The 2014 season was a trying time for the Pitt softball team.
Pitt embarked on its first season in the Atlantic Coast Conference with high hopes but ultimately struggled to string together consecutive victories, ending the season with five straight losses. The Panthers also suffered losing streaks of both eight and seven games throughout the season. The lack of success meant they fell short of reaching the eight-team conference tournament, finishing in 10th place.
Overall Pitt (15-29, 6-18 ACC) struggled, but according to infielder and redshirt junior Maggie Sevilla, the team learned valuable lessons from the experience.
“The competition in ACC play is some of the best in the country,” Sevilla said. “We did a lot of good things, but we know what we need to work on for next year so that we can continue to compete at a high level.”
Teammate Carly Thea agreed, adding that the team’s early progress dissipated over the course of the season.
“I think we came out very strong in tournament play, having all of our game-hitting, pitching and fielding all working in sync,” Thea said. “Then when we entered ACC play, some games we were unable to bring those three things together. We came up short at some points and sometimes we were able to approach the mark.”
Pitt also faced another rare and unexpected opponent: adverse weather conditions.
Numerous scheduled games were cancelled due to inclement weather, including seven in an 11-day span that started in mid-March. Four were conference games called due to cold temperatures. A rule followed by the ACC states that games won’t happen if the temperatures dip below 32 degrees.
Thea called the cancelled games “an annoyance” but said the team continued to prepare without expecting that games would not be played.
Sevilla agreed. “It was definitely a challenge having so many games cancelled due to weather, but the weather is something that is out of our control and we did our best to keep the ball rolling and our momentum moving forward,” she said.
Before starting league play, Pitt faced many opponents then ranked in the top 10 such as No. 5 Michigan, No. 7 Kentucky, No. 1 Tennessee and No. 2 Oklahoma. Despite the final score reading a 2-1 loss, Thea said the team played “an amazing game.”
Despite the season’s outcome, the Panthers had a few bright moments.
One memorable highlight was when Sevilla was named the ACC Softball Player of the Week on March 31. In that week she hit .571 at the plate with home runs in three consecutive games. Sevilla finished the season with a team-leading nine home runs.
Another accolade for Pitt was having two players named All-ACC. Senior Carly Thea grabbed a spot on the second team, while junior teammate Tori Nirschl made third team. Like Sevilla, both outfielders saw much success at the plate. Thea led the team with a very high .388 batting average while Nirschl finished one home run behind Sevilla.
Game wise, Thea and Sevilla agreed that two of the most memorable games for the Panthers occurred opening day when they faced California State-Bakersfield in California. In that doubleheader, the Panthers triumphed in both games.
“We came out strong and swept them, which put us in a good direction for the weekends to follow,” Thea said.
Sevilla not only remembers the games because the team won, but also for a specific at-bat in the second contest. Thea hit a grand slam in the third inning, and the team eventually won 7-5. That instant offense helped the team start off the season strong and gave it momentum, Sevilla said.
With just one player graduated, the future looks bright for the Panthers.
Sevilla hopes the team will “continue to grow” and eventually transition from “a fairly young team to a veteran experienced team.”
Thea, a rising senior, said if Pitt can “figure out how to be consistent” on the field, bringing together their hitting, pitching and fielding efforts, they will see great success throughout the future years.
“If we do that, I am confident we will make it to the conference tournament next year. I know we are a better team than we showed this year,” she said. “We just have to buckle down and show everyone else.”