Saint Francis University boasts one of the smallest athletic departments in the nation at the Division I level, but watching the Red Flash softball program play in 2017, they looked at times like a team with resources four times their own.
“Last season was obviously a really fun year,” said head coach Jennifer Patrick-Swift of the season that saw her team record forty-nine wins, including pairs of victories against Power Five teams Texas Tech and Penn State, as well as eventual NISC champion Liberty.
“When we first came in and began building the program, based on the commitments and the kids that we were getting, we anticipated 2018 being ‘our year’. When last year started shaping up like it did, we obviously enjoyed it,” Patrick-Swift said. “This year, on paper, with who we have coming back, this was the year that we were anticipating that we would reap the benefits. We are definitely excited to get out there on the field and compete with the best teams in the country.”
At such a small school, one might think that recruiting would be an issue. Nevertheless, Patrick-Swift says that she is extremely happy with the players that have come her program’s way. “Every year, our recruiting classes have gotten stronger. And with a couple of years of building and getting that championship mindset, that was what we had hoped for in our own minds and it just really played out like we had hoped for.”
Then-junior Jordan Seneca made headlines in 2017 in her third season with the Red Flash, clubbing twenty-two home runs and driving in sixty-six runs en route to all-conference and all-region honors.
“It’s funny… I think she hit all of two home runs as a freshman,” Patrick-Swift said of her star slugger. “When we recruited her, she had the build and she came here and matured as a player and that kid is so strong! She has the mindset of ‘every time I step into the box, I want to hit a home run.’ That’s what she does, she bought into that. When she gets ahold of one, it’s going to go a long way.”
The Red Flash’s offensive strategy is similar. “We’re going for the long ball on offense,” Patrick-Swift said. “We are going to play small ball here and there if we have to, but for the most part, we are going to live and die by the long ball… we tell our kids, ‘when we step into the box, we are in scoring position.’ Knowing that we have pitchers on the mound who are going to keep it close for us, we are going to live and die by that one big inning… our mindset is to not give opposing pitchers a play off or a lineup spot off; if they miss and it’s in the zone, we’re swinging for it.”
In the pitching circle, Patrick-Swift expects equally-big things from her hurlers: “We’re bringing back [Abby] Trahan, our current rookie of the year. She does a great job of moving pitches all over the zone; she may not overpower you with her speed, but her ball really bounces… last year, Adrian Smith was a freshman and she dabbled a little bit everywhere. We really focused her this year on pitching and she is a power pitcher… we are really excited about getting Alexis Bower, our fifth-year senior, back. Since she’s been here, I’ve always said that she’s our bulldog on the mound. The bigger the game, the more the pressure, the better she shines. She has always been good, but I think what she’s going to do this year is going to surprise a lot of people.”
“It was huge for us to play in the postseason, in the NCAA tournament,” Patrick-Swift told us. “Especially considering the fact that, of the starters of that last game in that regional, we have only lost one player; nine out of the ten kids in that lineup, they tasted it. They were a part of that… all along, we have expected this season to be ‘the one’… that experience and that taste of the postseason, coming into this year, I haven’t seen them work as hard in an offseason as they have this year.”
On her team’s goals for 2018, Patrick-Swift was clear. “On the field, we want to win games. We have goals out there, and our big goal is to be playing on championship Sunday at regionals. We want to continue to dominate our conference, get to the tournament, and win the tournament, but we want to be playing on that Sunday. We have the talent and the mindset. 49-11, that’s a lot of wins. Who knows, we might be down a little bit in wins, but I’ll take that if we are playing on that Sunday if we are playing in the regional championship.”
“We don’t mind being the underdog – in fact, our girls love it,” Patrick-Swift says. “To go out, from where we come from, the second-smallest Division I school, and to go into these venues; we love going in there and beating teams like that. We love that. We love the pressure. We love the ‘you’re not supposed to be here’… we are a team that is heavy into our process. These girls aren’t scared to go out and play anybody.”
The Red Flash kick off the 2018 season on February 9th against Presbyterian in Conway, South Carolina.