Most of Scranton University’s Landmark Conference opponents surely believed their rival had completed a nice regular season last week but would go fairly quietly in the conference tournament.
Hey, you couldn’t blame such a prognostication. Scranton had gone 1-5 in the regular season against the other three teams that qualified for the conference playoffs. And, Scranton softball had never won a Landmark Conference Tournament title to boot. There was no reason to assume form would not hold for another week and the Royals softball team would be free to focus on their final exams.
Scranton, guided by its captain Megan Zinn of Bridgewater, N.J., has had other ideas, including joining a post-season party at which it believed it belonged.
“I think we definitely caught the conference by surprise,” said Zinn, a former Finch’s Aces star, as she and her teammates prepared for Scranton’s biggest softball game since 1983. The Royals, who hadn’t reached the NCAA tournament since that season 36 years ago, face the nation’s No. 1 ranked Division III school, Virginia Wesleyan at 4:30 p.m. today (Friday) in an NCAA Region Tournament in Virginia Beach.
“I highly doubt anyone expected us to win the entire conference,” said Zinn.
Scranton went 4-1 in the Landmark Conference playoffs, winning three straight games the final day of the tournament to walk off with the championship trophy. Zinn, in the middle of one of the finest seasons at the plate in Scranton University history, went 7-for-16 (.437), scored five runs and drove in four in the tournament.
“Everyone from the starters to the bench wanted, more than anything, to win,” said Zinn. “I could say we strung hits together and that also greatly helped us in the tournament, but really, our attitude every inning of every game made the difference. It was the first time we played as a family. We had the most fun we’ve had all season and that is the main factor in our success.”
Scranton certainly wasn’t given any breaks in its regional placement or seeding. The Royals travel to Virginia Beach to oppose the host Virginia Wesleyan (40-3) on their home field. Virginia Wesleyan has won the past two Division III Softball championship. The four-team Region field opens 2 p.m. today when Manhattanville (40-2) faces Lynchburg (32-12).
“We are still on cloud nine from the weekend but we know we need to continue to play hard,” said Zinn. “We have been working all week on very specific aspects of our game and we are confident going into Friday.”
While the Scranton lineup has been prodigious of late, Zinn has been on a season-long tear. She set two school records already this season with her 71 hits and 22 doubles that rank No. 3 in the nation. Zinn is batting a staggering .473 in 45 games, primarily from the No. 3 spot in the Royals’ batting order. She has scored 51 runs and driven home 43. A very telling aspect of her game is her trademark aggressive approach at the plate. While she has only drawn 11 walks in 150 at bats, Zinn has been struck out a miniscule five times this season.
“I continue to work hard for the other 20 girls next to me in the dugout,” says Zinn. “We have an extremely young team and I knew I had to prove myself to them as a young captain. So much talent came into the program this year. They have all made me better everyday. I do everything I can for them.”
Zinn has reached base at a .500 clip and is slugging at a .647 pace for a gaudy 1.147 OPS while patrolling center field for the Royals.
“Our team needs to continue to string hits together, 1-through-9 in the lineup, to keep rolling Friday,” said Zinn. “If we continue to have fun and play our game, I know we can do this.”
Athletics are certainly just part of the college equation and Zinn has found what she calls “a second home” at Scranton. “I made the best decision of my life by choosing this school,” she says. “I have learned so much and have been given so many opportunities that I would have never gotten at other schools I was considering.”
Being a captain, Zinn says she is a voice for her team in the school’s athletic department. “Everyone in the athletic department has contributed to our success,” she says.
Zinn is studying special education and is in a five-year Masters program. “My professors have prepared me to confidently go out into the classroom and be an amazing teacher,” she says. “A year from now is still so far away. I plan to apply for jobs to keep my options open, just in case the fifth year isn’t my best option at that point.”
Zinn certainly is a grounded young woman as both an athlete and student. She will graduate in 2020 with a degree in early and primary education. “And I’ll have another Landmark Conference championship tee-shirt,” she promises.
But for now, Zinn is focused on the softball field this weekend where she and her Scranton teammates are looking to write some more Royals history.