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Off to best start in history, Darton softball (26-1) feeling overlooked

Darton softball coach David Dews admitted Wednesday he was surprised that his team hasn’t climbed higher in the Top 25 poll after a 26-1 start. (joe.bellacomo@albanyherald.com)

Darton softball coach David Dews admitted Wednesday he was surprised that his team hasn’t climbed higher in the Top 25 poll after a 26-1 start. (joe.bellacomo@albanyherald.com)

ALBANY — Stunned, shocked, angry.

No one would have blamed the Darton softball team if they had felt any of those emotions Wednesday.

Instead, all the Lady Cavs felt was motivation when they learned they jumped just two spots to No. 16 in the NJCAA poll, despite being in the midst of their best start in program history.

“I know we are good, and I know we should be higher,” said Darton pitcher Katy Jordan, who sat in the school’s cafeteria along with her teammates Wednesday and awaited the updated poll. “Once we saw the poll, it just gave us more fire to push and go out and prove everyone wrong.”

The Lady Cavs are 26-1 and have won 20 games in a row, and the only team in the nation with fewer losses than Darton is No. 19 Wabash Valley College, which is just 8-0.

But Darton sophomore Amanda Jaskolski has seen it all before.

She was a part of last year’s team that wasn’t ranked in the Top 20 in the opening poll and didn’t get much love from the voting committee all season, but the Lady Cavs still finished fifth at nationals. That’s why she had some suspicion that this year’s team would similarly fly under the radar.

“Just being here last year and knowing how the polls work, I had the feeling that even though we are doing great we wouldn’t move up that much in the polls,” said Jaskolski, who actually predicted a No. 16 ranking. “It’s a hit or miss with the polls, but we try not to let it get to our heads. I think it’s only better that we moved up two spots instead of moving up a lot. It keeps us humble about what we are doing and focused.”

Lady Cavs coach David Dews said he was hoping for a Top 10 ranking in Wednesday’s poll, which was the first poll since Darton debuted at No. 18 in the preseason rankings.

The Top 20 poll is voted on by a committee of coaches from varying regions around the nation, and Dews said he wasn’t sure why his team remained so low in the rankings.

“In (the committee’s) opinion there were other teams that were more deserving,” said Dews of the poll, which lists Chattanooga State Community College (39-3) and Yavapai College (31-4) and Tallahassee Community College (23-5) as the Top 3 teams, respectively, while two teams ahead of Darton — No. 12 Odessa College and No. 13 College of Southern Idaho — both have 10 losses each compared to Darton’s one. “It’s hard to figure out what their mindset is and what they look at. There is no real criteria. It’s all opinion-based, so I try not to get caught up into it too much.”

Dews then added: “One of our goals was to get into the Top 10 by the time the first poll came out, so the girls are a little disappointed. But we are trying to stay focused on the things that we can control and the bigger picture.”

The bigger picture begins next week when the Lady Cavs open up Region XVII play against ABAC and Andrew. Darton, which has one more non-region game Friday at East Georgia, has won two region titles in the past three years.

While hitting is starting to come around for the Lady Cavs this season — each hitter in the lineup has at least one homer — it’s been pitching that has carried them to 26 wins. Jordan is the team’s ace and is third in the nation in strikeouts with 154. She has a 13-1 record and has allowed just nine earned runs in 96 innings, giving her a .656 ERA.

The 1-2 combination of Jordan and Cara Law was lethal last year, and now Jordan is complemented by freshman Jenny Willis, who is 12-0 with a 1.30 ERA.

“They work well off each other,” Dews said. “Most of the time both of them give us quality starts, but if one is struggling a little bit it seems like the other one has been able to pick up the slack. They have done that for each other, and it has carried us through.”

Jordan hasn’t struggled often, but when she has — like in Tuesday’s game against Waycross when Lewis had to relieve her — Lewis has been right there to back her up.

“It’s just like me and Cara last year. She has my back, and I have her back,” Jordan said. “She is doing the same things I did last year. There are certain parts of the game that you have to mature in, and I really think she is stepping up and doing what she needs to do.”