July 13, 2016

Enjoying Big Freshman Season for Haverford Softball, Former Hun Standout Blake Helps Fords Make History


HAVING A BALL: Julia Blake waits for a pitch in action this spring during her freshman season for the Haverford College softball team. Former Hun School standout Blake enjoyed a superb debut campaign for the Fords, batting .331 as Haverford won the Centennial Conference tournament and advanced to the NCAA Division III Super Regional, finishing with a 28-22 record. Second baseman Blake was named as an honorable mention All-Centennial Conference selection and made the Norfolk, Virginia NCAA Regional All-Tournament Team. (Photo by David Sinclair, Haverford Sports Information)

When Julia Blake was in middle school, she became fascinated with college softball.

“I started watching the college world series every year as a seventh and eighth grader and started dreaming of playing on teams like Alabama, Oklahoma, and Florida,” said Blake.

“Once I was getting into travel ball it became a dream of mine to play in college.”

Starting as the shortstop on the Hun School softball team from day one in her freshman season during the spring of 2012, Blake enjoyed a superb career for the Raiders, earning first-team All-Prep A honors in three of her four seasons with the program.

As a result of her success, Blake ended up achieving her dream of playing college ball, committing to attend Haverford College and play for its softball program. While such New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) schools as Williams and Middlebury were in the  recruiting mix, Blake’s focus changed once she visited Haverford in suburban Philadelphia.

“It essentially all came together, they say once you step on a campus, you know, you get that feeling when it is the right place,” said Blake, who also starred for the Finch’s Aces travel softball program out of Diamond Nation in Flemington during her high school career.

“I definitely got that feeling at Haverford. I had such an incredible experience at Hun. It really felt similar to Hun, you could see that there was a community. The honor code is a big deal at Haverford and that was big deal at Hun so I saw that connection. I think it was definitely important for me. It reminded me of a place that I already loved.”

Blake loved taking the field for the first time during Haverford’s fall ball training, which culminated with practice games against Arcadia University and Swarthmore College.

“It was absolutely surreal; even though it is a small D-III school, the feeling I got stepping out on the field; I could just feel this energy in my body the whole time,” recalled the 5’6 second baseman Blake.

“I had dreamed of playing college softball and to have it come true; I was a little nervous. The first out I made was a shallow fly ball behind first base. I remember I ran over and caught it and when the ball hit my glove I felt all of this relief. It was even more magical because then I was more relaxed, just playing for fun.”

The Fords headed south to Florida to start the season and struggled in the early going, losing their first six games.

“Our coach (Erin Brooks) scheduled some really challenging games for us and we hung in with the teams,” said Blake.

“It was really great practice and it really built a lot of character on the team. Our coach purposely did that because she wanted us to be challenged so that we could come back here and be really successful in the Centennial League.”

Once back north, Haverford started gathering momentum, taking fourth in Centennial play to earn the last spot in the league tournament. In the  double-elimination tourney, the Fords dropped their first game, losing 3-2 to top-seeded and host Washington. Bouncing back from that loss, Haverford won four straight games, including a doubleheader sweep of Washington to win the title and earn a berth in the NCAA Division III tournament.

“We go into the championship and we have to beat them twice; it is extremely difficult to beat a team twice on any given day,” said Blake.

“We had 11 players and three pitchers, we played teams who have 17, 18 players. We are a team where almost everyone is playing every second so everyone had to contribute. The first game was nine innings; it was crazy. A fellow freshman of mine hit the walk off hit, it was awesome. We ended up winning the second game too and it was incredible. I think our pitching staff really came alive at the end of the season; they were absolutely wonderful. We had three pitchers who threw differently in their own way.”

At the NCAA Regional hosted by Virginia Wesleyan, Haverford kept rolling, topping No. 2 Salisbury 1-0 and Saint Vincent 1-0 to get itself one win from advancing to the Super Regional. In order to take that step, Haverford had to win one of two games against Salisbury on the final day of the double-elimination competition. Haverford lost the first game 6-1 but then pulled out a 7-6 nail-biter to  earn its spot in the top 16 of the tourney.

“We were in the opposite position of where we were in the conference, so whereas we had to beat Washington twice, Salisbury had to beat us twice,” said Blake, who was named to the Regional All-Tournament Team.

“We were telling ourselves we know that Salisbury can do it because we did it last weekend. We have to play tough. We ended up losing that first game. In the second game in the fifth inning it was 7-2 and they came back a little in the seventh inning but we ended up winning by one. It was indescribable. We all fought hard; everyone had nagging injuries. It was amazing how we came together and everyone contributed.”

Playing at No. 11 Messiah in the Super Regional, Blake came within one win of achieving her dream of playing in a College World Series as Haverford fell 3-1 in the decisive third game of the best-of-three competition.

“You go into the game and it was if we win this game we are going to the World Series,” said Blake.

“It is funny, it was probably one of the first times where it sunk in on us where we actually were. We have never made it past regionals so we made history this season. It was really exciting.”

While Haverford fell short of getting to the final eight, it was an exciting season for Blake as she batted .331 and was named as an honorable mention All-Centennial Conference selection.

“I think even as a freshman on a team of 11, you know you are going to have to contribute,” said Blake, who started all 50 games for the Fords, contributing 51 hits with team-highs in runs (33) and doubles (10) as the squad posted a final record of 28-22.

“We really developed as a team over the season and I felt supported by all of my team. Emerging not only as a player but as a leader was really important for me; everyone was so supportive on the team that anyone could be a leader at any points. It is really big for me, feeling like I was an important asset to the team and I could really inspire my teammates like they inspired me.”

Off the field, Blake was inspired by Haverford’s range of activities. “I have gotten involved in so many different things which is so great,” said Blake.

“I was on student council this year, I was the freshman representative. Next year, I am going to be the vice president of the student council. I work on a lot of panels with a lot of different political groups because I am majoring in political science. That is the thing I love about Haverford, you can get involved in so much. That is the thing about college, you are supposed to dip your toes in a lot of different things and I have really gotten to do that at Haverford.”

Having enjoyed great success on the diamond this spring, Blake is looking forward to helping Haverford take the next step.

“The other freshmen on the team are my best friends and we were reflecting on the season and we have big goals for next season now,” said Blake, who is coaching and training with the Finch’s Aces this summer as she prepares for her sophomore campaign.

“We know what it feels like to be one game away from the World Series; it has totally renewed our love for softball and for our team. Haverford is a place where you can find your own identity. You are not a sophomore or a junior, you are a student on the softball team. My experience with softball is a refection of what Haverford stands for because it was such an amazing opportunity.”