ALBANY — The Albany State softball team felt like it had something to prove Sunday in a conference doubleheader against Claflin that was supposed to decide the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in this week’s SIAC tournament.
Instead, the Lady Rams will have to wait a few days for any payback.
Sunday’s season-ending doubleheader was cancelled because of poor field conditions, leaving the Lady Rams one game behind Claflin in the SIAC standings and forcing them to settle for the No. 2 seed.
ASU briefly pulled even with Claflin in the standings with a victory Wednesday in the opener of a doubleheader in Orangeburg, S.C., but the Lady Panthers reclaimed the No. 1 spot with a win in the nightcap.
A sweep on Sunday would have given ASU both the No. 1 seed and some vindication.
“We played them a couple of days ago and split, and we felt like it shouldn’t have ended up like that,” ASU pitcher Alexa Lopez said. “We felt like we should have won the second game, so we wanted to come out here (Sunday) and win both games and knock them off their high horse a little bit. We were ready to play.”
The field, however, wasn’t ready.
ASU coach Robert Skinner spent three hours Saturday night and then another five hours Easter morning trying to make the field playable, but the rain-soaked infield was still waterlogged Sunday afternoon.
“The decision made by the umpires (Sunday) was that the field was unplayable in several areas. Even though I felt like the field was playable, the opposing coach did not. It has to be a consensus of the coaches and umpires,” Skinner said. “Mother Nature didn’t favor me because the sun never did shine. If the sun would have come out, it would have dried it up.”
Instead, Claflin’s players gathered on their side of the field to take team pictures to celebrate clinching the East Division’s No. 1 seed, and the Lady Rams took senior day photos and ended the regular season with a fish fry.
It wasn’t at all how Skinner imagined his regular season ending, but the long-time ASU coach believes his Lady Rams will be ready for this week’s tournament despite having doubleheaders cancelled Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
“We will get out here (today) and have a good day of practice and will have another good day Tuesday and load up Wednesday and get on out of here,” said Skinner, whose Lady Rams went 3-1 in two doubleheaders earlier in the week against Paine and Claflin. “Even though we aren’t on a hot streak of any kind, we are on a winning streak of sorts. You want to go into the tournament winning.”
The Lady Rams, who are 18-4 in the conference, will open the tournament in Atlanta Thursday at noon against Miles College, while top-seeded Claflin will take a 21-3 SIAC record into the tournament.
The key to an ASU conference championship?
“Pitching, pitching, pitching,” said Skinner, who added that Lopez could pitch every game in the double-elimination tournament if necessary.
Lopez, who would have pitched Game 1 on Sunday and is the team’s ace, doesn’t shy away from the pressure.
“I always tell coach Skinner that if he ever had to make me pitch every game in a row back-to-back-to-back, I would never say no,” she said. “I love being a pitcher and love being on the mound. I love the pressure being on me, but I don’t really believe in pressure so I don’t really stress about it. Pitching just feels right.”
Last year, the Lady Rams were upset in the conference tournament opener by Fort Valley State but fought back from the loser’s bracket to win the SIAC title before making history with their first NCAA Tournament victory after defeating Saint Leo in the Division II South Regional Softball Tournament.