PLATTSBURGH — The Plattsburgh State softball team had a solid regular season, but to outside observers there weren't necessarily signs of it turning into a great postseason.
The Cardinals dropped a few games to teams below them in the SUNY Athletic Conference standings and finished second. Then they got to the playoffs and have been almost untouchable, going 9-1 the last two weeks with a red-hot offense.
Now they're in the NCAA Division III Softball Championship finals for just the second time in program history and have their sights set on a national championship.
Coach Stephanie Zweig said the late-season rise started with disappointment. Plattsburgh hosted Geneseo and Brockport on April 13 and 14 and split both doubleheaders.
"We saw that we should've beaten those teams both those games, and we split and we weren't ourselves," Zweig said. "And we promised that we weren't going to be anything but ourselves from that point on. And I think from that point we've just been together as a group and on the same mission and just ready to win."
After that weekend, the Cardinals won nine of their next 10 games, including a victory at conference-leading Cortland, to close the regular season. They beat the favored Red Dragons for the SUNYAC championship and then won four straight in Amherst, Mass. last weekend to claim a regional title. They face Montclair State on Friday in the double-elimination NCAA finals in Salem, Va.
Plattsburgh's pitching, led by SUNYAC Pitcher of the Year Ashley Marshall, has been strong all season, but the offense has ignited recently.
The Cardinals have outscored their opponents 105-15 in their last 13 games, dating back to the final weekend of the regular season. In the previous 13 games, their scoring margin was 54-32.
They had a team batting average of .410 at the Amherst Regional.
"I think it's honestly just a momentum thing," sophomore first baseman Brianna Clarke said. "We've been working hard. We're a great hitting team. Every single person on this team is a great hitter. And it just so happens that everybody's hitting their highest point right now. So it's working good."
Clarke is leading the team with a .395 average and 51 hits, and Erin Florkiewicz is right behind at .390 and 41 hits. But the key has been getting contributions from throughout the lineup.
Seven players are batting .300 or higher and six have at least 30 hits. Eight of the nine regulars in the batting order have hit home runs, led by the No. 9 hitter, Megan Price, with seven. Allison Smiddy, who bats second, has a team-high 37 RBI.
"We don't have really great individuals. We have a great team that plays well together," said Florkiewicz, a senior catcher. "I mean everyone in (the regional) tournament made a contribution one way or another to get us where we are.
"Maybe we don't have dominators at the plate, but everyone has their own thing that they can give to the table when we need them. And that's what's so special about our team."
Zweig and Clarke both said this group has really good chemistry, and Zweig added that the team has been relaxed and having fun lately, which wasn't the case earlier in the season.
"I think they were just trying to do too much," she said. "They were trying to have all five of their at-bats in one at-bat, and that's something we can't do. You have to just take it one pitch at a time and stay relaxed in the box and know what you can hit and go for it ..."
Florkiewicz added that one reason the Cardinals played so well last weekend was they played teams they had never seen instead of conference teams that they're very familiar with. She said that made it easier to just focus on their own game and not overthink their opponent's game.
Florkiewicz said she knew all along that this team had potential to be among the Division III elite.
"I knew it was a possibility my freshman year," she said. "I mean, our team has always put up a fight against Cortland, and they're the No. 1 team to beat in our conference. So we've always known that we could get here; it was just a matter of putting it together ...
"I can't tell you one day where it was just like, 'Wow, we're going to go do this.' It's been step-by-step progress. And it couldn't come at any better time."
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