WINDSOR, Conn. – A star-studded sixth-inning surge propelled the third-seeded University of Saint Joseph (USJ) softball team to an 8-0 win by virtue of the mercy rule over sixth-seeded Norwich University (NOR), in a Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) Quarterfinal matchup Tuesday afternoon at Fastpitch Nation Park.
Senior pitcher and captain Alessandra Milardo (Plantsville, Conn.) was virtually unhittable in her fourth straight win in the circle, extending her consecutive scoreless innings streak to an incomparable 29 innings. In what was an incredible pitcher's duel through the first five innings, how ironic that it would be Milardo at the plate that would end up being the one to break the scoreless tie in the sixth with an RBI single. She ignited an unprecedented stretch in which the Blue Jays scored eight straight runs across a variety of clutch at-bats, all capped by a walk-off grand slam by senior first baseman and captain Amanda Thiel (Torrington, Conn.), her first career home run.
New to this year's GNAC Softball Tournament is a single-elimination format (similar to other GNAC sanctioned sports). The final two teams will play a best two-out-of-three series to determine the 2021 GNAC Softball Champion, hosted by the higher seeds throughout. Saint Joseph now advances to the semifinal round, where they will make the trip to Providence once more for a battle with the second-seed, Johnson & Wales University. The Blue Jays split their regular season doubleheader with the Wildcats back on April 22 (L 17-8, W 8-1).
PLAYER QUOTE [Alessandra Milardo on her success inside the circle]
"It's honestly my catcher, Megan Burke. We have great chemistry, and she knows exactly what I want to throw when I throw it. I am also trying to keep the ball moving up, down, and side-to-side…have to keep the hitters off balance, and Megan knows exactly how to do that."
PLAYER QUOTE [Amanda Thiel on her walk-off grand slam]
"It was basically the small things that kept fueling me throughout today. It was kind of slow in the early going, but once everything started to piece together, people were on, I was actually like 'wow, if I hit a home run here, it would end [the game]', and then I actually did that on a 3-2 pitch. I was really just trying to put the ball somewhere they weren't, and over the fence was just that."
COACH QUOTE [Jim McKinnon]
"We struggled early on to get hits, heck just to get baserunners…but we didn't lose our focus on the bench. We just had people coming up to bat, and we'd say 'we're going to break through, we're going to break through'. There was a lot of positive talk. These are the things that we need in clutch situations."
Score: Norwich 0, Saint Joseph 8 – 6 Innings
Location: Fastpitch Nation Park | Windsor, Conn.
Notes: GNAC Quarterfinal
- Saint Joseph last played Norwich in April 2018 (Blue Jays swept doubleheader, 4-1, 7-6). Former designated player and now assistant coach, McKenna Driscoll, went 6-for-6 in that doubleheader (4 RBI). Milardo was 3-for-6.
- The Blue Jays have now won their last five GNAC playoff games dating back to their title run in 2019.
- Junior center fielder Dara Kelly (Chesterfield, N.J.) hit .476 in the regular season (second in GNAC) for Norwich. She was 1-for-3 Tuesday afternoon (1B, K).
NUMBER TO KNOW
29 – Milardo upped her streak to 29 consecutive scoreless innings dating back to April 27. The senior sensation finished second in the GNAC in ERA (1.18) and third in strikeouts (65) during the regular season. Milardo's last 29 innings include just eight hits, no runs, no walks, and 45 strikeouts out of a possible 99 batters faced.
IN THE CIRCLE
- USJ – Milardo earned the win and improves to 5-3 on the season, allowing three hits in six innings of shutout work. She struck out six.
- NOR – Freshman Annika Beebe (Marianna, Fla.) was dynamite in her own right, holding Saint Joseph hitless until the tail end of the fifth inning. Her effort was admirable, with the final score not indicative of her location shown throughout the contest. She allowed eight runs (7 ER) on five hits in five and a third, striking out five in a losing effort (1-7).
The Blue Jays move on to the GNAC Semifinals, where they await second-seeded Johnson & Wales University. That game will be held on Thursday, May 6 at 4:00 p.m. at 'The SMAC', on the campus of JWU. The teams split a mid-season doubleheader on April 22. USJ defeated JWU in their last playoff meeting, a 3-2 win in the second round of the 2019 GNAC Tournament.
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