BOSTON, Mass.— The University of Saint Joseph (USJ) softball team made a statement in the second round of the Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) Tournament, defeating the top seed in the south division (and tournament host) Simmons University (SU), 5-1, going 2-0 on Daly Field Thursday night.
The Blue Jays (25-17) scored two runs in the first and second inning, allowing junior pitcher Amaria Sharon (Tolland, Conn.), who pulled double-duty, to manage the game at her own pace. The Sharks (19-22), who dominated USJ in a doubleheader on Daly Field five days ago, were held to just one run for the first time since opening day on March 3. This is also the first time the Blue Jays have won both games to start the second round of the GNAC Tournament under 14-year head coach Jim McKinnon.
"It was a solid day all around; we had two-out hits, good defense, and of course, Amaria Sharon." McKinnon said.
Sharon did damage in the circle and at the plate, hitting 2-for-4 with two doubles, two runs and an RBI. Sophomore right fielder Alessandra Milardo (Plantsville, Conn.) was 3-for-4 with three singles and an RBI. Senior shortstop Isabella Russo (Southington, Conn.), and senior center fielder Morgan Skoly (Vernon, Conn.) added an RBI each. Senior first baseman Dom Ortiz (Lawrence, Mass.) had the sole RBI for the Sharks, a ground out which scored sophomore catcher Christie Bott (Seaford, N.Y.), who reached on a hard hit single.
Sharon, who threw a 90-plus pitch complete game an hour earlier, threw another gem (7 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 3 K) to win a team-high 12th game of the year (12-5). Freshman pitcher Maddie Castigliego (Bristol, R.I.), who had a phenomenal first year in her own right, took the loss (11-6), allowing four runs (3 ER) on four hits in one and a third.
Riding the wave of momentum from their game one victory against Johnson & Wales University (JWU), the Blue Jays put two runs on the board in the first inning. Sharon hit a lead-off double, and senior third baseman Kara Klimaszewski (Naugatuck, Conn.) followed it up with a walk. After a second walk from junior designated player McKenna Driscoll (Bristol, Conn.) loaded the bases, Milardo ripped a single down the left field line to score Sharon. With the bases loaded again, Skoly added an RBI ground out to second base to bring in run number two. 2-0 USJ.
One inning later, freshman left fielder Samantha Iannone (Wallingford, Conn.) led off with a monster double to right center. Sophomore second baseman Michelle Woodruff (Southington, Conn.), understanding Sharon was due up next (batting .431), and the value of every run in a playoff game, bunted Iannone to third. With one down, Sharon smacked a stand-up double to the left field wall to score Iannone. 3-0 USJ. The run ended the night early for Castigliego.
Two batters later, Russo reached on a two-out hit, this one a grounder to second, but she beat a high throw to score Sharon. Saint Joe's took a commanding 4-0 lead.
USJ added a fifth run in the top of the fourth. With Klimaszewski on third after a triple to center, Russo once again came up big with two outs, scoring Klimaszewski on a single. It would be all the Blue Jays would get, as sophomore relief pitcher Hailey Yabroudy (Amherst, N.H.) got out of jams unscathed in the fifth, sixth and seventh for SU.
The Sharks loaded the bases in the sixth, looking to take a huge chunk out of the lead, as they have done all year. It could have been much worse for the Blue Jays, who just like game one, relied on heads-up fielding to get the job done. After a lead-off walk, on a 3-2 pitch, Sharon stopped a liner heading straight for her glove, but it dropped. She picked it up and immediately got the sure out at second knowing Del Vacchio got a great jump to first. The Sharks then loaded the bases on a single and error on a throw to third, before scoring their first run on an Ortiz groundout. Klimaszewski again got the sure out at first. It helped minimize the damage, as Sharon struck out sophomore second baseman Marissa Santoro (Franklin, Mass.) looking, ending the rally at one run.
SU refused to quit from start to finish, but it was simply Sharon and the Blue Jays night, as a 1-2-3 seventh capped a 5-1 victory in game two, and a sweep of the second round.
McKinnon and his coaching staff are proud of what the team has accomplished, and wants them to enjoy every moment of it, from the highest of highs, to even the little things, like laughs on the team bus. There is still work to be done though.
"We're playing one game at a time. That is all we are doing. Our motto all year has been 'play anywhere, win anywhere.'"
USJ is now 2-0 in the double elimination GNAC Tournament. They will travel back to Boston Saturday, May 4, to play the top seed in the GNAC North, Emmanuel (MA) in the semifinals. First pitch is set for 10:00 a.m. on Daly Field.