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Softball Team Caps A Triumphant Year For Women's Athletics

By Bradley Walker

The recent success of the Holy Cross softball team caps a wonderful year for Crusader women's athletics. First-year Coach Bob Neville took the Holy Cross program to new heights, winning a conference title and earning a spot as one of the top teams in the Northeast region. 

After finishing with a 15-21-1 mark in 1997, the team turned to Neville. His team opened with a spring trip to Florida, going 5-4-1 as the team and coach started to get a sense of what to expect from each other.  One thing Neville knew for certain was that he inherited a strong, experienced pitching staff with Sarah Heywood and two-time All-Patriot Leaguer Genoa Grosch. At catcher, he had two talented sophomores in Briana Crane and Alexis Lyon. The Crusader infield was strong, if young, with first-year students Jamie Olenoski and Tiffany DeCoff stepping in at second and third and returning starters Sara Thomas at first base and Jennifer Jenkins at shortstop. The outfield was anchored by three upperclass students with captains Amy Falite and Allison Egbert, accompanied by slugger Jen Ruggiero. Neville also found versatility in Stephanie Marcucci, Amanda Stepp and Shelly Richard who gave him options at almost any position. 

When Holy Cross returned to the Northeast they dropped two one-run losses to regionally ranked Boston College (3-4 and 0-1) before beginning the conference schedule. The Crusaders were predicted to finish fifth out of six teams in the Patriot League after a fourth place finish in 1997. 

The Crusaders made an early statement that the prognosticators may have erred, as they traveled to Bucknell and took three of four games from the League's preseason favorite, en route to an impressive 7-1 start in league play, along with a 12-9-1 overall mark. 

The next big challenge for the Crusaders came in mid-April - a four game set with Lehigh, who had won the Patriot League championship in each of the previous four seasons. Lehigh came out firing against the upstart Crusaders, winning the opener 9-1, but a Grosch six-hitter led Holy Cross to a 2-1 victory in the second game. A split of the second day's double header left the Crusaders with a 9-3 league mark and sole possession of first place. 

According to Neville, the Crusaders began to feel as if they had faced the challenges, and believed in themselves. In first place for the first time in Patriot League history, the team committed itself to continue its winning ways. "Expectations were set high and the players never lost sight of where we wanted to be," said Neville. 

After a 3-2 loss, Holy Cross went on to win five straight games, including a four game sweep of Army at West Point. With one week to go in the regular season, the Crusaders had a four-game lead over the second-place team, Colgate. Holy Cross won three out of four against Central Connecticut State and Brown University during the week, before facing one of the league's most intimidating pitchers over the past two years, Colgate junior Tara McGoff. With Colgate also boasting the second best batting average in the league, the one victory the Crusaders needed to clinch the top spot in the Patriot League tournament would not come easily. 

As expected, Colgate pitched McGoff the first game, coming out with a 3-1 victory. Showing confidence in their star, they put McGoff back on the mound in the second game, as she pitched a five inning, 8-0 shutout. It was only the fourth time this season the Crusaders had lost two games in a row. The next day, with McGoff once again on the mound, the Crusaders turned again to Grosch.  McGoff held the Crusaders to just one run - Jamie Olensoski tripled and was driven home by an Alexis Lyon single. Grosch took care of the rest, as she pitched a one-hitter, while striking out eight, to lead Holy Cross to its first ever regular season title. "This team has now set the tone for the future," Neville said. "It has re-established pride, and hopefully established a long tradition of success for the softball program." 

Holy Cross carried a 27-16-1 mark into the Patriot League tournament in Allentown, Pa.  Despite holding the number one seed for the first time in school history, the team's first game in the double elimination tournament was once again against McGoff and Colgate, with the Red Raiders prevailing 3-2 in 10 innings.  The loss sent the Crusaders to the losers bracket, from where they would need four wins in two days to win the tournament title. 

It was Heywood who kept Holy Cross alive first, twirling a three-hitter against Bucknell for a 1-0 victory.  Grosch then eliminated Colgate and McGoff with a 7-1 victory, setting up a rematch with Lehigh. Since Lehigh had not lost yet in the tournament, the Crusaders would have to sweep a pair from the four-time defending champions. 

Needing to win two games in Lehigh's backyard, Neville had to look no further than the local newspaper for a source of inspiration, as one of the Lehigh's players was quoted as claiming that "no one ever beats us twice." 

The Crusaders took that to heart and were determined to prove them wrong. Holy Cross defeated Lehigh in the next two games (7-1 and 4-3), leading the team to the tournament title. Grosh was named Patriot League Tournament MVP. 

Holy Cross, 31-19-1, would drop two games at Harvard in their first-ever appearance in the NCAA Play-In and would end the season ranked ninth in the region. Still, the team's accomplishments were many. Their record was the best in more than 10 years. Four players were selected to the All-Patriot League team, with Grosch and Olenoski earning First Team honors, and Jenkins and Lyon making the Second Team. In addition to those honors, first-year head coach Bob Neville was voted unanimously the Patriot League Coach of the Year, while Grosch was selected as the Co-Pitcher of the Year for the second time in three years. 

Neville summed up the season as follows: "I was proud of this team not just for the way they performed all year, but the way they exemplified the meaning of the  word 'team,' both on and off the field," he said. "They came together, putting all their differences aside and pushed each other towards the goals we set early in the season. I feel the team learned a lot from that camaraderie and the end result was our success." 

The Crusaders will lose the services of four seniors, including Heywood, but with the addition of some talented first-year students they are poised to make 1999 another year to remember. 

 

Ron Perry Appreciation Night

By Bradley Walker 

Three hundred friends, family members, teammates, colleagues and admirers gathered in the Hogan Campus Center on May 16 to pay tribute to retiring athletic director, Ron Perry '54. President Rev. Gerard Reedy, S.J., initiated the activities with an invocation. From the beautiful Mass Father Earle L. Markey, S.J., '53, celebrated with Fathers John E. Brooks, S.J., '49, Charles J. Dunn, S.J., and Francis X. Miller, S.J., '46, to Ron's comprehensive and masterful accounting of his 26-year stewardship, the delightful event was glitch-free. 

Humor, appreciation and admiration of Ron's achievements as scholar-athlete, coach and athletic director, were themes as George Blaney '61, Tom Heinsohn '56, Ronnie Perry '80, and Father Brooks shared their reflections. 

Bill Gibbons, head coach of women's basketball, presented a farewell gift on behalf of the women's teams and coaches, as did men's basketball coach, Bill Raynor, for the men's programs. Coach Raynor, who played on championship teams for Ron at Catholic Memorial High School in West Roxbury, Mass., provided fascinating examples of Ron's coaching approach. 

Teammates from two Massachusetts state championship teams and one New England championship team from Somerville High, fondly recalled their years together. Catholic Memorial was also represented as were the Eastern College Athletic Conference and the Patriot League. Togo Palazzi, Joe Liebler, Don Prohovich and Dick Santaniello of the 1954 NIT Champions were on hand to honor their co-captain. 

As is wholly appropriate, Ron goes out in championship style. 

 

 

softball team
softball team

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