Softball clears 2011 win total with Rutgers victory

Rose Pitkin launches the ball in a recent Garnet game. (Julia Carleton/The Phoenix)

Prior to Tuesday’s games against Muhlenberg, the Swarthmore softball team’s last home contest occurred on Apr. 26, 2011 against rival Haverford. A split decision in that doubleheader left the team at 3-13 in the Centennial Conference and 7-23 overall. Since then, however, things have gone very differently for the Garnet, which surpassed last season’s win total before entering conference play after beating Rutgers-Newark 6-5 on Saturday in the second game of a doubleheader.

“We had talent last year, but we were never able to pull it all together,” pitcher and outfielder Kate Smayda ’13 explained. “Our chemistry on and off the field is incredible and it is allowing us to communicate and trust each other more. With this communication, we are able to make plays we never could last year and push each other harder than we have before.”

This newfound ability, which was clearly on display during 9-0 and 17-3 thrashings of Philadelphia Biblical on Mar. 20, kept the Garnet in close games during its recent 1-3 stretch.

On Thursday, the team was swept by the home-standing Widener Pride, who won narrow 3-0 and 9-8 (8 innings) victories.

In game one of the twin bill, the Pride managed only three hits against starting pitcher Melissa O’Connor ’14, who recorded seven strikeouts in six innings. Widener, however, mustered just enough offense to win, scoring all of its runs in the third, behind an RBI double by Jess Way and a two-run homer from Shelby Mackintosh.

On offense, the Garnet scattered five singles, three from infielder Jesslyn Lammerts ’14, throughout seven innings and left four runners on base.

In the second game, there was no shortage of runs as Swarthmore jumped out to a 4-0 lead after the first inning behind six of its sixteen hits in the game. Smayda led off the inning with a double and advanced to third base after a fielding error. A single from outfielder Nicole Aaron ’14 drove in Smayda and doubles by third baseman Rose Pitkin ’13 and shortstop Elizabeth Cushing ’12 brought in three more runs.

The Garnet scored one run each in the second and third innings and held a commanding 6-0 lead over Widener going into the bottom of the third. A three-run triple from Widener’s Casey Hargardon cut the lead in half, but the Garnet responded in the fourth, scoring two runs on three hits.

Entering the sixth, Swarthmore led 8-4 and the game looked well in hand with O’Connor on the mound in relief of starting pitcher Sarina Lowe ’14. The Pride, however, had other ideas and evened the score behind a two-out grand slam from Hargardon, who finished the game with an impressive seven runs batted in.

After a scoreless seventh, the game went into extra innings with Swarthmore batting first. Per International Softball Federation rules, Aaron was placed on second base and advanced to third by a single from Pitkin. She was stranded, however, after outs by Cushing and Chelsea Matzko ’15 ended the inning.

In the bottom half, a leadoff double from Widener ended the game in a quick and disappointing fashion as the Garnet fell 8-9.

“The Widener games were both tough losses,” said O’Connor. “We came out strong in the start of the second game and put some runs on the board, but Widener wasn’t ready to lose. They put up a strong fight until the very end and unfortunately, we weren’t able to come out on top.”

The team returned to action on Saturday, going on the road to face Rutgers-Newark in another doubleheader.

In the first game, the Garnet held a 1-0 lead into the fifth inning behind anRBI single from Danielle Seltzer ’13 and a strong performance from starting pitcher Matzko, who allowed only one hit in four innings.

In the fifth, however, the tide turned as Matzko walked two batters to start the inning and was replaced by Lowe. A wild pitch and three-RBI double scored four runners in the inning and left the Garnet in a 4-1 deficit from which they did not recover. The teams traded runs in the sixth and both left a runner in scoring position. Down by four in the final inning, Smayda hit a two-out double, but a fly out by Lammerts ended any hopes for a rally and continued the team’s three-game losing skid.

The second game started unfortunately for the Garnet, as it surrendered two unearned runs off of two hits and a fielding error. Although the team found itself in an early hole, it was able to refocus and battle back to avoid a sweep at the hands of Rutgers-Newark.

“As a team I think we focused on upping our intensity in the second game,” second baseman Laurie Sellers ’15 said. “We wanted Rutgers-Newark to feel like we were coming at them hard because we were, so we all made a conscious effort to be louder and more talkative to keep everyone completely focused on the game.”

The Garnet lessened the deficit with a run in the third and then exploded in the fifth inning with a four-hit, four-run outburst. A two-out single by Aaron scored Sellers and began a crucial rally that put the Garnet ahead.

After a single from Seltzer advanced Aaron to third, a timely triple from Pitkin and a throwing error from Rutgers-Newark, one of its six in the game, cleared the bases and earned the Garnet three more runs to close out the inning.

After holding the Scarlet Raiders scoreless in the bottom of the fifth, the Garnet added to its lead with another run from Sellers.

In the sixth, Rutgers-Newark showed signs of life, adding a run and cutting the lead to 6-3. Its rally continued in the seventh inning, after a walk and a single put two runners in scoring position with two outs.

A double to left-center drove in both runners and decreased the deficit to a tight 6-5, but the potential comeback was ended by an out on the next at-bat.

O’Connor picked up the complete-game win, her fourth of the season, behind four strike outs and three earned runs in seven innings.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Garnet opened Centennial Conference play against defending champion Muhlenberg. After dropping the first game by a score of 11-5, the Garnet lost 11-13 in the second.

The next games will be held on Mar. 29 at home against Cabrini.

The first pitch of the doubleheader is scheduled for 3:00 p.m.

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