Rams have reason to be optimistic after an up-and-down 2018

Mack Beaulieu

The Colorado State Rams had one of their best seasons in recent memory this year as a season with highs and lows led to the team’s first postseason selection in 15 years, as well as wins over major conference opponents.

The Rams rode the strength of their pitching throughout the season, but with a team that would go cold for long stretches, the Rams never reached the peak of where they might go. Despite that, the relatively young Rams put together a season to remember. 

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“We had a couple of program-changing wins,” said coach Jen Fisher. “I think we proved to ourselves that we can beat some of those top 50 teams. Secondly, I think their leadership and their teamwork was really exceptional … I think moving forward they’ll leave that legacy of a strong team that will become important to future generations.”

The Rams started the 2018 season with its longest win streak of the season and showings against power five conference teams that made it seem like the Rams were poised to do big things. They picked up wins against Wisconsin and Texas along the way before their first loss of the season to Arizona.

The stretch included some of the best run support the Rams would get in a year that saw some rough offensive stretches for the Rams, but through their 7-1 start they produced big offenses from Sarah Muzik, Corina Gamboa and Amber Nelson. Bridgette Hutton started six games and got off to a 4-1 start in what amounted to an All-Mountain West season.

After beating rival Northern Colorado to follow up the Arizona game, the Rams dropped five-straight games and could not manage more than three runs in any game during the streak. It was the first of the cold stretches that plagued the Rams throughout the season, despite having the conference’s third best batting average.

The Rams took their five straight losses into the Colorado State Classic where they seemingly flipped the script during a five-game sweep against St. Johns, Idaho State and Utah Valley University.

Going into conference play with a 14-6 record, the Rams had reason to believe they were in for a special season. While their conference heightened, conference play was rocky in the Mountain West with four teams winning over 30 games and six of nine teams finishing over .500 for the year.

The Rams proceeded through conference series much like they did the non-conference, with the difference often being whether or not the Rams were leaving runners on base. At times the Rams would explode, at others great pitching was being wasted. Seven of the nine teams in the Mountain West had an under 4.00 ERA for the season. The bottom half of the Rams line-up often struggled mightily.

Nevertheless, the Rams began alternating wins and losses for nine straight games after the Classic, with a series win against Kansas mixed into conference play. The Rams would win their last non-conference game against UNC. Players like Haley Donaldson, Nelson, Muzik and Gamboa kept the Rams afloat on offense while Hutton continued a dominant season, and sophomore pitcher Alison Petty emerged as a player to watch.

“(Hutton’s) a strong pitcher in our conference,” Fisher said. “I think we get (a) little more consistent and we add maybe one more, we have a freshman and a transfer coming in next year, if one of those two or both of them can help with some innings with Bridgette then we have a chance to be really strong again.”

After that game came a critical moment off the field when the team held a sit in at the Universities’ indoor practice facility. At the time, the football team was supposed to be setting up for spring practice. The protest came because of what the team said was lack of equality in equipment and facilities as well as respect for the women’s athletic teams and their time, particularly while in season.

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“I think we’ll play back to this season as a kind of turning point,” Fisher said.

The team received a good deal of attention for their protest, but the young women seemed to take their cause in stride as the team won its next two series against the University of New Mexico and Utah State. Unfortunately, the team then ran into San Jose State and the season started another plummet.

The Rams would get beaten by a combined score of 31-8 in their first two games against SJSU, seemingly returning to their old ways when they won their next two games. At that point the Rams were 24-14 and could still make a run at the Mountain West crown, but the Rams had another cold streak.

The Rams would lose seven of their last eight regular season games, with their lone win in the final game of the season at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. Posing as a slight morale boost to end the season, with Madison Kilcrease helping to assure a victory in her last Mountain West game, the bout turned out not to be the last stroke of good fortune the Rams would receive.

“She really made a difference,” Fisher said. “She did a nice job at the plate and she really helped a young outfield improve and I think we’ll be better in the future because of a lot of the ground work that she laid this year with them.”

The Rams earned an invite to the National Invitational Softball Championships. A postseason tournament in its second year, the field was considered strong as most of the teams were conference runners-up or 30-game winners. After an up and down season that showed some great flashes, the Rams were rewarded with their first postseason in 15 years.

Unfortunately, the Rams offensive struggles continued in the postseason against the very solid pitching of South Dakota State. The Jackrabbits beat the Rams in both of their losses in the double elimination tournament, with a win against the UNC bears sandwiched in between to finish 27-23.

The Rams will return most of their roster next season, composed of two All-Region performers and four of five All-Mountain West recipients.

“I think we’ll play back to this season as a kind of turning point,” Fisher said.

Mack Beaulieu is a sports reporter for the CSU collegian and can be reached at sports@collegian.com or at @Macknz_James.