On game day, when the Chapman softball team is in the dugout, goals in fielding and hitting are displayed by one particular board. One player is assigned to monitor this board at each game. Their job? To add a smiley face next to the team’s completed goals and an “X” next to those unfulfilled.
“When you look at the board and you see a lot of Xs … it gives you three things that you can focus on throughout the inning, when maybe your mind is thinking about other things,” said senior pitcher and third baseman Samantha Whalen.
This board has become so important to the team that late in a tied game March 29 against the University of La Verne, the coaches grouped the players together in a huddle and gave them a simple message: to look at the goal board, which was littered with Xs.
“We try to do one thing better than the other team does,” said head coach Janet Lloyd. “(The game) was close … we scored seven runs in the ninth inning to beat them by seven runs.”
Whalen said she felt the team was unbeatable, noting that game as a turning point in the team’s season.
“We were down, but there was never a point in the game where we thought that there was no way that we can’t score, however many runs we needed to come back and win,” Whalen said.
The March 29 ninth-inning scoring spree is one example of a trend that’s persisted throughout the season for the Panthers: a late-inning takeover. After a slow start, the team ripped off an eight-game winning streak from April 3 to April 13, which Whalen said was punctuated by comebacks against California Lutheran University and Occidental College.
“It’s a very ‘momentum’ type of a team,” Lloyd said. “Once we gain the momentum, whichever way it is, whether it’s the first inning or the last inning, that’s when we start doing well.”
While the team aims to follow the goals they set for themselves, they “try not to take it too seriously.” Before and after games the team will sing and dance together, go for group meals and hang out as friends.
“We have the whole spectrum … we have people that are really shy on our team, and then people that are really outgoing and goofy, too, which helps because there’s always someone there to make you laugh,” Whalen said. “At the same time, there’s people that are there who are going to make you focus and be serious when you need to.”
There’s a general breadth in terms of skill across the roster. Whalen said that in previous years, there was usually a set of nine starters who were the main contributors, including a pitching staff of two, one of whom was Whalen. But the team this season had a deep bench of players and more variety in its arsenal of pitchers on the mound.
The variety of players on the roster was created by teammates pushing back against cuts at the beginning of the season, Lloyd said.
“It’s my 34th year coaching here; we’ve never carried more than 24 people. This year we have 30,” Lloyd said. “We talked about making cuts, and the girls came to us and said ‘no, we don’t want you to make cuts because we all get along very well,’ which is very strange for 30 women to all get along.”
A lighthearted yet goal-focused mentality and propensity for comebacks has the team’s confidence at a high, Whalen said. It’s coincided with a run of success: over the most recent 14 games, the team sports a record of 11-3. The Panthers rank as the No. 3 seed in the conference with an overall record of 18-10 — Claremont-Mudd-Scripps and Pomona-Pitzer Sagehens seeded No. 1 and No. 2, respectively.
“There’s no way going in that we can’t beat anybody at this point,” Whalen said. “I have a lot of confidence going in that we can win. And we should win.”