The Loyola softball team (17-10, 0-6) came out of the gates strong. After going 10-0 in their first two tournaments, the Ramblers traveled to beat North Carolina A&T State University and Alabama State University to push the winning streak to a program-record 14 games. But they might have built a start they couldn’t continue.
Since then, Loyola has lost seven of its last 10 games.
Granted, the Ramblers knew they had a tough task against No. 11 University of Alabama and ace Alexis Osorio. Loyola managed to get one hit off of Osorio — who has held opponents to a Southeastern Conference-best 0.93 ERA — but suffered their first loss of the season 5-0.
The sophomore pitching duo of Kiley Jones and Keenan Dolezal has kept games close. Jones leads the way with 10 wins and a 1.70 ERA, while Dolezal has seven wins and a 3.22 ERA. Together, they have held opponents to an Missouri Valley Conference (MVC)- best .235 batting average.
The problem has been the offense. Loyola is batting just .156 since the winning streak ended and averages 1.4 runs per game. In its last 10 games, the team has been outscored 34-14 while being shut out three times.
In the Ramblers’ first MVC series against the University of Evansville they were swept 3-0 and outscored 11-3. Evansville is fourth to last offensively in the MVC with a .242 batting average and fourth to last in pitching with a 4.08 ERA.
Loyola also hasn’t hit well with runners on base. The Ramblers left 190 runners on base this season, including 71 in the 12 games since they lost to Alabama.
The fact that they left more runners on base during the winning streak, according to head coach Jeff Tylka, is why the team hasn’t played well recently.
“The biggest difference is we haven’t had as many runners on base,” said Tylka. “We weren’t hitting 11 [or] 12 hits early. We were still getting six to eight … but the difference [against Valparaiso] was we had runners on base … to drive in. The last couple games before [Valparaiso], we didn’t have runners on base.”
Sophomore outfielder Jordyn Cordell said she thinks the team’s approach at the plate has affected the lack of run support.
“Our pitch selection has changed,” said Cordell. “Now, instead of us getting our pitches, we’re letting the pitcher pitch their pitch, then swinging at it and not getting the hits we need.”
To snap a three-game losing streak, first-year Shannon McGee pounded a three-run home run and first-year outfielder Kristin Lea knocked a one- out, walk-off single to defeat Valparaiso University 4-3 in the home opener on March 21. The Ramblers left 10 runners on base and knocked six hits, which are both around the season average.
After the game, Lea said the players need to be more aggressive at the plate and think in the moment.
“[We] definitely [need to] look for that first pitch strike [and] look for what [we] want in different situations,” said Lea. “It’s all about situational hitting.”
The Ramblers are scheduled to be back in action when they head to DeKalb, Illinois, to take on Northern Illinois University on March 29.