By Connor Iapoce
The 2017-2018 Titans softball team found a rhythm early in their season with a 13 game win streak, but the schedule has had its bumps due to weather cancellations in their last four matchups.
Meanwhile, injuries sustained in games have impacted the team’s lineup with key players being injured for a stretch of time. The Titans at presstime sit on a record of 23-6 with a five-game win streak and are currently in the third spot of the Region XIX Division II standings and clinched the playoffs with an 11-0 win over Sussex County Community College Wednesday, April 18.
The Titans trip to Florida over spring break found them finishing with the best record of any Titans program at 12-0. Head Coach Greg Wardlow said he was excited about the way the Titans competed in the tournament against strong nationally ranked teams.
“We beat really strong national programs,” Wardlow said. “We beat Iowa Central Community College twice, who were ranked in the top 12 in the country at the time. We beat Parkland College, who was a national runner up a few years back. We beat a couple of other Midwest powers, St. Louis Community College and Spoon River College. When we looked at our schedule going down to Florida, we pessimistically said ‘Hey we’ll have a time tough with these games,’ but we won them all. We played very well.”
The lossless streak continued with a 9-0 victory against nationally ranked Brookdale Community College, but the Titans were plagued by a group of injuries to the core team during these 13 games.
“Along the way we suffered a couple of injuries,” Wardlow said. “We didn’t have a lot of depth to begin with, having only 13 players on the roster. In Florida, we lost our lead off hitter, starting outfielder, number 4 pitcher Hannah Brizek. She had a labrum tear in her shoulder. One of our leading hitters in Florida, Melissa Ackerman, in her first game back against Brookdale suffered a meniscus sprain in her knee, running out a hit to first base. So we were down a couple of kids.”
The Titans’ win streak earned them a national rank of 14 in the country in the NJCAA, marking the first time the team had never been ranked since Wardlow started coaching at CCM in 2005.
“They started out very strong down South, went 12-0 and reached 14 in the country in the NJCAA, which was very promising,” said Jack Sullivan, CCM athletic director.
The middle half the season was impacted by the appearance of miserable weather in the Northeast, consisting of snowstorms that made it hard for the team to practice outside. It ultimately impacted the team’s return to play when they came back Thursday, March 15, as the team was unable to practice. More injuries would hurt the Titans lineup, including a meniscus sprain, bone bruises, and a broken nose in subsequent games following the return.
“We played some key games not at full strength, but that’s no excuse,” Wardlow said. “Everybody suffers injuries.”
The Titans would win eighth more games and lose only six, leading Wadlow to believe the Titans have clinched a postseason berth according to their record. Four teams make the playoffs with a double elimination style tournament. The Titans have made the final four the past 9 seasons.
“We have to keep our kids motivated, because we think we have a very good team and we have a pretty good chance,” Wardlow said. “We just need to put it all together when it counts at the end and work on things over the next couple of weeks. It’s anyone of the four teams that qualify are going to have a chance, so it’s who’s playing well.”
The Titans have proved their strength and consistency during the long season, event with the difficulties resulting from the numerous postponements and cancellations. They have not lost a game by more than two runs and Wardlow attributes this to the players themselves.
“We have to keep our kids motivated, because we think we have a very good team and we have a pretty good chance.”
Greg Wardlow Titans softball coach
Freshman pitchers Nicole Carter and Kellie Faber are 11-3 and 9-3 respectively, with Carter pitching a perfect game in the first game of a doubleheader against Northampton Community College and Faber striking out ten in the first game of the doubleheader.
Freshman Kaitlyn Lloyd has an average of .526, earning the title of GSAC player of the week for the second consecutive week Wednesday, April 28. Lloyd leads the team is stolen bases with 21, putting her in the top 10 all time for a CCM player during one season.
“We have a really good record and a really talented team,” said Ally Tufaro, a sophomore outfielder and fine art major. “I think we can make it to [nationals in] Mississippi. That’s like our one goal for the entire season. I would say that’s where I see our team at the end of the season.”
Wardlow said he has the team practicing to deal with the lack of depth that has occurred as a result of the injuries. The team was averaging double figures in Florida but have not scored as many runs as the beginning half of the season.
“Right now, we’re just not scoring as many runs anymore,” Wardlow said. “Some of it is because our lineup has been depleted a little bit, so the lack of depth hurts so we do have to work on getting back into a groove hitting. Our pitching has been pretty consistent and strong. None of the four teams that we play at the end have dominating pitching, so we’re going to have to score runs to win. We’ll certainly work on hitting in the next couple weeks. A couple of things we noticed during games are kind of hard to correct in-game. There is not a lot of chances for practices, because we are always playing games. But certainly things we will try to tighten up in those last couple of weeks.”
The Titans stand in third place of the top four teams who are in positions to make the tournament. Sullivan said he thinks the end of the season will come down to the wire to determine the fourth team.
“It’s going to be a mad rush to see who makes the final four team for the tournament,” said Sullivan. “As we stand, we are 3rd and the top four teams make it to the semifinals. We are looking at Mercer in first place, Lackawanna in second place, and Morris in third. Burlington is in fourth, but Del Tech Owens has an outside chance. That wouldn’t be our problem right now.”
The success of the rookie Titans have the team looking forward to next season, but with a shifting sophomore class, the team has also focused on recruitment efforts. A big effort is their sophomore
“They started out very strong down South, went 12-0 and reached 14 in the country in the NJCAA, which was very promising.”
Jack Sullivan CCM athletic director
“Next season we’ll retain all of our pitchers and all of our pitchers are freshman,” Wardlow said. “We lose a lot of offense and a lot of players on the field which is going to impact us for sure. We have two kids signed for next year, but we know we need more and we have to build up our roster size and depth. We’re always trailing in recruiting compared to four-year schools, but we have to work hard in April and May to get the right kids. That’s one of our focuses, even though we’re playing right now, to actively recruit at high school games and continue to push for that in the next month or so. We do need to build up our numbers for next September.”
Sullivan said he wants the team focused on the rest of this season, before worrying about next year but believes that under coach Wardlow’s leadership, the Titans will find success.
“Coach does a great job finding talent and making it translate to team chemistry, on the field and off the field,” said Sullivan. “There is solid leadership this year from Carly McDaniel and Olivia Feiger and the rest of the sophomores, they’re the core. I’ve always said in junior college, you are led by sophomores. They have been through the league before and they know what’s expected of them. They are all quality sophomores, and we have an outstanding group of freshman that came in, learning their way and by this time, I think they’re all ready to roll.”
Katlyn Lloyd, a freshman was hitting .526 at press time and was Player of the Week in the conference in the second consecutive week April 18.
“She does everything, she has 21 stolen bases already which is already in the top 10 for CCM in a season,” Wardlow said. “She hits with power, she’s the fastest kid on the team, and an all-around terrific player with a great season … Both our top two pitchers, Nicole Carter and Kellie Faber, have done very well as freshman. Carter is 11-3 right now and on Saturday, she pitched a perfect game in the second game of a doubleheader against Northampton Community College. Kellie Faber is 9-3, she struck out 10 in the first game of the doubleheader on Saturday. Both of those are certainly keeping us in game. We lost six games. The six losses, we lost 2-4 against Orange, we lost 5-6 to Lackawanna, we lost 3-5 and 2-3 to Mercer, we lost 4-6 to Del Tech, and we lost 0-2 to Western Connecticut. Those are our six losses and none of the ever by more than two runs. A little luck and maybe less injuries, our 21-6 is a lot loftier.”
County College of Morris will host the Region XIX tournament on April 28 and 29 at the softball fields near Parking Lot 1.