Felicia Gowanlock admits she has often times felt cursed when it comes to softball.
All through high school the Brockport, N.Y. native played on a team that was frequently the victim of the mercy rule.
Then at the end of the 2009 season at Allegheny College, those recruited with Gowanlock opted to leave the Lady Gators’ softball team for various reasons.
Young and inexperienced, the Lady Gators went a combined 19-42 the next two seasons. They recorded just seven wins in 2011 — the program’s worst season since 1980.
But not once did Gowanlock give up on her love of softball or the Lady Gators. And on Sunday she was rewarded for her hard work and perseverance.
Allegheny claimed the outright North Coast Athletic Conference championship yesterday with a 4-1 win over Ohio Wesleyan in Game 1 of a double header at Roberston Field. The Lady Gators, celebrating Senior Day, dropped the second game, 5-1, to finish the regular season at 26-9-1.
It is Allegheny’s best regular season finish since 1995.
“I remember at the beginning of the season we were really hesitant and afraid,” said Gowanlock, who made her 97th consecutive start for the Gators behind the plate in the night cap. “And (coach Sandra Sanford) had to turn to us and was like, ‘You’re good. We’re good now. You can be confident now.’ … I couldn’t have asked for a better final season.”
“I get my own sign now,” Gowanlock added while pointing to outfield fence where Gators’ numerous NCAC championships are highlighted with banners. “It’s so exciting.”
The NCAC regular season title is Allegheny’s fifth and their first since 2008.
The Gators will host the NCAC tournament at Robertson Field beginning Friday. Pairings and times have yet to be announced.
“It feels good to be us again,” Sanford said. “Having a couple of down years is never easy. But it’s a credit to our players who refocused this entire year right from the get-go.”
And it’s a credit to players like Gowanlock.
“I can’t say enough about her as our leader and someone who has stuck with us and battled through all the ups and downs,” Sanford said. “It’s not an easy thing to play four years of college ball. And it’s certainly not for the faint of heart.
“That’s why days like this are so special to honor kids who have the guts and the heart to grind through it for four years.”
Allegheny clinched the title behind another stellar outing from rookie pitcher Caitlin Nealer. Nealer allowed just three hits in the win. One of those hits was a solo home run by leadoff hitter Brooke Nethers in the third inning that gave OWU a 1-0 lead.
For a while it looked as though that run would be enough. But the Gators pulled through with a two-run fifth to take the lead. Nealer and Leah Herlocker delivered RBI singles to give Allegheny a 2-1 advantage.
Maureen Pallone roped a two-out, two-run double in the sixth for the Gators (26-9-1, 12-4 NCAC) to preserve the win.
Nealer finished the regular season at 22-4 on the mound with a 0.94 earned run average.
The Gators were unable to get anything going in the second game.
Allegheny did take a 1-0 lead after two innings on an RBI single from Pallone. But the Gators committed four errors resulting in three unearned runs, allowing OWU (14-22, 7-9) to take a 5-1 win.
“I think we were a little flat in the second game,” Sanford said. “And that’s unfortunate. I want our kids to come out and be fiery and compete hard every single time they get the opportunity. But they played the way they played.”
Pallone finished the day 3-for-5 with three RBIs.