SALEM, Va. — The TWU Pioneers have 14 players on this season’s roster, and every one of them has played an integral role to get the team to the NCAA Division II national tournament.
In every championship-caliber squad, the intangibles go unnoticed far too often, and when players like Katie Hines and Bailey Vrazel are racking up All-America honors, it can be hard for the more seldom used players to crack the lineup or draw any acclaim.
For senior Karissa Hartwig and juniors Megan Schoenherr and Megan Leff, they are just happy to be on such a fun-loving, hard-working team.
“I like that we can always find the humor in things when things don’t go the way they are supposed to,” Schoenherr said. “It’s been more relaxed now that we’re at nationals. [Richie] Bruister is finally letting his hair down. It’s been fun.”
Bruister doesn’t have long hair, but his upbeat, low-tension vibes have resonated with all the players, especially during the team’s run to nationals.
The Pioneers’ first-round game against Humboldt State scheduled for Thursday night was rained out. The teams will play at 11 this morning.
With some players departing this season for personal reasons, Leff said it’s been special having Hartwig and Schoenherr in the dugout to pal around with. She thinks the team became stronger as the season progressed and as the team grew closer.
“Being with Megan and Karissa on the bench is a lot easier because most of the time we’ll tell jokes, make fun of the umps or judge the other team,” Leff said. “You just have to be light-hearted about it or it will just crumble your day. I got really close with them on and off the field this year.”
While Hartwig, Schoenherr and Leff don’t get nearly as much playing time as the rest of the team, Bruister raved about what they have done with their opportunities.
“I know they would rather be playing, but in team sports you can only start nine or 10 and that makes it difficult,” Bruister said. “I’m proud of them for accepting their roles, and that’s why we are as successful as we are.
“We would not be here today if it weren’t for them. It’s taken all 14 players to get us to this point. Even though it’s one time coming in to run the bases, that’s a run, and how many games have we won by one run?”
Hartwig, a California native who transferred from College of the Canyons, was drawn to TWU for its dental hygiene program and the softball — a combination that only a select group of schools in the country can boast about.
As the fourth pitcher on a team laden with more than capable pitchers, Hartwig said her role during games is to help maintain focus — something Bruister and the team are constantly striving for — while also being ready to come in as a reliever at any time.
“I feel like my role is to keep my team focused,” Hartwig said. “I feel like I can give them a different view from off the field and during the games, they are already so focused. I just know that I always have to be on my toes. Bruister can change his mind whenever, and he can see situations we can’t.”
It’s been 62 games since the Pioneers won their season opener on the first day of February. At this point in the season, some teams might be getting tired, irritated or ready to escape each other. Not this team.
With each passing game, the players’ bond strengthens, and when the season comes to what they hope is a happy and successful end on Monday, Bruister said it will be this team that sets the precedent for the future.
“This team is so close,” Bruister said. “The 14 players that we have are very, very close and they want to be together. Most teams want the season to be over so they can get away, but they want to be together and they are really soaking in the time.
“They know what this special team means for them. They are setting so many records and firsts, and they will always be known as the team that paved the way to the College World Series.”
PATRICK HAYSLIP can be reached at 940-566-6873 and via Twitter at @PatrickHayslip.
NCAA Div. II Tournament
AT THE JAMES I. MOYER COMPLEX
Game 1: Central Oklahoma 5, Armstrong 2
Game 2: Molloy 5, Valdosta St. 4 (8)
Game 3: Kutztown 3, Grand Valley St. 1
Game 4: Humboldt St. 4, TWU 2
Game 5: Central Oklahoma vs. Molloy, 3 p.m.
Game 6: Kutztown vs. Humboldt St., 5:30 p.m.
Game 7: Armstrong vs.Valdosta State, 11 a.m.
Game 8: Grand Valley St. vs. TWU, 1:30 p.m.
Game 9: Winner Game 7 vs. Loser Game 6, 4 p.m.
Game 10: Winner Game 8 vs. Loser Game 5, 6:30 p.m.
Game 11: Winner Game 5 vs. Winner Game 9, 11 a.m. (If the winner of Game 9 wins Game 11, Game 13 will be played at 4 p.m.
Game 12: Winner Game 6 vs. Winner Game 10, 1:30 p.m. (If the winner of Game 10 wins Game 12, Game 14 will be played at 6:30 p.m.)
If only one if necessary game is needed, it will be played at 5 p.m.
Championship game, 11 a.m.