Russell heats up, leads UC to conference sweep

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Matt Rogers, Co-Editor-in-chief

Sitting at 3-3 in Empire 8 play heading into the weekend, the Utica College softball team knew it needed to take care of business to keep hopes of advancing to the conference tournament alive.

The Pioneers did just that, sweeping conference foes Alfred and Houghton to cap a 4-0 weekend and surge up to third place in the Empire 8 standings.

“Lately our hitting has started to come alive,” senior pitcher Abby Monroe said. “That gave us an opportunity to win all four games and will give us confidence in the future.”

Sophomore Brittany Meka pitched a gem in Friday’s first game against Alfred, allowing just one run on five hits as she earned the complete game victory.

But it wasn’t until the bottom of the fifth that the Pioneers’ bats woke up. And when they did, UC was able to break the game open.

Senior standout Alysa Russell started the rally with a double to left. Nicole Rice, Stephanie Siriano, Kassidy Ogren, Sabrina Stransky and Kimberly Beattie all followed with singles as the Pioneers scored four runs in the inning.

That was all UC would need, and the Pioneers looked to Monroe to shut down the Saxons in the second day of the game to earn the sweep.

Monroe delivered, allowing just three hits over 6.1 innings. She struck out seven, while giving up just one run.

It was Russell again who got the Pioneers going in game two, as she led off the bottom of the first inning with her third home run of the season. UC was able to tack on another run later in the inning as Stransky singled home Rice.

Alfred was held scoreless until the sixth inning, when the Saxons got on the board, cutting the UC lead to 2-1.

Upset about giving up the run, Monroe helped her own cause in the bottom of the inning, smacking an RBI double that scored Stransky to give the Pioneers a 3-1 lead and an important insurance run.

UC retired the Alfred lineup in order in the seventh, and the Pioneers walked away with a crucial sweep over the Saxons, who came into the day with just one conference loss.

“The two wins against Alfred were huge for our team,” Monroe said. “I think it made us realize that we are able to compete against the other top teams in the conference.”

While Friday’s wins represented a huge step in the Pioneers quest to qualify for the conference tournament, they had to remain focused as they hosted league bottom-feeder Houghton, who came into Saturday’s action nursing a 16-game losing streak.

UC put to rest any fears they might look past the Highlanders early. The Pioneers scored nine runs over the first two innings, and cruised to a 12-2 win. The game was called after five innings due to the fact the Pioneers were up by ten runs.

Russell and Soto both went a perfect 3-for-3 from the plate. Siriano, Stransky, Beattie and Cassie Smith all added RBIs in the rout. Meka picked up her sixth win on the season, allowing just three hits.

The second game saw Russell work her way up the college’s all-time records list. The senior blasted a leadoff home run for the second day in a row. As part of her 6-for-6 day, she moved into second place on the college’s all-time list with 22 career home runs. She also set the single season record for stolen bases in a season, with 20.

UC cruised to a 9-1 win, and improved to 9-3 in conference play.

The Pioneers will look to solidify their status as conference contenders this weekend, as they host Elmira Saturday. It will be the final regular season home game for seniors. The doubleheader is set to begin at 1 p.m. at Greenman Field.

“We just need to make sure we work together as a team and stay motivated,” Monroe said. “We cannot take any team lightly and every win is important from here on out, so we need to make sure we work hard and stay focused.”

Featured image; Sophomore Brittany Meka picked up her sixth and seventh wins of the season over the weekend as the Pioneers swept both Houghton and Alfred. Photo by Jeff Pexton.

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