‘Comeback kids’ set for go at national tourney

The Huntington University softball team refers to itself as the "comeback kids."

"They're the most resilient group I've ever coached," says Head Coach Doug Gower. "They never get down. A few runs here or there doesn't bother them.

"They know they can come back."

And that's exactly what Gower's squad did in the Crossroads League tournament last week, claiming a bid to the national tournament, for the first time in program history.

The Foresters, 31-21, opened the tournament on Wednesday, April 30, by beating Spring Arbor, 7-0, but then suffered an 8-7 defeat to Bethel. The loss dropped Huntington to the tournament's losers bracket, where another defeat meant the end of the season.

But that's when the "comeback kids" did their thing.
They began Thursday with a 7-5 win over Marian, then topped Indiana Wesleyan, 8-4, to set up a rematch with the Pilots, who fell to top-seeded Taylor earlier in the day.

Though the Trojans advanced to the championship game, they already had their berth to the national tournament locked up, by virtue of being the conference's regular season champions. This meant that the winner of Bethel and Huntington's game would receive the other bid.

"It was pretty electric," says Gower of the game's atmosphere. "The girls were into it all day, especially that last game."

Sophomore Annie Weaver smacked her first collegiate home run in the third inning to give the Foresters a 2-0 advantage and sophomore Emily Puterbaugh tossed her second complete game of the day to help Huntington get the win, 6-2.

"Girls were really focused and they wanted it so bad," Gower says. "They went out and did it."

Making it to nationals was the team's goal at the beginning of the season, says Gower, now in his 10th year leading the program. The team was to have found out on Tuesday, May 6, where among the opening round sites it would be playing its games.

The opening round of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Softball National Championship tournament consists of 10 four-team double elimination tourneys and will span Monday, May 12, to Wednesday, May 14.

In the time leading up to the team's departure for the tournament, bunting and base running will be points of emphasis for Gower in practice, believing that sharper execution in those areas could have led to more runs in the conference tourney.

Among the Foresters' strengths going into the tournament are hitting and team chemistry, notes Gower. He cites Weaver and senior Katie Knous as hitters currently seeing the ball well, after Weaver finished the Crossroads League tournament with 15 hits and Knous smashed a grand slam and wracked up six runs batted in during the team's loss to Bethel.

Gower also praises Puterbaugh, who picked up three wins during the tourney, and the leadership of seniors Marcie McDougle, Lindsay Shellabarger and Knous.

Gower is confident in his entire squad, though, from top to bottom.

"Everybody contributes on our team," he says. "It doesn't matter, even if it's a person that doesn't play that much, they come in and do their job."

Ultimately, after having truly earned the moniker of "comeback kids" in the Crossroads League tournament, Gower and his team are confident heading into nationals.

"This is the celebration of a great year," he says.
"We're going to go out there with the mindset, just like we do every game, that we can win any game that we play."