After a scorching hot nine game win streak to start to the season, the Loyola softball team (22-14, 6-8) has struggled with a cold spell during conference play.
Beginning Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) play March 16, the team has since struggled with seven wins over its last 17 games since its 2-1 loss to Missouri State University. These frustrations have been fixed in the team’s inability to generate runs consistently, as it averaged a mere three runs per game in conference play before its weekend sweep of Indiana State University at Loyola Softball Park April 5-6.
“I think any time you get in a funk at the dish in baseball or softball it’s tough,” head coach Jeff Tylka said. “Something we’ve made sure of is to remain positive and aggressive even when we struggle to plate runs.”
Helped by these three consecutive victories over the Sycamores, the Ramblers have fought back into sixth place in the MVC standings. This string of victories helped put the team back into contention, as the bats finally woke up and clobbered Indiana State for 29 runs over the three matchups.
“I think we came into this series with a fire beneath us and we were ready to kick some butt,” sophomore first basemen Allyson Ivey said. “Getting that first win was huge for us and finishing it out with a sweep is the best way we could’ve envisioned the weekend.”
Not only did the team sweep the Sycamores, but the success continued April 9 when Loyola swept a double header against Valparaiso.
Shaking off this rough start to conference play, the Ramblers said they hope to capture this momentum and turn around their season. Despite this, a slow start is no new thing for the Ramblers in recent seasons, as in both 2017 and 2018 they began non-conference play with winning records before struggling against MVC opponents.
“I think it was just about believing in ourselves and believing in each other that got us through that [tough stretch],” Ivey said. “A slump doesn’t last forever for anybody so we knew the rain would eventually turn into sun and we just had to wait for that moment and it was this weekend.”
After completing the sweep against Indiana State, first-year catcher Abbey Jacobson said the team isn’t rattled and is ready to re-organize to make a push for the MVC tournament.
“I think we’re a very bounce-back kind of team,” Jacobson said. “It was tough over that stretch, but now I think as a team we’re getting back to where we want to be and as a team I think we’re really getting back to that [confidence] level we were at.”
Now sitting in sixth place, the Ramblers — who were picked to finish last in the MVC preseason poll — have four conference series and one additional game against the Crusaders remaining to secure a favorable seed for the MVC tournament. To achieve this, first-year shortstop Nova Sinskul said they must repair their confidence before the season gets away.
“We entered conference play with a different mindset and now we’re in a change of perspective,” Sinskul said. “I think our confidence is fine we’re in the process of rebuilding that from the past weekends.”
To find a turnaround, the Ramblers said they need to fix the issues that continue to plague them at the plate, but also must find sustained consistency out of their senior starting pitchers Kiley Jones and Keenan Dolezal.
“I think the pitchers did a great job to start the year out,” Tylka said. “They’ve really helped us when the offense hasn’t been there and helped get our team some much-needed wins.”
The Ramblers’ season is slated to continue April 10 against Valparaiso University at Loyola Softball Park. First pitch is scheduled for 2 p.m. and the game will be broadcasted on ESPN+.