ANN ARBOR, Mich. – No one expected St. Francis to be playing softball in the middle of May, especially after losing key players via graduation and transferring during the offseason.
No one outside of the program did, at least. But with a 3-1 loss to DePaul Saturday at the Ann Arbor Regional, the season came to a close for the Red Flash with a 29-31 record.
“I don’t think there’s a team in the country that worked as hard as these girls did,” St. Francis coach Jess O’Donnell said.
“There were times when we did two-a-days and three-a-days and these girls never complained. They never went away from their work ethic. We fell short this year, but we’ll be back.”
The lineup for St. Francis Saturday relied on a freshman in the pitching circle and a bench filled with six underclassmen. Tina Clark started the game for St. Francis, but ran into trouble in the fourth inning, allowing three runs off four hits.
That was all the runs that DePaul needed, as senior Mikayla Bower retired the final two batters of the inning en route to pitching two more scoreless innings, allowing only one hit.
“I really settled down and attacked the zone to get ahead and we would get out of these innings,” Clark recalled.
As a freshman, the expectations for Clark were a little uncertain. She tore her ACL in high school and was on a limited work regimen in the fall. Clark could only throw 75 pitches a day, all of which had to be fastballs.
“I’m happy with how I did but I’m nowhere near my peak,” Clark said. “I can continue to grow and get better. These last couple months, we’ve been working hard on trusting myself.
“The more I pitched, the more I felt relaxed in the circle.”
While St. Francis will see five starters graduate, the future is promising for the Red Flash.
The breakout season by sophomore MeKenzie Saban at the top order was a pleasant surprise for St. Francis, while catcher Tayven Rousseau came on strong at the end of the season despite playing in less than half of the games this season.
“I know I can step up and I know that I can help this team and I can be a leader,” said Saban, who collected two hits and drove in the lone run of the weekend for the Red Flash. “I know this team trusts me and I’ll do whatever I can for this team.”
Hallie Marion intends on returning next season. The redshirt junior will be the lone senior on the roster, with Saban joining Jordy Frank, Rousseau, Brittney Crawford and Bri Walker as the additional upperclassmen. With the exception of Bower, the entire pitching staff for St. Francis this season was freshmen.
“I’m really excited about the future and a lot of the recruits brining in,” O’Donnell said.
“I think our senior class set the bar really high. They really taught all of us what hard work is. It was great that these guys were able to work with them. These guys have grown so much over just one season.”