For the Lagrange College Panthers, the hard work in the offseason didn’t translate into success early in the season.
Through 10 games, the Panthers were saddled with a 1-9 record.
The Panthers persevered, though, and after splitting a double-header with Emory on Thursday, the Panthers are 19-17 with four games to go in the regular season.
Next week, the Panthers will be at Huntingdon College in Montgomery (Ala.) for the Great South Athletic Conference tournament.
The Panthers have won the conference tournament three straight years, and a four-peat would land them a return trip to the NCAA Division III national tournament.
Holly Hazelwood, a senior from Callaway High who has been one of the team’s top offensive players this season, believes the team is ready.
“I think that it is going to turn out really well,” Hazelwood said. “We have had some struggles in the beginning, but we have had that every year. We have been playing really strong this year, and are really starting to get it together. We’re forming better as a team and I think we will be able to pull through.”
Jennifer Claybrook, the architect of the program’s success, said the Panthers have spent the past few weeks getting into a tournament mindset.
“We just have to fine tune everything and get sharper,” she said. “We have been playing a tournament schedule the past few weeks.
“Last week, we played Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and this week we will do the same, so we will be prepared to play back-to-back-to-back games, so we wont be fatigued. We’re going to be ready physically and mentally to be prepared to play six games in a row. So hopefully the fatigue factor wont be there for us.”
Against Emory, the Panthers were looking for payback after losing a doubleheader to their state rival on April 16.
The Panthers got their payback in the first game of the night in a pitcher’s duel between LaGrange College’s Kristen Woodard and Bridget Holloway of Emory.
The game was scoreless until the Eagles pushed across a run in the top of the fifth inning.
The slim lead would not stand for long as the Panthers rallied in the sixth inning to take the lead for good.
Olivia McGehee led off the inning with a big triple to left field, and a short time later, Hazelwood hit a sharp grounder to Holloway, who threw the ball away, allowing McGehee to score.
Following a Katie Ison groundout, Valeree Williams reached on an error, and Hazelwood scored the go-ahead run.
“Emory is a great team,” Claybrook said. “We were able to take advantage of some of their mistakes. They have several great pitchers, so being able to face them was great for us going into the conference tournament.”
The second game was tight as well, with the Eagles earning the split with a 4-3 win.
Shanna Brumbelow went four innings for the Panthers, giving up four runs on four hits, and walking two.
Ison, Williams, and McGehee all contributed to the Panthers effort with RBIs.
The Panthers wrap up conference play with a doubleheader against Wesleyan today, and they host Birmingham Southern on Saturday in the regular-season finale.
Ison has had a big season with a .456 batting average and 34 RBIs, both team highs.
Hazelwood is hitting .423, and she leads the team with 33 runs scored.
Katie Hein is the other member of the .400 club with a .415 average, and Williams is hitting .380 with a team-best four home runs.
Shanna Brumbelow is hitting .337.
“Shanna Brumbelow is hitting the ball, and Laura Webber who plays third base for us and had to come in because of injury, and Kayla Folds have both been stepping up for us and have been ripping the ball lately,” Claybrook said.
On the pitcher’s mound, Brumbelow is 6-5, and her 2.67 earned run average is the team’s best.
Woodard’s victory over Emory gave her a team-high seven wins, and Folds is 4-4 on the mound.