What a season it was one year ago for the Valparaiso University softball team.
After finishing the regular season at just 8-14 in conference games, the Crusaders put together a legendary run in the postseason, winning four straight and a Horizon League Tournament championship.
In that tournament run, senior Taylor Weissenhoffer pitched all but two-thirds of an inning. Along with that, No. 2 starter Mollie Lindeman was also a part of that senior class.
That opened the door for an interesting situation this year, where the big question heading into the 2016-17 season was how this staff would respond to losing it’s two best pitchers.
Thus far, they’ve answered the call and then some.
Ashlyn Montgomery, who threw the remaining two-thirds of the inning, held the score tied in the 8th inning before the Crusaders eventually won it in the bottom half, has shown she has the stuff to be a No. 1 starter.
She’s a player who, now in her junior campaign, has thrown innings in both her freshman and sophomore seasons. However, for the Crusaders to contend this season, they needed her to take a big jump.
She has done just that, thus far putting together a stat-line with a 5-3 record and just a 2.82 ERA, which is easily her career best. She’s never been an overpowering arm, like Weissenhoffer was, but she’s someone who doesn’t give away free passes. Montgomery has walked just 21 hitters in 62 innings, which has been crucial for her success.
Maybe the biggest question this year, even more so than whether Montgomery could handle the No. 1 starter role, was who was going to become that second arm in the Crusaders’ rotation.
The answer to that question would be Mackenzie Grossman, a junior transfer coming from Morehead State. After two strong seasons in an Eagles uniform, Grossman has picked up right where she left off, posting a 7-5 record with a 3.82 ERA thus far through 18 appearances.
Two other pitchers have thrown innings thus far for the Crusaders. A pair of young arms, freshmen Lindsay Zdroik and Emily Richardson, have thrown 15 innings each.
With the Horizon League wide open this year, and the Crusaders being the Horizon League Tournament champs, Valparaiso can be seen as a team with a chance to repeat when it comes to tournament time.
But as we see so often in the game of softball, a lot of it comes down to how good your pitching staff can be when it matters most.
For the Crusaders, they will rely on Montgomery and Grossman, with some innings from Zdroik and Richardson as well.
If the Crusaders want to put together a great season, they will need the strong seasons of Montgomery and Grossman to continue.
The views expressed are those of the writer and not necessarily those of The Torch.