Shutdown pitching, star newcomers fuel underdog softball team toward MAAC play


Yamini Dalal

Freshman infielder Sofia Vega is batting .262 with 11 hits in 19 games this season.

Michael LaRocca, Opinion Editor

Quinnipiac is just the little school of overachievers this year, isn’t it?

Softball is playing like it’s next in line.

After being picked to finish last in the MAAC in 2023, the Bobcats are heading into conference play standing in third place with an 11-8 record. With that, the team is now one win away from matching its win total during the entire 2022 season.

Quinnipiac’s mostly successful non-conference stretch has included some major ups and downs. Of the Bobcats’ 11 wins so far, five came against teams ranked higher than them in the RPI rankings, including a 1-0 win on opening day against No. 82 Lehigh on Feb. 18.

However, of the team’s eight losses, three came against teams ranked lower than them, the most egregious of which coming on March 11 — a 3-2 loss to No. 305 South Carolina State. For reference, there are only 306 teams included in the RPI rankings.

Then again, the positives impact Quinnipiac softball’s success more, which the team has had plenty to be happy about.

The team’s biggest issue in 2022 was a lack of consistent pitching and timely hitting. A 5.28 team earned run average made for a lot of deficits that the Bobcats’ .640 team on base plus slugging couldn’t climb out of.

So far this season, those numbers have become much more manageable. A miniscule 1.98 team ERA is a direct result of breakout sophomore seasons from pitchers Sydney Horan and Jaclyn Gonzalez. As a team, the Bobcats have pitched 10 games where they allowed two runs or less, including seven total shutouts, four from Horan and three from Gonzalez.

Horan has a 1.94 ERA and a 0.920 WHIP across 12 appearances, earning MAAC Pitcher of the Week honors on Feb. 21.

Gonzalez has arguably been greater, pitching to a 1.14 ERA across 10 appearances and earning MAAC Pitcher of the Week honors as well, this time on March 7.

“Our pitchers have been lights out for us,” head coach Hillary Smith said after the team’s doubleheader against Holy Cross on March 21. “We’ve got to keep that rolling and keep playing our game.”

The Bobcats’ non-conference schedule has also given their newcomers an opportunity to shine.

Freshman outfielder Mary Fogg has been an on-base machine for Quinnipiac from the leadoff spot in the lineup. Fogg leads the team in batting average (.375), qualified OPS (.810), runs (11) and total bases (21). She has sparked the Bobcats while in the field as well, making plays like a spectacular catch against Holy Cross on March 21.

Freshman infielder Natalia Apatiga has also made strides in the Bobcats’ lineup. She is currently batting .327, good for second on the team among qualified players. Apatiga has also been successful on the basepaths, going 4-for-4 on stolen-base attempts, the most on the team.

When looking at Fogg and Apatiga, as well as freshman infielder Sofia Vega and transfer sophomore utility player Amanda Engel, there is a lot to look forward to in the Bobcats’ future.

“We’re learning every game how to get better,” Smith said. “We have a lot of young girls starting, so just to see them go through the little speed bumps that we’ve been going through but growing every time, that’s all we can do.”

But with everything going well for the Bobcats, does any of this ultimately matter?

Quinnipiac might be in third place right now, but on April 1, that clock resets. It’s time for MAAC play, and the Bobcats open it up with a doubleheader against Canisius, the reigning conference champion.

“I think we’re setting ourselves up so that we can go into that opening weekend and we can be confident playing Canisius,” Smith said on Feb. 3. “It’s going to be a tough battle, but we’re ready for it.”

The last time Quinnipiac finished with a record above .500 in MAAC play was back in 2016. These Bobcats have shown they can play winning ball against teams from all across the east coast, but now, they need to prove they can do it against the competition of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.