CLERMONT, Fla. – The Merrimack softball team rallied from a run down in the top of the seventh to stun Kutztown, 4-3, before dropping an 8-0 decision in its second game of the day against Indiana (Pa.), as the Warriors settled for an afternoon doubleheader split to start their 10-game, five-day trip in Florida.
Picking up their first win of the season and the first win of first-year head coach Jim Cardello's coaching career, the Warriors improve to 1-3 on the season and will return to the diamond for three games tomorrow afternoon. Merrimack will face Indiana Tech., Shippensburg and Minnesota Duluth in an action-packed Friday in the Sunshine State.
"We played 13 great innings today against two very good teams," Cardello said afterward. "Pitching and defense are carrying us right now. Our infield defense - especially at short and third - has been fantastic, and our outfielders have made plenty of run-saving plays as well. We'll build on this and get right back to work and look for three wins tomorrow."
Down by a run with the tying run at third in the top of the seventh, senior Helen Gillis (Cape Elizabeth, Maine) connected for her first collegiate home run – a two-run blast – to propel the Warriors to a come-from-behind, 4-3 win over Kutztown to open up play in Florida.
After classmate Tawny Palmieri (Peabody, Mass.) kept Merrimack's hopes alive with a one-out triple to the right-center field gap, Gillis stepped to the plate looking to, at the least, tie the game.
But instead, the Cape Elizabeth, Maine, native left the yard, and that one-run cushion would be all that Merrimack would need to escape with a win over a Golden Bears squad that started the preseason ranked as high as third in the country.
Freshman pitcher Alexis Perry (Winchendon, Mass.) entered in the bottom of the seventh and worked around a single to retire the side and lock down the win for fellow reliever and senior Alie Thomas (Bedford, N.H.), who picked up the win after tossing a scoreless sixth.
Senior Kelli Jo Deardorff (Bedford, Mass.) started for the Warriors and lasted five innings while yielding three runs on 10 hits. The right-hander notched two strikeouts and issued a walk during her second start of the year.
Kutztown's Mary Kociencki tossed a complete game for the Golden Bears, striking out a career-high eight Merrimack batters while allowing all four earned runs.
Merrimack got things started with a two-out rally in the top of the second, as Deardorff tripled in a run to give the Warriors an early lead before junior Allison Berthiaume (Berkley, Mass.) scored her by means of an RBI single.
Ahead by two runs, Deardorff tossed a scoreless third before running into trouble in the bottom of the fourth. Kutztown managed to load the bases with nobody out before slicing the lead in half by means of a sacrifice fly. Deardorff, however, benefitted from a Kutztown base runner leaving early before striking out the final batter to end the inning.
Two innings later, the Golden Bears would tie the game and take the lead, as Colleen Smith led off the inning with a solo home run to draw Kutztown and Merrimack even at 2-2. Later in the frame, a single off the bat of Krista Schauder with two runners on allowed Kutztown to move ahead, 3-2, after six innings of play.
That would prompt Merrimack's late heroics, as Palmieri and Gillis came up with the key hits to power the Warriors' first win of the year.
After a pitcher's duel between Perry and Indiana (Pa.)'s Alexa Campbell lasted nearly six innings, it was the Crimson Hawks who finally broke through, using an eight-run top of the seventh while benefitting from two Merrimack errors to sink the Warriors, 8-0, in game two Thursday afternoon.
Through the first three innings, neither side would see a base runner advance farther than second before both teams finally crept into scoring position in the fourth.
In the top half of the inning, Stefanie McCoy put IUP into scoring position with a one-out double and moved to third on a wild pitch. But Perry buckled down, working around another walk and a first-and-third, two-out situation to keep the Crimson Hawks off the board.
Merrimack's best shot at scoring came in the bottom half of that same inning, as Palmieri drilled a leadoff double to left to start things off and eventually moved to third by virtue of a passed ball. But with the go-ahead run 60 feet away with less than two outs, Merrimack was unable to capitalize, as Campbell stymied the final two batters of the inning to keep it scoreless after four innings.
Perry worked out of trouble again in the top of the fifth with runners at second and third, but Campbell would do likewise in the bottom half of the frame. Following a scoreless sixth, IUP finally broke the game open, tallying seven hits – five against Perry – to chase the Warrior starter.
Both Thomas and sophomore Valerie Bauer (Salem, N.H.) would see action later in the inning, but by that point the game was out of reach for the Warriors, who mustered a hit but not much else in the bottom of the seventh to wrap things up.
In just her second collegiate start, Perry finished with 6-1/3 innings of work while yielding three unearned runs. The rookie struck out five and walked two over that span, while Campbell would go the distance for IUP, striking out five, walking none and issuing six hits during her outing.