Pitching Guides Morgan State Softball To Historic 31-Win Season, Regular-Season Title

Euphoria and long-awaited relief: that was the feeling around Morgan State softball after the Bears won their first-ever MEAC tournament championship in 2021.

Morgan State accomplished two things at once, clinching its first tournament title and first-ever berth in the NCAA Tournament. While the Bears bowed out during regionals, they were hungry to repeat their success. Morgan ended up setting program records in 2022, winning 31 games overall and 18 in the MEAC, and won the conference regular-season title.

The Bears came just short of reaching the NCAA Tournament, as Howard defeated Morgan twice on May 14 to earn the conference’s automatic bid. But that doesn’t diminish the accomplishments of this Bears team, which were plentiful to say the least.

“Everyone’s done a great job at excelling in the role they’re given,” junior pitcher/third baseman Melissa Paz said prior to the MEAC tournament. “They take advantage of the opportunity and give it their all on the field.”

Paz was one of the anchors of the Morgan State pitching staff, one that carried the team to a regular-season title. She is currently 10th among qualified pitchers in the country in ERA (1.15). Paz gave up just 10 earned runs, but her role was not that of a traditional starter.

While she could go the distance when needed, Paz mostly worked in relief and was as dominant as they come on a national scale.

“I always played relaxed,” said Paz, a native of Sylmar, Calif. “It doesn’t matter what the scenario is. My coach has full faith in me to come in and get outs, which I’ve done and been successful at.”

For as good as Paz was, she was arguably the second-best pitcher on the team. Her teammate, sophomore Anaya Hunte, was named the MEAC Pitcher of the Year. She ended the year with a 1.91 ERA in 117 innings (17 starts, 11 relief appearances).

The Central Connecticut State transfer led the MEAC in strikeouts (142) and batting average against (.199) and was third in wins (15), earned runs (32) and ERA. Hunte had eight complete games on the year, showing just how quickly she was able to settle in after transferring before the season.

“I was able to settle in very quickly,” said Hunte, a native of Burlington, N.J. “Everyone on the team is really friendly and welcoming and a lot of us on the team are newcomers, so that made it easier to gel. We were all coming in at the same time, so all of us learning the program at once made us closer.”

Hunte wasn’t the primary arm to start the year for Morgan State after coming in as a left fielder. However, head coach Larry Hineline soon had different ideas. The more Hunte took the circle, the more dominant she became. Hunte tossed a perfect game at Delaware State April 13, striking out 16 in the process.

Assistant coach Myron Vanterpool and Anaya Hunte celebrating Hunte's perfect game
Assistant coach Myron Vanterpool and Anaya Hunte celebrating Hunte’s perfect game.
(Photo Credit: Byron McFadden)

Once Hunte established her dominance on the mound, that opened the floodgates for the entire Bears pitching staff to follow her lead. Pitchers were able to settle into their roles, and a Morgan State program that prides itself on pitching turned into a national juggernaut in the circle.

“We’ve been able to work the pitching staff to maximize what they do best,” Hineline said. “If you want to equate success in softball to pitching, you can do that all day long because that’s how we got where we are.”

For as good as Morgan State was this season, the Bears came into MEAC play with a 7-8 overall record and started the season on a four-game losing streak. Six of those eight early-season losses, however, were within three runs and three were one-run losses.

No team wants to lose, but keeping games close on a consistent basis early on gave Morgan State a great deal of confidence as the season waned on.

“We know that we don’t have to get into a slugfest to beat somebody,” Hineline said. “We just have to get a few runs on the board and we have a real good chance of winning. It’s really helpful to know we have that stability.”

Heading into the MEAC tournament, Morgan State was confident it would head back to the NCAA Tournament, but Howard got the better of Morgan State on Championship Saturday to clinch the auto-bid for NCAA postseason play. The Bison forced a winner-take-all game by beating the Bears, 5-0, and then took the second game, 5-4.

But at the end of the day, Morgan set a standard for Bears softball moving forward. Morgan heads into the offseason with MEAC tournament and regular-season titles the past two years and aims to build on the success that it has had of late.

“With all of the new players that came in and the returning players on the roster, we’ve collectively put up numbers and broken records,” Paz said. “Everyone knows our name and moving forward, we know people are going to be afraid to play us.”

Photo Credit: Byron McFadden