Temple heads to NJCAA DI softball championship on 14-game win streak
Since the Temple Lady Leopards debuted their Strike Out Cancer jerseys in mid-April, the team has literally been unbeatable.
Temple (46-9) posted two separate 8-0 run-rule victories over Cisco on April 15, which was the start of the Lady Leopards' current 14-game win streak.
"It took us a long time to get to the right place with this year's team," Temple head coach Kristen Zaleski said. "I really like the way they've come together the past three weeks. Not that things were going wrong prior to that, but things weren't fully clicking yet."
The last time the Lady Leopards felt defeat was in consecutive games to Ranger and Grayson. That actually ended a stretch of longer than one calendar year -- 379 days -- since the team lost back-to-back games.
Temple's most recent win came in the championship game against NCTC. The Lady Leopards came back multiple times to win a 7-6 thriller in walk-off fashion and earn the right to defend its 2018 national championship in St. George, Utah, in the Division I Softball Championship set for May 22-25.
"I was there last year and I think now that we know that we're going, we're very excited," sophomore Maddie Weatherly said. "Everybody's stoked to go and ready to be there."
"We needed to be challenged and I loved the way we responded," Zaleski said. "To have done that and not done our best, it shows we can still do better. At the same time, I don't like that we got away with it because I don't want us to expect it."
Sophomores Kennedy Jimenez and Lenzi Stewart were not only a part of the 2018 team that won it all, but they also finished on top at the end of their senior years at Academy High School in 2017.
"I want the incoming freshman to experience what we've experienced because that was the most fun I'd ever had playing softball," Stewart said.
"Me coming in as a freshman, I want the glory, too," Temple infielder Savanna Parker said. "We're trying to do what they did last year. Regarding team chemistry, they obviously did something right since they won."
Jimenez (.339) is one of three Temple players with a batting average in the .300-range.
Stewart, who leads the team in walks, has posted a .358 average, while Weatherly is hitting .381 to go along with her team-leading 14 home runs and 79 RBIs.
"I started focusing on more base hits more than power," said Savanna Parker, who is second on the team with 10 homers and 60 RBIs. "I just let (Maddie) have the home run lead. She's got more power than me, anyway."
Temple has scored at least 10 runs in 18 of its wins this year, including four games reaching at least 20.
Alyssa Escamilla (.475), Tiler Noyola (.460), Parker (.458), Daisy Gonzalez (.444) and MacKenzie Purcell (.443) have helped set the tone for the elite Lady Leopards offense.
In the circle, Breanna Hernandez and Marley Hilton have combined to start all but one of the 55 games. Hernandez shined at the Region V Tournament, earning the win in all three games and registering a 2.86 ERA.
Temple will begin its 18-hour bus ride to Utah -- all in one sitting -- later this week. Their first opponent is to be determined.