Had the Emerson women's softball team's doubleheader against Norwich University been over after game one, the home team would have left Rotch Playground with high heads, happy faces and a successful senior night. Sunday's match-up marked Emerson's last regular-season home game, and although there was no fanfare, no speeches and no over-the-top gifts for the three seniors, the desire to dominate was inherent.
After nearly four hours of play, the Lions walked away with only a split. For many players, the loss put a damper on what could have been a senior day sweep.
Emerson wrapped up the first game in five innings, winning 14-6 after the eight-run mercy rule kicked in. Game two failed to follow suit, and then fourth-ranked Emerson fell 7-3 to the Cadets. The split was bad news for both teams, with the Lions dropping from forth to fifth in the Great Northeast Athletic Conference and Norwich dropping out of playoff contention. The Lions are 16-12 overall on the year, but their in-conference record is much stronger at 12-6.
With the GNAC playoffs less than a week away, teams need to secure at least eighth place to continue into the conference tournament, and Emerson needs to finish strong to return to Rotch and redeem its seniors.
"You just want to win," said senior captain and starting third baseman Lindsay DeStefano. "That would mean more to us [seniors] than anything. We're sad it's our last home game, but we still have a couple games left at least and hopefully a long run in the playoffs."
The next couple doubleheaders will be key for the Lions, as they play Emmanuel and Albertus Magnus College, two of the weaker teams in the conference.
They wrap up the regular season with a pair of games against top-ranked Pine Manor College, a team they have yet to face this year..
The Lions are playing not only to make the playoffs but for homefield advantage throughout the tournament as well.
"In my four years, this is really the most ridiculous season," said DeStefano, a broadcast journalism major. "Literally anybody can beat anybody. You never know who's going to win. You have to stay on your toes in this league, that's for sure."
Emerson's not alone in hot-and-cold doubleheaders. Head Coach Phil McElroy said every team in the league struggles with back-to-back games, something that evens the playing field but puts top-and bottom-ranked teams dangerously close in the standings.
"The top team is beating the bottom, and the bottom is beating the top," he said. "Everybody's like four losses, five losses, six losses. It's important to win every game."
The spark for Norwich in their second game against the Lions came from its top pitcher, Mackenzie Pratt. Pratt shut the Lions down, not allowing a run until the third and going the distance for the complete-game victory. The Lions knew about Pratt but still couldn't muster more than a few hits, falling behind early and never recovering.
"Every time you go out there, you want to take the two games, you want to sweep," said Herman, a broadcast journalism major, who entered game two in the second inning after Emerson fell behind 2-0. "It was senior night, and we wanted to do it for them. After the second game, it wasn't quite the ambiance that we would've wanted."
Senior captain and starting centerfielder Mallory Moretti said the loss was disappointing in itself, not because it happened on senior night. Unlike sports such as soccer or basketball, which involve hooking up the PA system to celebrate the team's veterans, Moretti said softball has always been low-key with the last-home game festivities.
"I wasn't really in the mindset that it was different than any other day," said the a broadcast journalism major, adding that her focus is on winning throughout the playoffs.
Emerson's six losses in the GNAC are twice what they had this time last year, but Moretti is counting on some extra intensity as the playoffs draw near.
"I hope that as the season's dwindling away, that will jump-start everyone and get us playing because we did awesome in the playoffs last year," she said.