Matt Rogers, Co-Editor-in-chief
After senior shortstop Alysa Russell singled up the middle and stole second base, second baseman Nicole Rice stepped to the plate against Stevens Institute of Technology in the top of the eighth inning Friday during Utica College’s first game of a busy weekend.
Unfazed by the pressure, the freshman smacked a double to left center field to give the Pioneers an 8-7 lead. Fellow freshman Shannon Cool pitched a scoreless bottom of the inning as UC walked away with a hard-earned win.
That was just the first game.
UC went on to win the second game of that double-header, again in dramatic fashion, before falling twice on Sunday at Ithaca. The 2-2 conference weekend puts the Pioneers at 3-3 in conference play, good for fourth place in the league.
“Friday’s wins were two really big wins for us because coming into the game, Stevens thought it was going to be an easy game for them and that they would easily beat us like they did last year,” sophomore outfielder Dominique Soto, who hit a three-run home run in the first game, said. “But they completely underestimated us. We are a completely different team from last year.”
While game one against the Ducks was a high scoring game, the nightcap was a pitcher’s duel, as UC’s senior ace Abby Monroe gave up just one run over seven innings of work. But Stevens’ pitcher Christine LaRochelle was just as good, and the two teams went into the seventh inning tied up at one.
With two outs and two runners on, senior outfielder Cassie Smith ripped a single up the middle, scoring Russell as the Pioneers took a 2-1 lead.
Stevens made things interesting in the bottom of the seventh, as the Ducks had a runner on third with nobody out. However, Monroe calmly retired the final three batters in order, and the Pioneers came home from New Jersey with two massive conference wins.
“We were very happy with our two wins on Friday as they both were very important games to win,” sophomore first baseman Sabrina Stransky said. “They were close games but we showed what kind of team we are with playing our hardest and never giving up.”
The Pioneers came back and practiced Saturday in preparation for two games on the road at Ithaca on Sunday.
While the game was played with temperatures hovering around 35 degrees, the Bomber bats were red-hot from the start. They scored early and often, taking a 9-5 lead into the seventh inning.
UC did not give up, as the Pioneers collected three runs on four hits in the seventh. Unfortunately for UC, it was too little, too late, as Ithaca held on for the 9-8 win. Stransky led the way with three hits and four RBIs.
UC looked to bounce back in the second game with Monroe on the mound. The Pioneers jumped out to a 3-1 lead, but the Bombers scored five runs over the middle innings to cruise to a 6-3 win. The win improved Ithaca to 4-0 in conference play, while UC dropped to 3-3.
Stransky was again the star, as she went 2-for-3 in defeat. Smith added a home run in the third inning for the Pioneers.
“The difference between the two games were the little things that happened during the game,” Soto said. “We just had a couple mistakes that they capitalized on that helped them pull forward in the game.”
As the Empire 8 Conference race heats up, it appears that five teams will be fighting for the highly-coveted four playoff spots.
UC will look to bounce back from Sunday’s losses with a pair of crucial series against Alfred and Houghton. Alfred sits at 5-1 in league play, and that double-header is set to begin at 3:30 on Friday at UC’s Greenman Field.
Saturday’s double-header against Houghton, who is winless in league play, is set to start at 1 p.m.
“Alfred and Houghton this weekend are extremely important games to us because they are conference games,” Russell said. “Obviously our goal is to go to the Empire 8 tournament but in order to do that, we need to sweep both teams.”
Featured image; Senior Alysa Russell went 9-for-17 this past weekend, raising her overall batting average to .325 on the season. The Pioneers swept Stevens before losing both games against Ithaca. Photo by ucpioneers.com.