Dejection preceded perfection for junior pitcher Olivia Galati and Hofstra's softball team. A 2-11 start by the team blossomed into the most successful regular season in program history.
Galati (27-5) has won 25 straight and is tied for the best earned run average (0.95) in Division I.
Top-seeded Hofstra (35-13, 19-0), trying for its 13th bid to the NCAA Tournament, hosts Delaware (15-39-1) Thursday in the first round of the rain-delayed CAA Tournament. Georgia State (36-16) will meet James Madison (29-24) in the four-team, double- elimination tournament with the winner getting an automatic bid to the NCAAs.
"I've never seen a team so upset before,'' Galati said. "It was so heartbreaking. We knew we did have the ability to be the successful team that we've been practicing to be. Something clicked with us where we got out of our funk. We just broke out of it.''
Galati, the former St. John the Baptist High School star, led the comeback after she started 2-5. It reached fruition last Friday in a doubleheader against UNC-Wilmington. Galati, with six no-hitters in her career, fired a seven-inning perfect game. She followed that by throwing nine shutout innings and driving in the winning run in a 1-0 victory. Her pitching line for the twin bill: sixteen innings, no runs, six hits, 25 strikeouts, no walks.
"From one to 10, a 10 is a no-hitter,'' the 5-5 righthander and physical education major said. "Eleven is a perfect game. You can't describe the feeling. Growing up, my dad always taught me, never settle. No matter where you are in your athletic career you can always find something to make yourself better. If I settle for something, it's not going to be good enough for me. I always aim for perfection. It's my personality.''
For senior catcher Courtney Crews, Galati's perfect game was richly deserved.
"She's put a lot of work in,'' Crews said. "It was the first perfect game I was part of. I was excited, especially for her. It's a cool thing to have on your resume.''
Associate head coach Larissa Anderson said she knew Galati was in for a special evening when she saw her before warm-ups.
"She looked me in the eye,'' Anderson said. "You could just see she flipped a switch and said 'I got it.' We always try to find what can make her a better pitcher. Every year we've added another pitch to her repertoire. Last year we added a changeup, we've added a screwball, she's able to throw a rise at all different levels. Her mentality is really what keeps her in every game and makes her better. She knows single-handedly she can go out and shut down a team.''
With another season remaining, Galati, who has 82 career victories and 938 strikeouts, is closing in on Hofstra's all-time leaders (Stacy Jackson, 96) and (Kayleigh Lotti, 979).
Galati also is valuable with her bat. She leads the team in batting (.370) and doubles (11) and is second in runs batted in (34). When she was a freshman, her dad, Nick, recalled how his 6-year-old daughter once hit a ball over the roof of their house in West Babylon.
"She's probably the best athlete on the team yet you would never know it,'' coach Bill Edwards said. "She doesn't portray that, she wants to be a pitcher and a hitter, she fulfills those two roles magnificently through maturity, hard work, through knowing who she is and what she's capable of doing.''
Seeing what his team has achieved, Edwards wants another shot at those early-season opponents.
"Our reputation around the country is yes, we're going to struggle early, but nobody wants to play us late,'' he said. "I'd like to go back and play those games again now, I think we're in a great mode.''
Hofstra may get that opportunity in the NCAA Tournament.