Howard's MEAC Title Carries Great Significance For Bison
There have been many surprises this season on the road to the 2022 Women’s College World Series, and one of them was Howard’s breakout year. The Bison recently won their second MEAC title in program history, which landed them at Florida State in the Tallahassee Regional for the NCAA Tournament.
Although the Bison took two losses in Tallahassee that ended their season, their appearance in the regional was significant and a signal that the program has made some serious strides in recent years.
“Our theme for this year was the first dance...after Michael Jordan's documentary, The Last Dance,” said Howard head coach Tori Tyson, who just completed her fourth season at the program's helm. “And (winning the title) was always a focus of ours.”
This season proved there’s the potential for many more dances in Howard's future.
In this year's MEAC Tournament, the Bison left no doubt that they were there to take care of business. They defeated Morgan State twice on championship Saturday, which was highlighted by pitcher Analise De La Roca throwing a three-hit shutout.
“We were going to need Analise De La Roca against Morgan State,” Tyson said. “It didn't matter what she had done up until that moment. She was ready when her name was called.”
The pitcher threw 14 consecutive innings in the doubleheader, and Tyson calls it one of the best pitching performances she’s seen in her career. With this being De La Roca’s last year of NCAA eligibility, she was determined to write the ending that she wanted for her college softball career.
“There's just no sweeter feeling than that,” De La Roca said when discussing Howard winning the MEAC crown.
Howard finished off the winner-take-all contest with a 5-4 victory over Morgan State that gave them the title. The Bison scored the deciding run in the bottom of the sixth inning, and sealed the deal with a great defensive inning in the top of the seventh. Infielder Lealani Ricks recalls the last pitch of that inning as her favorite moment of the season.
“Last inning, runners on first and third, and Analise gets her on a strikeout,” Ricks said. “I was so excited.”
Ricks was a powerhouse in her own right for Howard, crossing the plate three times in the title-clinching game. Tyson recognized the second baseman as an unsung and vital hero of that contest.
“Any time a fire started, (Lealani) had something to do with it,” Tyson said. “She made a couple of huge plays I don't think people gave her credit for. She shifted middle on a pitch and made (the catch) just behind second base. She made the right decision at the right time.”
Tyson describes Ricks as the heart of the team, and that's on a team with a ton of heart.
“They're passionate,” Tyson said. “It's really an unreal feeling. I'm still kind of coming down.”
And the historic nature of Howard's title isn't lost on the Bison. For them, it's about more than just their own program. It's about showing the softball world what Historically Black Colleges and Universities can do.
“HBCUs can compete, HBCUs are good enough,” said senior Kalita Dennis. “We have big hearts and we can do this. It feels deserving.”