Wins have been hard to come by for the Bethune-Cookman University Wildcats softball team, but the wins that they have are big ones.
B-CU finished the regular season at 17-33 overall and 11-3 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC). They won the MEAC South Division title.
On March 19, B-CU was 4-23 overall. Since then, they have gone 13-10, including 11-6 since March 30.
“I think consistently over the last six weeks, we have played better. We had some games where we haven’t played up to our capability. We dropped some non-conference games that I thought we played really well in. I have never been disappointed in our effort,” said Head Coach Chris Cochrane.
The Wildcats are led by their workhouse and warrior in junior pitcher, Shanel Tolbert (13-25, 4.25 ERA, 27 CG, 232.1 IP, 1 SO, 109 K) who is the only pitcher on the roster.
“It was tough in the beginning. I did it last year and now I’m doing it again. You have to stay focused and not worry about the previous play,” said Tolbert.
“She is one of the hardest-working pitchers that I have been around, not just on the field, but off the field. She is in great shape and one of the fastest players on the team,” added Cochrane.
Offensively, the ‘Cats are led by seniors Aureila Gamch (.325 BA, 2 HR, 19 RBI) and senior outfielder Michelle Banuelos-Smith (.333 BA, 7 HR, 34 RBI, 13 SB).
“I just try to relax. I am always confident. I try to help our pitcher out offensively and get the job done,” explained Gamch.
Kelsi Rodney (.299 BA, 2 HR, 30 RBI, 34 R) has been their hottest hitter as of late.
Shamaria Engram (4 HR, 21 RBI), Calesha Shelly (.298 BA, 26 SB, 32 R), Simone Ceasar (.285 BA) and Sophia Ortega (.287 BA, 2 HR) have also contributed to the team’s production.
“We have kids at the top of order that are more experienced and capable, but those at the bottom of the order like Melissa Berouty and Wanda Darby have really come along with better at bats in recent weeks,” commented Cochrane.
The Wildcats play in the MEAC tourney in Ormond Beach with a trip to the NCAA tournament at stake. They face Coppin State on May 9 at 10 a.m. to open the tournament.
Bethune-Cookman is looking for its fourth straight MEAC title and fourth consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament. The players like the team’s progression and are confident in their chances for winning the tournament.
“We want to stay tough as a unit. We have to grind it out. This team is very encouraging and hard-working,” said Tolbert.
“We have really come together. Everyone is backing each other up and carrying their load. We are excited and ready to go,” added Banuelos-Smith.
‘Cats drop series to Rattlers
Florida A&M took two of three games from B-CU. It was the first time that B-CU lost a season series to a conference opponent since 2009. The series was delayed a day due to heavy rains in Daytona Beach on Friday and Saturday.
FAMU (20-29, 10-4) won the series finale 12-3 on Monday. It was Senior Day for B-CU seniors Gamch, Ceasar, Banuelos-Smith and Joanna Hernandez. Rodney and Ortega each had two hits, Shelly scored two runs, and Gamch and Berouty had an RBI apiece for the ‘Cats.
The teams split a doubleheader the previous day, with FAMU winning the first game 7-5 and B-CU the second 12-3.
In the first game Ortega was 3-for-3, Shelly 2-for-4 while Gamch and Banuelos-Smith both were 2-for-4 with two RBIs.
In the second game, Banuelos-Smith hit a three-run walk-off homer to enforce the eight-run rule, Engram hit a three-run triple and Shelly tallied three hits for the Wildcats.
Ortega went 6-for-8 with a .750 batting average in the series.
Baseball: Wildcats take series from Tigers
Bethune-Cookman took two of three games from Savannah State University on the diamond to conclude their conference schedule.
On Monday, B-CU beat SSU 9-3 behind Scott Garner (5-4), who pitched six innings and gave up one run and three hits on the mound.
Jake Welch had three RBIs, Jordan Thomas two RBIs, Anthony Stokes two hits and Michael Austin two hits with an RBI for the Wildcats.
On Sunday, the teams split a doubleheader with B-CU winning the first game 9-2 and SSU the second 4-2.
In the first game, Montana Durapau (8-3) got the win. Josh Johnson had two hits with two RBIs and Eric Sams added two RBIs for the ‘Cats. B-CU handed Savannah State ace pitcher Kyle McGowin (10-1) his first loss of the season.
David Lee had two hits with an RBI and PJ Biocic drove in a run for B-CU in the second game.
Bethune-Cookman (30-21, 17-7) leads the MEAC South Division by a half a game.
Savannah State (28-20, 16-7) must now make up a game with North Carolina A&T (15-34, 8-15) before the MEAC tournament on May 15-17. If the Tigers win, they win the division and are the No. 1 seed from the South. If NCA&T wins, B-CU takes that honor.
The Wildcats played at South Florida in Tampa on Tuesday and at the University of Central Florida in Orlando on Wednesday, which was after deadline.