GNAC softball titans Emerson and Pine Manor clashed in an afternoon double-header on April 14. Both were perched atop the standings with matching 13-3 in-conference records; at the end of the day, one team emerged with a decisive victory, advancing to a 15-3 GNAC record.
With the playoffs just a week away and the high seeds still up for grabs in a very competitive conference, the Lions have gained a bit of breathing room with two clutch wins over the Gators.
"We've put ourselves in a good position, but nothing is solidified yet," said Head Coach Phil McElroy. "I think that we've captured at least a first round bye, barring a catastrophe."
The Lions' star pitcher, Kelsey Tuthill, said the team had a high energy level going into the game.
"We went into warm-ups and wanted to just sort of get everything done, and make sure that we were prepared enough for the game and warmed up and ready to go," the freshman communication sciences and disorders major said. "We really kept our focus throughout warm-ups and then once the game got started, we were excited and just trying to keep everybody motivated."
Emerson is now alone at the top of the GNAC standings, leading second-place Lasell College by two wins. The Lions will travel to Lasell om April 17 for a double-header and their first meeting this season. Two wins by the Lions will secure the GNAC high-seed.
Sophomore pitcher Lynn Herman, who shutout Pine Manor in the second game, said she believes her team will beat Lasell.
"We're all pretty confident, we're just gonna go out there, play the way we play, and grab two wins," said broadcast journalism major said.
The first- and second-seeded teams receive byes in the first and second round of the conference, which gives them a significant advantage in the playoffs.
"The benefit is, obviously, you're not going to get knocked off by a lesser opponent early on, and you play less games," McElroy said. "If you're a one or a two, you play one game Friday, one game Saturday, one game Sunday. If you win, win, win, three games, you win the tournament."
McElroy joked the high seed may not be a good omen for success in the tournament.
"I guess the scary thing about all of this is...two years ago when we won, we were the four seed," he said. "Last year, the six seed won the tournament. Hopefully being number one or number two isn't a jinx."
The winner of the GNAC tournament receives an auto-bid into the NCAA softball tournament. Even if the Lions lose the conference, they stand a chance at receiving an at-large wildcard bid into the tournament, which is based off both overall record and strength of season. Wins versus high ranked University of Rochester and Ithaca College have put Emerson in good standing for a spot in the tournament, but they face stiff competition throughout the Division III softball ranks.
As two of the most dominant teams in the GNAC, the Lions and the Gators have always been fiercely competitive, resulting in a longstanding rivalry.
"It's always been a fight of a game, every run that gets scored in past years has been a dogfight," Tuthill said. "Coming out this year was a big deal, scoring right off the bat in the first game, and then keeping going [to get the wins.]"
Because there are several competitive teams in the conference, the Lions must keep their game at a consistently high level if they hope to get far in the conference tournament.
"I think it's a day-by-day thing, if we come to play I think we're as good as anybody," Tuthill said. "If we come flat, it's anybody's game. We just gotta come ready to play, hopefully we'll do well. Knock on wood."
McElroy agreed strong play will be a large factor in the team's tournament success, but he concedes that, with so many teams at such a comparable skill level, chance may play a part.
"The conference is very competitive, and that's why we have three losses," he said. "Teams we've beaten have come back and beaten us. It'll take that, and it'll take a bit of luck. I'm a believer in luck-I think you need a little bit of luck too."