SMITHFIELD, R.I. -- When Gabrielle Ermish (Pottstown, Pa.) was a junior in high school, like many juniors and seniors, she didn't know what college she wanted to go to. She knew that she wanted to play softball, and she knew that she wanted to do something in business. It wasn't until a conversation with a coach that Bryant fell on Ermish's radar.
"My travel coach helped me pick a bunch of business schools and he really wanted me to come to Bryant and take a look at the school," Ermish said. After visiting the campus for a clinic, Ermish said Bryant was absolutely the school for her. "Everything just fell into place from there. I fell in love with the campus, fell in love with the team here, I fell in love with the school in general, the environment it was in. I kept in touch with the coach and decided that Bryant was the place for me."
After arriving on campus in the fall of 2016, the Pennsylvania native quickly saw that there was a skill jump between high school and college softball. Being an All-State selection like Ermish was in Pennsylvania didn't automatically equate to success at the next level.
"The biggest jump was definitely the competition level," Ermish said. "You go from being good in high school to having to catch up to everyone in college. Everyone's older and more experienced."
Ermish felt the bumps early in the season. In her first seven pitching appearances, Ermish had an 8.20 ERA. It wasn't until a game versus Arizona, a team that advanced to a Super Regional final in 2016, that Ermish "caught up."
The freshman allowed just one run over four innings against the Wildcats, striking out two batters. In her next appearance versus Iona, Ermish threw the first complete-game shutout of her career over the Gaels. She struck out a season-best seven batters, allowing just five hits walking one in seven innings.
From the Arizona game on, Ermish had a 2.77 ERA over 91 innings (13 appearances). In that span, she struck out 51 batters and allowed just 80 hits.
In Northeast Conference play, she was one of the top players in the league. She went 7-3 against NEC opponents, posting a 2.02 ERA in 66 innings and racked up 35 strikeouts in conference play. Offensively, Ermish batted .268 with a home run and eight RBI and had a team-best four doubles against league opponents. Against Mount St. Mary's, Ermish threw all nine innings of an extra-inning Bryant victory. She allowed just five hits and one earned run, a performance that would help her lock down the NEC Rookie of the Week accolade.
Playing both ends – pitching and hitting – is something that Ermish enjoys. "I want to be the best pitcher I can be and I also want to be the best hitter I can be," Ermish said. "It's definitely something that I enjoy doing, but you do have to put in more time and effort outside of practice."
Last season, the Black and Gold finished 7-9 in conference play and missed the NEC Tournament by just two games. Fast forward to this year, as the fall exhibition schedule concludes, and Ermish says the Bulldogs are dedicated to getting to the tournament 2018.
"This year, we've set the standards high," Ermish said. "We're trying to look at where we were last season and push further. The fact that we didn't make the tournament last year, we're almost using it as motivation to get there this year. We want to be better than we were last year."
In 2018, Bryant plays Washington, Oregon, and Arizona – three teams that finished the 2017 season ranked in the Top 10 of the NFCA Coaches Poll. The Huskies and Ducks each qualified for the Women's College World Series, while Arizona won the Pac-12 Championship.
"We have a tough schedule," Ermish said. "But I think that we definitely benefit from playing bigger teams. When we play them, we can learn things from them and use it to benefit us. We can look and say, 'Hey this is what we need to improve.' We can figure out what we need to do so when we get into conference play, we'll be better than other teams in NEC play."
To do that, Ermish said the fall scrimmage schedule helped the team iron out some kinks. The Bulldogs are a young team: 15 of the 25 players on the 2018 roster are first or second year players, and eight of those players are freshmen. But, Ermish noted, the freshman came ready to play.
"The freshmen are all studs," Ermish said. "They came in and killed it. We also have a lot of good leaders on the team as far as upperclassmen go. Their definitely really helping us grow and catch up with them and get better as a team."
Ermish and the Bulldogs open up the 2018 campaign on Feb. 16 when the Black and Gold take on Colorado State and Arizona on the opening day of the 2018 Hillenbrand Invitational hosted by the Wildcats.