CAMDEN — There was no shame in starting the season 0-3.
Not when you open the schedule with games against Sussex Tech, two-time defending state champion Laurel and Polytech.
Still, being 0-3 left the Caesar Rodney High softball team without much margin for error if it wanted to make the state tournament.
“We all came together in a team meeting and said, ‘This is how many losses we have,’” recalled senior outfielder Maddie Harris. “‘And this is how many wins we need to get into the state tournament.’”
So far, the Riders have lived up to their end of the bargain.
CR has won seven of its last eight games since that 0-3 start. That gives the Riders a 5-4 Henlopen Conference record, 7-4 overall going into today’s 4:15 p.m. game at Cape Henlopen (4-5, 6-5).
Since April 1, CR’s only loss was a 2-0 setback to Henlopen leader Delmar. That matched the lowest run total for the Wildcats this spring.
So, yeah, the Riders still feel like they can compete with any team in the state.
“I never doubted us,” said sophomore pitcher Alyssa Ball. “Sometimes you just have a rough start. ... It was just the first three out of 18 games. Three games isn’t a big deal.”
“I think we have a great team,” said senior shortstop Stephany Courtney. “We have talent everywhere. There’s no one position where we know it’s kind of shaky. I trust my team.”
“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” said CR coach Paul Damask. “Teams that start hot, cool off. And I’m hoping that we would end hot after starting cool.”
While the Riders have had their share of double-digit scoring games, it’s been their pitching and defense that have turned around the season.
CR hasn’t allowed more than two runs in any of its last eight games, surrendering a total of just 12 runs in that span. Even the 2-0 loss to Delmar was encouraging.
“The Delmar game I think was a very positive game for us,” said Damask. “The outcome wasn’t what we wanted. But I think the way that we played that day showed that we can contend. One mistake, that’s all that game was down to.”
Individually, the Riders’ offense has been led by players like Chaney Jones (.385, 11 runs, 8 RBI), Harris (.400, 10 runs, 9 RBI, 2 homeruns, 7 doubles) and Rosa’Lynn Burton (.400, 11 runs, 6 RBI).
But the Riders also say they’ve been able to put aside individual interests and play as a team. That’s another thing that has made a big difference since the start of the season.
“We’re actually playing more as a team than we ever have,” said Harris. “We’ve come together more since our first three losses — like, ‘OK guys, we’ve got to pick it up.’ We want to go to states and that’s how you’re going to get to states — playing as a team.”
CR has made the state tourney in two of the last three years. But the Riders haven’t won a state tournament game since 2011.
If they can keep playing well in the next few weeks, CR’s players think they can still make some noise in the tourney. Certainly they won’t mind if other teams look past them because of their record.
“I like when teams overlook us,” said Courtney. “I love it.”