2018 Summary: Bulldog Softball Battles Through Season of Ups and Downs

collage of photos from Bulldog softball

The University of Redlands softball team labored through a rollercoaster year to earn an overall record of 17-23 and a 12-16 in Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) action. With 12 games decided by no more than two runs, the Maroon and Gray sat just shy of a totally different campaign.  Nonetheless, the Bulldogs showed solid statistical improvement from the previous year by bettering their numbers in all major categories.

After dropping the first four games of the year, the Bulldogs caught their footing in a doubleheader at Occidental College, where they split a pair of games against the Tigers. In the opener, Redlands clawed its way to a 2-0 victory with aggressive moves on the base-paths. The Bulldogs got on the board when junior Julianne Rodriguez (Thousand Oaks, CA) stepped in as a pinch runner to steal two bases on her way to home plate. Senior designated player Shannon Skrzynski (Pomona, CA) sealed the deal with a stolen base before making it home on back-to-back errors by the Tigers. Occidental threatened in the bottom of the seventh with runners on second and third, but junior pitcher Mika Imoto (Vista, CA) forced a pair of routine outs to protect her team's win.

The Bulldogs returned the Field of Dreams to square off against Linfield College (OR) in an in-region series that resulted in another split. In an action-packed, 10-9 victory, the Maroon and Gray rallied back from five runs down to clinch the first game of the doubleheader. With their backs against the wall in the bottom of the fifth, the Bulldogs looked to first-year centerfielder Samantha Rivas (Whittier, CA) to send a bomb over the left-center fence with two on to cut the deficit to two. Rivas' home run gave the Bulldogs plenty of momentum, as Skrzynski launched a triple to right field for another run. Down by one, sophomore left fielder Jaci Sanchez (Lakewood, CA) and junior second baseman Jordyn Smith (Highland, CA) each let loose on doubles to score one run apiece and give the Bulldogs their first lead at 8-7. Redlands didn't stop there and successfully made it a 10-7 advantage by the end of the sixth inning.  Although Linfield scored twice in the top of the seventh, first-year Bulldog pitcher Jocelyn Hernandez (Downey, CA) earned the save with the final strike that shut the door on a possible Wildcat comeback.

The following weekend, Redlands faced Whittier College in the second series of a six-game homestand. The Bulldogs once again split a tough series after relinquishing a two-run lead in the first game. Game two saw a different result, with Redlands jumping out to an 8-2 advantage through the second inning. The Poets crept back into the game and threatened to answer with the bases loaded and two outs in the top of the seventh. However, Hernandez kept her cool to record her fourth strikeout of the day and walk away with the win.

The Bulldogs' up-and-down season continued at the start of March with another split in a conference twin bill, this time against Pomona-Pitzer Colleges. After letting the first game get away, Redlands used an explosive inning to bounce back once again. Rivas led off with her fourth home run of the season, which inspired RBI-hits from senior right fielder Shandell Curtis (Upland, CA) and Sanchez for the Bulldogs' 4-0 lead. Pomona-Pitzer moved to within a run in the top of the seventh, but stingy defense from the Bulldogs preserved the win.

After dropping a pair of games at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Colleges, the Bulldogs returned to the win column in the top of a non-conference doubleheader against Western Connecticut State University. The Maroon and Gray held a two-run lead before WCSU tied it up with a strong sixth inning. As the home team's defense continued to make plays in extra innings, junior catcher Nova Siegel (Fairfield, CA) provided the offensive spark it needed with a single to lead off the bottom of the ninth. Senior first baseman Olivia Vierra (Burlingame, CA) answered the call by blasting a double to center field for the walk-off RBI.

The Bulldogs dug deep for a three-game win streak that began with an impressive 9-1 triumph against SCIAC foe, Chapman University, in five innings at home. Senior shortstop Ursyla Baumgarten (Penngrove, CA) paced the Maroon and Gray offense by recording two runs in the win. Sanchez and Smith each registered a pair of RBI and touched home once apiece. Junior pitcher Lindsey Mifsud (Belmont, CA) put together an excellent performance from the circle by holding Chapman to just three hits in a complete-game effort.

The win proved to be what the Bulldogs needed, as they went 6-1 over the next two weeks, with three of those victories coming against SCIAC opponents. During that imposing stretch, Redlands turned in 49 runs, including an impressive 10 from Baumgarten alone. Not only were the Bulldogs explosive at the plate, but their circle was in good hands, as the Maroon and Gray gave up only 38 hits over the seven-game span.

