BOSTON, Mass.— Behind the 11th complete game from the ace, junior pitcher Amaria Sharon (Tolland, Conn.), and a critical three-run fourth, the University of Saint Joseph (USJ) softball team held on to win another tremendous softball game against the four-time defending champion Johnson & Wales University (JWU), 3-2, in the second round of the Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) Tournament, on a crisp Thursday afternoon at Daly Field.
The Blue Jays (24-17) trailed 1-0 early, but broke through with three runs in the fourth to take the lead. Stellar fielding behind Sharon prevented any late game rallies. The Wildcats (21-20) lost their first game in this double elimination tournament. USJ picked up their first playoff win since 2016.
There was much anticipation for this pitcher's duel, as Sharon went head-to-head with junior pitcher Kristin Frost (Pearl City, Hawaii). Frost came into the playoffs second in the GNAC in ERA (2.03) and strikeouts (92). Sharon came in third in ERA (2.48) and tied for third in wins (10). Both delivered in the circle, with USJ getting the narrow one-run edge:
USJ - Amaria Sharon (11-5) - 7 IP, 6 H, 2 ER 4 K on 88 pitches (61 Strikes)
JWU- Kristin Frost (10-4) – 5.2 IP, 3 H, 3 ER, 3 K on 74 pitches (49 Strikes)
At the plate, senior shortstop Isabella Russo (Southington, Conn.) was 2-for-3 with a triple, single and an RBI. Senior third baseman Kara Klimaszewski (Naugatuck, Conn.) added a single, while sophomore right fielder Alessandra Milardo (Plantsville, Conn.) reached home on two errors, after slamming a ball to left center. Senior third baseman Meghan Gavin (Wallingford, Conn.) and Frost both went 1-for-3 with an RBI respectively for JWU.
The Wildcats struck first on an RBI double from Frost. After retiring the first three in order, Sharon looked to do the same in the second, serving up a nasty changeup for two quick strikeouts. JWU would score on a two-out rally though, as Frost brought a run home on a hard-hit ball to left with two strikes. 1-0 JWU. USJ did a great job getting the sure outs though, understanding the situation, and avoiding any more trouble.
Frost had a perfect game through three innings, but in the bottom of the fourth, the Blue Jays finally got it going with a single up the middle from Klimaszewski. Russo then ripped her first triple of the season, and it couldn't have come at a better time, falling into the right center field gap, scoring Klimaszewski, and tying the game at one.
After a pop out, Milardo came up and drilled a shot to left field. It was dropped, scoring Russo easily. Milardo made it to third safely, but the cut-off throw was missed, allowing Milardo to score. USJ took a commanding 3-1 lead, and stole the momentum.
The Wildcats showed the championship team that they are, cutting the gap in half on a single, and a pair of fielder's choices. Gavin got the latter to drive in the run. 3-2 USJ. Milardo closed the inning with a nice arm-extending catch in right field.
As great as Sharon was throughout, her teammates behind her made some huge plays down the stretch, particularly in the sixth inning. Russo started it with a great diving catch with her back to the ball in shallow left to get out one. Senior center fielder Morgan Skoly (Vernon, Conn.) showed her speed by racing to a fly ball in left center to get out two. A huge five-pitch inning from Sharon, backed by plays in the field, put USJ three outs from victory.
The Wildcats did all they could to find a way on base in the seventh, but Sharon was just too good. A pop out to third, a solid putout by Russo at short, and a second pop out to third capped a huge win for USJ softball in their quest for a second GNAC Championship. The victory advanced the Blue Jays into the winner's bracket against the top seed in the south division, Simmons University (SU).
USJ is now 1-0 in the double elimination GNAC Tournament. They play south division top-seed and tournament host Simmons (MA) at 7:00 p.m. on Daly Field.