AUDUBON – Sometimes a loss at this stage of the season can benefit a team more than a win. Take the case of the Audubon High School softball team, for example.
The Green Wave had what’s otherwise been a banner season interrupted earlier this week with an unexpected loss to Haddon Heights.
Coach Erin Small feared it was the kind of setback that could derail a season just as the tournament is approaching. But it turned out to be no cause for alarm.
The squad rallied with a vengeance on Thursday when the pitching of Sam McErlane and the hitting of Deanna Pineiro led a 7-2 decision over West Deptford.
“When we lost to Heights we did not come ready to play,” said Small. “We told the girls that we were getting complacent. We took them lightly. Our big challenge today was response and that’s all we kept taking about.”
The talks paid off as the Green Wave used the win to raise their record 16-3 and clinch a tie for the Colonial Conference Liberty Division title. It was the 299th win for Small in her coaching career.
Like her coach, McErlane thought it was important that she and her teammates learned something from the loss to Heights. She said the team wanted to answer with a convincing win.
“We took a tough loss and I think we all worked together as a team to come back,” she said. “We definitely brought our `A’ game. We wanted to prove we are the team everyone things we are after taking that loss.”
Pineiro, who was 3-for-3 with a walk, two home runs and three RBIs was on board with the message, also citing the revenge factor as motivation in the outcome.
“We had a tough loss and I really wanted this game,” she said. “It was a conference game so I knew we had to come out strong today and I just wanted to be the leader.”
Meanwhile McErlane pitched a strong game, giving up five hits and only one earned run. Although she only stuck out two, she limited the opportunities against her.
At one point from the second through the fourth inning, she retired nine straight batters by coaxing soft ground balls or pop-ups.
“She’s been pitching amazing,” she Pineiro. “She fields her position and she picks everyone up. She never gets down on herself so that’s good.”
McErlane was touched for both of her runs in the fifth inning, when the Eagles took a short-lived 2-1 lead and she raised her record for the season to 13-2.
“Sam’s been doing a great job on the mound for us all season long,” Small said. “She brings a lot of confidence. She’s been able, even when she’s given runs, to settle in and not let it affect her.”
McErlane has been one of the team’s top hitters throughout the season. That was evident when the Green Wave climbed out of the 2-1 hole and took the lead for good with three runs in the bottom of the fifth.
She came through with the big hit in that inning, with a bases-loaded two-run double as the Green Wave put three runs across to take a 4-2 lead.
The inning was set up when Jenna Imperial walked and Gabby Bobo and Pineiro both singled. Zoe Sneddon brought home the third run with a sacrifice bunt.
“I’ve been struggling the past couple of games,” McErlane said in reference to her offensive production. “But that hit definitely brought me out of my slump.”
In the meantime Pineiro gave the offense a lift in the first inning when she belted a solo homer to left field to give the Green Wave a 1-0 lead.
She would later put the game out of reach when she connected for a two-run homer in the sixth inning as Audubon scored three more runs.
In that inning, Mikayla Alkins singled and eventually scored on an RBI single by Bobo, who was on first base when Pineiro homered.
“I just went up in the box with confidence,” Pineiro said. “I’ve been struggling lately so I just went up there thinking the first strike they give me, I’m going to swing as hard as I can.”