By: Connor Hanson—Staff Writer
After coming off an Atlantic 10 first place finish and a team-record 39 wins, the Dayton Softball team came into this season with a target on their backs. The defending champs responded by finishing 27-21-1, good for second best in the conference and the first back-to-back winning season in team history.
“A lot of [back-to-back winning seasons] has to do with our culture, and being able to establish a consistent culture and being able to recruit players who are used to playing at a high level,” Dayton head coach Cara LaPlaca said. Coach LaPlaca also noted that the administration, alumni, community and fan support has been tremendous, which has given them the ground work to be successful.
This past season also produced some star players for the Flyers. Junior pitcher Gabrielle Snyder and sophomore pitcher Manda Cash both finished the season as All-Atlantic 10 and National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) Mid-Atlantic First Team members.
This was Snyder’s second year as an All-Atlantic 10 player.
“Something that led to my success at the plate was hard work and confidence. Hitting is my favorite part of the game, so as long as I relax and have fun, I’m usually more successful,” said Snyder. Snyder led the Flyers unit in slugging (.544), on-base percentage (.441), runs scored (20) and doubles (13).
Cash on the other hand had another successful year in the pitcher’s circle. Following up her Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year performance, Cash garnered 11 wins and a 1.42 ERA on her way to leading the conference and tying the UD record for strikeouts in a season (183). She also had the highest strikeouts per seven innings mark (8.4), and held opponents to a .158 batting average on her way to becoming Atlantic 10 Player of the Year.
Both Snyder and Cash helped round out a pitching unit that was second to none. Dayton’s pitching staff was a force to be reckoned with in the A-10 and nationally as they made their way into the top ten in ERA at one point in the season.
“[The pitchers] really bought into our game plan and studied and understood how we were going to attack our opposing offenses,” LaPlaca said. “As a whole they had a very strong presence in the circle, so no matter what situation was happening or what they were facing, they were confident and able to pitch to their strengths.”
The Flyers also were faced with the task of replenishing offensive production that was lost due to graduation, and per Coach LaPlaca, her players were able to step up to that challenge. “Many of the freshmen did a fantastic job, and [so did] Krista Gustafson (senior) who came off of injury and switched positions, we got a lot of offensive production from her,” LaPlaca said.
With a mix of talented hitters and a solidified pitching core the productive Flyers team was able to give the seniors a chance to leave as one of the winningest classes in Dayton softball history. In addition, this senior class leaves being the only class to go to the A-10 conference playoffs in all their four years.
“They have now set [the conference tournament] as a baseline for success where it used to be a pinnacle for us to reach the conference tournament.” LaPlaca said. “They brought enthusiasm for the game, were a really strong unit, understood their roles real well and showed tremendous leadership in how they played the game and how they embraced their roles on the team.”
It’s not only LaPlaca who sees the leadership and legacy those seniors brought to the team—the younger players do as well.
“The biggest thing I have learned from the senior class is to have fun no matter what. You could always count on them to make you laugh,” Snyder said. “We were lucky to have a senior class that were such great leaders, so now we are able to use it as an example for next year and moving forward.”
The Flyers’ increasing rating percentage index (RPI) and progression they have shown over the last few years has supplanted them as a team on the rise in both conference and out-of-conference play. In the meantime, their exposure continues to increase as they have played in regionally broadcasted games on the SEC Network as well as nationally broadcasted games.
“Having them have the opportunity to be on television and highlight and showcase what they [the players] can accomplish is definitely an asset to our program and something that we want to continue to grow,” LaPlaca said.