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A Win For Validation

The following article appeared in the Army Official Sports Report on March 21, 2010, and was written by John Ferro.

It’s hard to get too excited about big wins this early in a softball season. But the Army softball team was feeling pretty good after edging Ivy League powerhouse Cornell, 2-1, in the first game of a doubleheader Saturday in Kissimmee, Fla.

The win was impressive for several reasons. Cornell was 7-0 coming into the game and went 42-13 last year en route to the Ivy League championship.

“Their team is a great team and I have a tremendous amount of respect for Coach (Dick) Blood and their program all together,” Army coach Michelle DePolo told Army OSR in a telephone interview after the game Saturday. “We’ve had some really good games (against Cornell), but there definitely have been some times where we’ve been annihilated by them. They have the capability of doing that.”

Meanwhile, Army (8-6) had not done well in close games so far this season. Of the Black Knights’ six losses, three had come by one run and another by two runs.

“The losses are really heartbreaking,” DePolo said, “but you become a little stronger and you learn how to become more effective in clutch situations and really know what you should be doing. You learn how to kind of get down and get your hands dirty and get it done.”

And that’s exactly what happened. Army right-hander Shawna Bleyl pitched a complete game and held off a Cornell rally in the final inning. The sophomore from Tucson, Ariz. allowed just four hits and one walk while striking out five.

Army got its runs from an RBI single by Angela Deger in the fourth inning and a two-out, RBI double by Erin McClain in the fifth.

Cornell rallied for two hits and one run to start the seventh inning. But with the tying run on first, Bleyl struck out pinch hitter Erin Belles. The final out came when Army left fielder Jennae Tomlinson chased down a foul ball, crashing into the fence as she made the catch.

“Shawna Bleyl pitched a tremendous game,” DePolo said. “She did what we told her to do – just keep the ball down and keep the batter at bay. They have a tremendous hitting team. She did that – kept them off balance, and kept the ball down and the defense played really great behind her. We made some key hits when we needed to. And overall the game was a great learning experience.”

Army’s second game of the day was much less stressful – a 14-0 pounding of Fairleigh Dickinson.

The wins ended Army’s spring break trip to Florida. The Black Knights went 5-3 on the trip.

“I thought we looked really good,” DePolo said. “… Even the games we’ve lost were extremely competitive. We look a lot better and we look a lot sharper just in the way we carry ourselves. We play hard all the time and really show respect to all of our opponents no matter what the score is – in the fact that we don’t care what the record is. We don’t care who is coming in. We just try to focus on playing Army softball no matter who it is.”

DePolo said there is certainly room for improvement. The Black Knights need to be a little smarter at the plate, she said.

“Too many called third strikes,” she said.

But the Army softball team came away with an important validation Saturday: the knowledge that it can play close games against powerful opponents – and win.

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