Sarah Cornell and Sophie Dandola don’t share a brain. They just sound like they do.
The Hofstra pitchers have a similar mindset when it comes to playing softball in the Northeast.
“I don’t think people expect big things from players from Long Island,” said Dandola, a freshman from Seaford. “They just expect average.”
However, the Pride (35-10, 15-2 Colonial Athletic Association) has been far from average this season, even if it has been a little under the radar.
“Most people don’t know us, but we’re playing at a high level,” said Cornell, a sophomore and former Clarke High School standout. “People aren’t expecting us to be good and all of the sudden this team comes out of nowhere and hits the [national] top 25 [poll].”
Actually, Hofstra is ranked No. 24 in the USA Today / National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) poll. The Pride were riding a 17-game win streak — until being swept Saturday at James Madison.
While Hofstra boasts seven seniors in a starting lineup that has amassed 57 home runs, the second most of any CAA team, as well as a great defense that has committed a CAA-low 29 errors, it’s a pair of underclassmen who lead the Pride.
Cornell is 21-5 with a 2.01 ERA. The two-time Newsday Softball Player of the Year has 205 strikeouts and 53 walks in 181 1⁄3 innings, and opponents are hitting just .188 against her. The 5-9 Cornell leads the CAA in wins and strikeouts, and is third in ERA.
Dandola is 14-5 with 10 complete games as well as a CAA-best four saves and a 1.57 ERA. The three-time Newsday second-team player has 61 strikeouts and 20 walks in 113 innings. The Pride tandem has totaled 266 strikeouts, a CAA best.
“They are so compatible because they are so dynamically different,” Hofstra coach Larissa Anderson said. “It’s so hard for hitters to make the adjustment, because they are on completely opposite ends of the spectrum.”
Cornell utilizes a rise pitch that batters struggle to hit, and the 5-10 Dandola uses a drop pitch that often makes hitters look, well, bad.
“They see me one game, and then they see her the other,” said Cornell, who was 17-12 with a 3.28 ERA last season. “They don’t know what’s coming at them.”
Dandola added: “It’s tough for them to adjust.”
Both pitchers have made their own adjustments this season: Dandola has made the leap from Nassau Class A to NCAA Division I, while Cornell has a better feel for the game and has become mentally tougher from a year ago, according to her coach.
“The biggest thing is her control. She was almost trying to be too perfect last season,” Anderson said about Cornell. “Mentally, she’s so much stronger from last year, and she won’t back down no matter who’s in the batter’s box.”
Dandola, a five-time CAA Rookie of the Week, displayed a similar toughness early this season, which caught the eye of her older teammate.
“I knew Sophie was good, but she just put me in awe,” said Cornell, who has won or shared three CAA Pitcher of the Week awards this season. “It was amazing seeing her pitch.”
Hofstra, ranked nationally for the first time since 2013, knows it will need two quality pitchers as it prepares for a postseason run.
“They both understand they can’t do it alone: Cornell can’t carry us the entire season and Sophie can’t carry us the entire season,” said Anderson, in her fourth season as head coach. “It’s important they have one another, because we need two number ones.”
Hofstra looks for its first CAA crown since 2015, also the last time the Pride reached the NCAA Tournament. There are CAA championship and NCAA Tournament signs that adorn the outfield at Hofstra’s Bill Edwards Stadium.
“I look at them [banners] every day and I can see how much the program has grown and what has been accomplished,” Dandola said. “I just hope that we see a banner this year and next year. I want to help us get more banners.”