After an opening loss to CMS, the Bulldogs rallied back to take down the Athenas, 8-4, for their first win in this season's series against the rival. Most of the Bulldogs' work was done in the second inning, where solid hitting pushed five runs across home plate. By the fourth frame, the Maroon and Gray held an 8-1 advantage that was too much for the Athenas to overcome.

The following day, the Bulldog bats came alive with a 5-1 triumph over the University of La Verne.  Mifsud kept the Leopards in check by giving up only five hits in seven innings of work. Unfortunately, the nightcap of the doubleheader gave way to a five-game drought to start the month of April. 

Ironically, Friday the 13th provided a little luck for the Bulldogs, who halted their slide with an 11-8 road win against Whittier.  Down three in the final inning, Vierra scored from second on a Poet miscue. Redlands faced two outs but loaded the bases to set up a gutsy come-from-behind victory. Despite a pitching change from Whittier, junior right fielder Jennifer Ng (Pleasanton, CA) cracked a single up the middle for two RBI to knot the score at eight-all. Rodriguez faced the same predicament with two outs on the board but stepped up with a single to juice the bases. Skrzynski came up to bat next and sent a rocket to right center for a bases-clearing double on the game-winning hit. Once the ball was turned over to Hernandez in the bottom of the frame, she calmly retired the side to complete the comeback victory. Skrzynski was a key contributor for the Bulldogs with a 2-for-4 effort at the plate and five RBI, to go along with a run scored.

After owning an earlier-season doubleheader sweep of the Cal Lutheran University Regals, Redlands worked to repeat this effort in mid-April. Despite giving up a run in the first, the Bulldogs answered with three of their own in the bottom of the third. With Redlands' lead in hand, Mifsud composed a series of strong innings in the circle to preserve the 3-1 victory.  Unfortunately, the second game of the day left the Bulldogs on the losing end of a tough 5-6 decision.  One bright spot came in the seventh inning when senior designated player Elise Ramirez (Redlands, CA) raked a two-out, solo shot over the left-field fence for her first home run in a Bulldog uniform.

In the final weekend of the regular season, the Bulldogs battled against Chapman for two more come-back victories. After the teams' earlier series ending in a split, the Bulldogs came out with a vengeance and knocked a total of 30 hits for 20 runs between the two games. In the opener, Redlands faced a three-run deficit before cranking out a five-spot in the top of the fifth to help the Bulldogs to an 11-8 win. Six different players recorded at least one RBI in the ballgame, with Sanchez and senior catcher Lali Garza (Granite Bay, CA) tallying three each and combining for a 6-for-7 showing.  Imoto earned her second career save by hurling a scoreless inning-and-a-third to close out game one.  The second game saw the Bulldogs down a pair of runs heading into the seventh but tied the game to force extra innings. Two runs in the 10th were enough to get the job done and secure the 9-8 victory. Rodriguez muscled an RBI-single before touching home on a stolen base and a Chapman error.  Sophomore pitcher Nicole Stanzione (San Marcos, CA) earned the win by tossing 4.2 innings of one-hit, one-run softball.

The Bulldogs hosted the final series of the season against La Verne but unfortunately fell in two tough contests on Senior Day.

The team finished the 2018 campaign in fifth place, just one spot out of the SCIAC Postseason Tournament, but climbed two positions in the standings from the year before.

For the season, Skrzynski initiated much of the Bulldogs' offense with team-highs in runs and RBI with 22 and 27, respectively. Rivas had an inspired rookie campaign with 19 runs and 22 RBI while leading the team in slugging percentage with a .581 mark. She also paced the squad with seven home runs, which put her at fifth in the SCIAC. Baumgarten sat tied for sixth overall in the conference with five. One of the craftiest baserunners in the conference, Rodriguez registered 21 stolen bases, which is good for second overall in the SCIAC rankings. Hernandez showed leadership in the circle during her first year, as she recorded 68 strikeouts for fifth most in the conference. The Bulldogs' defense proved to be amongst the SCIAC's toughest, as they had the least amount of errors with just 39. The Maroon and Gray rarely made mistakes, boasting a .968 fielding percentage, which was .01 percent behind CMS at number one.  Redlands also performed the most double plays with 16.

Skrzynski collected an All-SCIAC First-Team nod after a solid year. Vierra and Rivas represented Redlands with Second-Team recognition, while Smith garnered the SCIAC All-Sportsmanship award. The squad was just as impressive off the field, seeing seven players make it onto the SCIAC All-Academic Team.

With a continued commitment to high expectations, the Bulldog softball team strives to fill the void left by the talented senior class and continue its climb back to the upper echelon of the conference.  Although these goals remain challenging, Redlands relies on the capable crew of returnees to set the tone for future success.