It’s not often you open a season with a loss and hope that sets the tone for the campaign.

The Lawrence University softball team opened its season in Clermont, Fla., against the College of St. Scholastica, which won more than 30 games in 2012 and played in the NCAA Division III Tournament. The talented Saints blew out to a 6-0 lead, but the Vikings rallied and St. Scholastica had to hang on for a 6-5 win.

“To fight back — that kind of set the tone for the whole week,” said Lawrence coach Kim Tatro, now in her 20th season with the Vikings. “We can battle with anyone and that should be the goal. They kind of proved it all week. The consistency of their reslience is something we were pleased with. Hopefully, that sets us up for games up here with a different level of confidence.”

Lawrence finished its spring break trip with an 8-4 record, the best nonconference mark of any team in the Midwest Conference’s North Division. The Vikings won two games after trailing, including a 5-0 deficit to Geneseo State, and won two more games after being tied late.

“We played in a  lot of really close games, and in the past we probably would not have won half of those,” Tatro said. “Very resilient, battling. I felt like every game we were in we did battle back to win.”

That is a nice change from last season when the Vikings finished 9-22 and lost eight games by one or two runs.

“The biggest change I see, other than the talent level and the resilience, it’s a lot of the same people taking the next step to believe,” Tatro said. “That factor in and of itself can go a long way.”

The core of Lawrence’s team returned from last season and that group played well in Florida.

Senior pitcher/infielder Shannon Murray went 5-3 with three saves and a 2.47 earned run average despite dealing with an illness during the week. Murray, who hit .333, struck out 31 and walked only eight while allowing opponents to hit just .244. 

“Shannon was as solid as she’s been in her career,” Tatro said. “Not only was she winning game as a starter, but she came in in critical situations to save games.” 

Junior catcher Alex Chiodo led the team with a .393 batting average and tied with Murray and Cathy Kaye for the team lead with eight runs batted in. Kaye, a senior outfielder, hit .342 and smacked a team-high seven doubles. Sophomore pitcher Kara Vance went 3-0 with a 1.73 ERA and was part of two shutouts.

Lawrence also has a very talented freshmen class, and Tatro said many of the rookies played critical roles at different times and in different situations during that week. That is a great omen for the Vikings.

“We have a lot of options. A lot of people stepping up at different times,” Tatro said.

“When you have that ability, and people are actually stepping up and doing it, it just helps the team walk around with an air of confidence.”

The Vikings now have to wait for Mother Nature to cooperate so they can get back out on the field. The team spent several days clearing the field of snow, including drifts several feet deep.

“There is a lot of positive energy. We want to be outside and get back at it,” Tatro said. “There are a lot of things we can improve upon. We’re nowhere near where we can be on offense and defense. They are itching to get back out there to play. … It would be nice to get back at it with something other than a shovel.”

Lawrence is scheduled to play doubleheaders this weekend at the University of Chicago and Rockford College.

Big Benz

The Vikings knew they would have a hole in one spot in the lineup after the graduation of All-Midwest Conference third baseman Eric Bohling, but newcomer Aaron Benz has filled in quite nicely.

Benz, who is starting in the outfield, is currently on a team-best seven-game hitting streak. The junior, who transferred from UW-Oshkosh, is hitting .378 with a team-high 12 runs batted in. 

Sights set on big brother

Senior tennis player Jason Dunn picked up career singles win No. 51 when he won at No. 2 against Knox College last Saturday. Dunn, now in second place on Lawrence’s career list,  is just nine wins shy of tying his brother, Ryan, for the top spot.

The Vikings have seven scheduled matches remaining and the Midwest Conference Championships. Lawrence could play two additional dual matches if it qualifies for the MWC Team Tournament.