If you’ve followed the BIG EAST softball standings over the past few weeks, you may have noticed an unexpected name at the top.
That name is Providence, which after some winning ways in non-conference play were likely expected to fall off by some as the mountain of BIG EAST play arrived in mid-March. Then the Friars kept winning games. And they’re still winning games.
All of a sudden, it’s mid-April and the Friars are right on the heels of BIG EAST top dogs UConn for the top of the table—and they finally have a chance to prove themselves once and for all against the Huskies this weekend. Not bad for a team picked to finish second-to-last in the conference by its coaches.
2022 Providence vs. Connecticut
But what have been some of the sparks behind a surprising Providence run this season that could see it continue to defy expectations? Read below for some of the catalyst behind the Friars’ mojo this year, with thoughts ahead of the team’s huge series this weekend on FloSoftball.
NOTE: All records and statistics are accurate as of Thursday night.
The Start Of Dreams
Since 2006, Providence softball has only reached the 30-win mark in a season eleven. With 14 regular-season games remaining on the schedule this year—plus a potential postseason—the Friars are already at 21.
After fourth-year coach Jill Karwoski took Providence to that benchmark during her first season in 2019, the Friars combined for 11 wins over the following two years as both a COVID-19 shutdown in 2020 and a nearly nonexistent non-conference schedule in 2021 ( Providence’s only non-BIG EAST matchups that year were a four-game series against Boston University) wreaked havoc on building any sort of stability.
So far, the Friars are right back where they ended in 2019. Providence went on a 12-2 tear in March that included series wins over BIG EAST foes in Seton Hall and St. John’s, then kicked April into high gear by sweeping Georgetown in a three-game series in Rhode Island. A recent three-game losing slide may be slightly dampening the mood, but all three defeats came against non-league foes, meaning the Friars still sit tied for a second (with Villanova) in the BIG EAST standings at 8-4. If you’re keeping track at home, they have a legitimate shot at eclipsing their combined win total since the past two years this season on league wins alone.
BIG EAST softball fans have known about the dynamo in the Friars’ pitching rotation for quite some time. Right-hander Daniela Alvarez, who won the league’s Co-Freshman of the Year Award in 2019, followed it up with a spot on the All-BIG EAST Second Team this past season despite Providence’s struggles. Alvarez is still very effective, posting a respectable 3.64 ERA in 13 starts this season. However, she’s not the only ace on the team anymore.
Fellow hurler Tori Grifone had a trial-by-fire as a freshman in 2021, being up against mainly BIG EAST competition as part of a rapid introduction to the world of college softball. Now that the New Jersey native has settled in a bit, she’s excelled and been arguably the brightest star on the Friars’ roster. Grifone’s 9-6 record may not look super-threatening on paper, but a 2.49 ERA and 117 strikeouts through 90 innings this year are definitely attention-grabbing numbers.
Not only that, but she’s a capable hitter at the plate, too, batting a .273 average with 17 RBI (tied for second on the team as a two-way force that’s able to both prevent and produce offense when she needs to.
Are The Friars For Real?
The best answer to this question is probably some form of “to be determined.” There is a lot to like about Providence softball at the moment, including a pitching unit that holds a 3.21 ERA and has a shiny BIG EAST record to pair with it.
2022 Providence vs. Connecticut
However, the four league teams it has squared up against this year thus far—Seton Hall, St. John’s, Creighton and Georgetown—are the bottom-four teams in the conference. The non-conference slate doesn’t scream “elite,” either, with wins over the likes of Idaho State, Coppin State, Towson and Merrimack not exactly proving to be needle-movers. The real test comes in the next month-or-so headed into the BIG EAST Tournament when, you guessed it, Providence plays the other top-five teams (besides itself) in the league in a three-game series the next four weekends in to row.
Friday will mark the first pitch of a huge series against league leaders UConn, which at 13-2 in league play has been stomping the competition, and look primed for a first BIG EAST title since 2001. The series opener gets nationally-televised (at 7:30 pm ET Friday on Fox Sports 1), with the final two games of it this weekend being streamed on FloSoftball. The Friars have been hot in flashes yet remain unproven, making this weekend a major test to mark whether or not they’re just a flash in the pan—or a serious contender for some silverware in the next month.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism