Saint Leo’s softball transformation this season was not only striking, but also quick.
At 40-16, the Lions finished with 18 more wins than the previous season and claimed their first Sunshine State Conference championship in the program’s 32-year history.
“I knew we were on the right track, but I’d be lying if I thought it would happen this fast,” third-year Saint Leo coach John Conway said. “We were picked seventh in the conference to start the season. Credit to the players because they worked hard from Day 1.”
Senior third baseman Rachelle Gremo said they had a single focus.
“We had that goal of working for a conference title all season. That helped change our attitude and work ethic,” said Gremo, who won two conference titles at Burling County College before coming to Saint Leo as a junior.
The Lions built much of their success with speed by stealing a program-record 142 bases (the previous mark was 131).
“In my 11 years coaching college softball my teams have always stolen over 100 bases, but this is the most,” Conway said. “Speed never goes into slumps.”
Leading the way was sophomore left fielder McKenzie Burns, who led all of Division II softball with 54 steals. Conway added the pitching staff, which combined for a 1.85 ERA, was another strength.
“We had four pitchers who were all a little different, so that gave the other team’s batters trouble,” Conway said. “Megan Still throws a lot of pitches with movement. Alana (Tabel) throws a great drop ball. Ashley (Ehlers) and Sarah (Steiner) both throw hard out of the pen, and Sarah is a lefty.”
The Lions captured the conference crown despite having only two seniors: Gremo and Still.
“I’m excited about the future,” Conway said. “We can build on this season and keep the success going.”
Saint Leo lost its first two games in the double-elimination NCAA Division II Tournament, falling 8-0 on May 10 to the University of Tampa, a conference rival, and 2-1 on May 11 to Albany State.
“I’m really proud that we were the first team to ever win conference,” Gremo said. “This team will be a forever bond.”