 lead. The Bulldogs later capitalized on an error-filled fourth inning by the Sagehens before the tables were turned in the seventh, as three runs crossed home due to Redlands' own miscues. Garza ended the rally by picking off a runner at third for the final out of the game and the Bulldog victory.
During the second game, Redlands faced a two-run deficit in the fourth inning, which inspired Slupinski to send Imoto into the circle as the reliever. She embraced the opportunity and eventually recorded her first win of the season. After S. Smith's solo shot in the bottom of the fourth frame, the Maroon and Gray tied up the game off of an RBI-single by Ang. The Bulldogs tacked on three more in the sixth, beginning with Garza's lead-off home run.
In late March, Redlands stepped up to the challenge of facing then-No. 15 Williams College (MA) in a non-conference doubleheader by earning a 5-0 win in the opening contest. S. Smith launched a solo shot in the first inning and Skrzynski repeated her effort in the fourth for another dinger to double the Bulldogs' advantage to 2-0. The Maroon and Gray kept scoring runs, and, with two outs in the bottom of the sixth, freshman left-fielder Jaci Sanchez (Lakewood, CA) muscled a single up the middle to plate the fifth and final run of the exciting win.
The Bulldogs continued to battle through the end of March, earning split results against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Colleges, Willamette University (OR), and the University of La Verne. Although the Bulldogs dropped the first game against the CMS Athenas, sophomore first baseman Tawney Lilley (Alta Loma, CA) did all she could by going 2-for-2 at the plate to account for half of Redlands' hits. In the second-game victory over CMS, Imoto impressed from the circle and the batter's box in a well-rounded effort. She gave up only one hit and one run while striking out four in the 6-1, complete-game victory while going 2-for-2 with a double, an RBI, and a run.
In the team's 5-4 victory against Willamette University (OR), junior catcher Olivia Vierra (Burlingame, CA) notched an RBI-single and scored a run, while Stanzione entered the circle in the fifth to secure the final nine outs of the game.
Against La Verne, the Bulldogs picked up an exciting 6-4 win in extra innings. With the score knotted at four apiece, Redlands escaped a bases-loaded jam with excellent defense in the ninth frame, as Garza remained steady behind the plate. The Maroon and Gray carried that positive energy into the bottom of the inning for an impressive finish to the game. With one out and a runner on first, S. Smith went yard for the walk-off, two-run home run. Overall, Redlands registered 10 hits, with Baumgarten going 2-for-4 at the plate. Mifsud earned the win from the circle after an extended-game effort that included four strikeouts.
The Maroon and Gray began the month of April with another doubleheader sweep of Pomona-Pitzer, as S. Smith went 2-for-4 with a double and a home run in the team's 5-2 decision in the nightcap.
Although Redlands dropped a pair of games to CMS, Garza remained hot at the plate to start the final month of the season. She went 6-for-14 over the four games against Pomona-Pitzer and CMS with three doubles and two RBI.
The team jumped back into the win column against Whittier College in a shortened-game victory. After two innings, Redlands faced a slight 1-2 deficit but quickly rebounded with a pair of five-hit, five-run frames to blow it wide open for the 11-3 win. During the lucrative sixth inning, Romero tripled to start the inning before Ang sent her home during the subsequent at-bat. An error and two hits later, the Bulldogs had the bases loaded for S. Smith, but the Poets walked her in for another run. Vierra and Romo joined the hit parade with singles to account for three runs between them.
Following a two-game skid against Cal Lutheran, the Bulldogs looked forward to celebrating their four seniors in Ang, Romero, S. Smith, and Casey Maltz (Palo Alto, CA) before taking on the Tigers of Occidental College. Although Maltz pitched three scoreless innings with one strikeout, the Redlands bats' struggled to provide her with enough support in the opener, which ended in a 2-7 loss. However, the team responded in the second game of the doubleheader, as the Bulldogs completed an exciting comeback for the 4-3 win in extra innings. After scoring twice in the seventh, the Bulldogs denied a Tiger run in the eighth when Ang grabbed an out in deep, center field to set up the dramatic rally in the bottom half of the frame. After a routine play ended in an error by the Tiger defense, Vierra and Stanzione did their jobs to move Baumgarten over on a sacrifice bunt and a long fly-out. With two outs, Ng drew a walk but the final ball came on a wild pitch, which allowed Baumgarten to slide home for the game-winning run. Imoto collected the victory from the circle after throwing all eight innings.
Although the Bulldogs fell to Chapman in their next doubleheader, Maltz pitched 2.1 innings with four punch-outs in a solid outing. In addition, Imoto went 2-for-4 with two doubles and three RBI.
The U of R softball team concluded the 2017 season with a tough doubleheader at the University of La Verne on April 29. After suffering a shutout loss in the first game, the Bulldogs rallied back in the seventh inning of the nightcap to force the eighth but came up short in a 4-5 heartbreaker.
Upon conclusion of the season, Garza was named to the All-Conference First Team, while Ang received a spot on the Second Team and Baumgarten represented Redlands on the All-Sportsmanship Team.
Furthermore, the team earned various single-season and career marks among the Bulldogs' all-time lists. Among the highlights, S. Smith and Skrzynski solidified their spot in history with impressive career numbers for home runs. With only two seasons under her belt, S. Smith is currently tied for sixth with 12 bombs, while Skrzynski sits eighth with a three-year total of eight home runs.
Following its seventh-place finish among the always-competitive SCIAC, the Bulldog softball team holds high expectations for a quick return to the upper echelon. Although the loss of its seniors is significant, the program looks to the talent, dedication, and leadership of the returning squad to set the tone for the future, as it mixes with a strong incoming class of newcomers. With a storied past of success, Redlands welcomes the challenges of reestablishing its foundation in a new era under a new coach.