Softball looks to build off strong start as conference play begins
Junior third baseman Hayley Barrow went 1 for 5 with an RBI and a run scored on Tuesday against Canisius. Barrow and the Bulls travel to Akron and Ohio this weekend as they start MAC play. Yusong Shi, The Spectrum
The softball team has finished with its most wins (15) before the beginning of Mid-American Conference play since 2009. But head coach Trena Peel knows it's not what a team does in the early parts of the season that dictates success; it's how a group plays once the weather warms up.
The Bulls (15-14) are entering conference competition this weekend. Buffalo's first-year head coach has helped spearhead the softball team to one of its greatest starts in recent memory.
"April is when we need to start peeking," Peel said. "We need to be great in April. It doesn't matter if we're great in February or March because we don't get a trophy for that."
The team's improvement from last season was evident from the opening weekend. The Bulls finished a perfect 6-0 in the 2014 Lion Classic, hosted by Southeastern Louisiana University, from Feb. 7-9. Last year, Buffalo didn't win its sixth game until March 30.
After winning by a combined 29-6 in the team's opening two games, the remainder of the Bulls' contests have been much closer affairs - something Peel said will help the team in April and beyond.
"You learn from those one-run games more than you do from blowing someone out," Peel said.
Buffalo has claimed five of its 15 victories by one run. Only three of its wins since the opening two games have been by more than three runs.
Peel credits most of the success to the seniors' production. Senior centerfielder Holly Luciano leads the Bulls with a .357 average, along with RBIs (22) and steals (8). Senior shortstop Sammi Gallardo leads the team with five homeruns and 18 runs.
Peel said despite Gallardo's average being lower than she may like (.284), Gallardo is making the most of her hits. Her 21 hits rank fourth on the team and her 18 RBIs are second.
"Sammi is Sammi," Peel said. "[It's not about getting] hits when nobody's on, but can you hit when people are in scoring position? And she does a great job at that."
Senior pitcher Tori Speckman has started 19 of 29 games and totaled a 10-8 record with a 2.12 ERA. She has 12 complete games, three shutouts and one save.
Juniors Karly Nevez, Hayley Barrow and Alexis Curtiss all have batting averages over .300 on the season.
Although the Bulls have won many close games, most of their loses have also come in a similar fashion. Nine of Buffalo's 14 losses have been by two runs or fewer, including two 1-0 losses.
"We have to figure out how to play a complete seven innings, 21 outs of error-free defense," Peel said. "That's our biggest struggle."
Peel compares each game so far to a homework session. She calls April the "final exam" and "fourth quarter" of the Bulls' season.
The Bulls haven't won consecutive games since Feb. 28. They are 6-11 in their last 17 games. Peel said it's important to sweep games in the conference rather than split games as the Bulls have done lately.
"I'm proud of what we've accomplished up to this point," Peel said. "I think they get it. We've had a lot of tough lessons in the past three weeks I would say, but some good humbling experiences."
The Bulls travel to Akron (15-6, 2-0 MAC) and Ohio (18-14, 3-1 MAC) this weekend to begin MAC competition. Buffalo was supposed to open with four home games last weekend, but the games were canceled due to weather. Friday's doubleheader against the Zips is set to start at 1 p.m.
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