COLCHESTER, Vt. – After weather forecasts and field conditions forced reschedules and venue changes heading into the weekend, the Merrimack softball team remained focused, and that proved true Sunday, as the Warriors swept a Northeast-10 Conference tripleheader against Saint Michael's College at Doc Jacobs Field to up their season-best winning streak to five games.
Instead of playing four games over two days as originally scheduled for the weekend, the Warriors (13-14, 6-2 NE-10 Division) were instead forced to play a three-game set over the course of a busy Sunday up in Vermont.
Undeterred by the marathon in front of them, Merrimack was all business, edging the host Purple Knights (0-27) in a two-run (2-0) and then one-run (4-3) game, respectively, before outslugging the home side in a 10-6 victory to wrap up the day.
"It's always tough to beat a team three times, let alone in one day," head coach Jim Cardello noted afterward. "Saint Mike's was fighting for their first win and our girls help up strong for three games today. I'm extremely proud of their effort."
Merrimack tacked on a single run in the third and the fifth, and that was enough for senior Kelli Jo Deardorff (Bedford, Mass.), who tossed a complete game shutout while benefitting from a 10-strikeout, 1-walk performance to help the Warriors take game one, 2-0, over the Purple Knights.
Deardorff dominated the hosts en route to improving to 5-5 on the year, while Saint Mike's starter Stephanie Frank (0-8) took the loss after giving up both earned runs on seven hits.
Two different Warriors posted two-hit games, as senior Tawny Palmieri (Peabody, Mass.) and sophomore Lindsay Gibbs (Acton, Mass.) led the way on offense, with the former driving in both of Merrimack's runs.
After two scoreless frames, Palmieri gave the Warriors a 1-0 lead after singling through the box to score junior Jessica Fugazzotto (Newton, Mass.), and then in the fifth it was Palmieri again with a single up the middle to drive in Fugazzotto, as the duo were responsible for the creation and scoring of Merrimack's lone two tallies of the contest.
The Warriors stranded five base runners in game one while finishing 2-for-4 in stolen bases. Gibbs recorded a pair of doubles for the visitors, while four different Warriors recorded a hit.
After falling behind by two runs early, Merrimack rallied back to tie the match in the fourth before a clutch two-run bomb by Gibbs – her second of the game – led the Warriors to a 4-3 victory in game two over the Purple Knights.
Gibbs accounted for two of Merrimack's three hits and totaled three RBI for the Warriors in the middle match, as her two-run jack to straightaway center in the top of the sixth completed the comeback from an early two-run deficit.
Pitching not far from her hometown, rookie Alexis Perry (Westford, Vt.) improved to 3-6 on the year after tossing 6 2/3 innings of three-run (two earned) ball. The righty finished with five strikeouts and two walks before Deardorff notched her first save of the year by recording the final out of the game.
Jessica Niles fell to 0-8 for the hosts after surrendering four runs (three earned) despite an eight-strikeout, two-walk performance. Sarah Murray led the Purple Knights' offense with two hits and two RBI, as well.
Saint Michael's hopped in front early, posting two runs in the bottom of the first to take a 2-0 lead after one. With runners at second and third with just one out, Murray put the hosts in front on a two-RBI single through the right side.
But Merrimack did not wait long to respond, as junior Nicole LoPilato (Medford, Mass.) scored Merrimack's first run of the game on a throwing error in the third before Gibbs' first homer – a solo shot to center – tied the match one inning later.
After a scoreless fifth, Gibbs came to the plate with the go-ahead run on base, and the sophomore catcher did not waste her opportunity, blasting her second homer of the game to deep center to put the Warriors up, 4-2.
Saint Mike's nearly completed a rally of their own in the bottom of the seventh, as the home side saw its first two batters of the inning single in consecutive trips to the plate. But Perry induced a pop-out double play before yielding an RBI single to make it a one-run game.
That, however, prompted Deardorff's entrance, and the senior promptly induced a game-ending groundout to seal the one-run win in game two.
Earning a one-run and two-run victory, respectively, in the previous two contests Sunday, Merrimack concluded the tripleheader sweep by outslugging the Purple Knights en route to a 10-6 victory in the finale at Doc Jacobs Field.
Each side combined for 21 hits (11-10 Merrimack), but the Warriors made the most of their opportunities when it mattered most, allowing the visitors to run up their winning streak to five by means of the three-game sweep.
Sophomore Valerie Bauer (Salem, N.H.) picked up the win in relief to improve to 3-2 on the season, tossing three effective innings while striking out five and walking two. Deardorff earned her second save of the day after pitching the final 1 2/3 frames, striking out three along the way.
Niles took the loss after yielding four runs (two earned) over 2 2/3 innings, while Frank and Lauren Mercik also saw time in the circle for the home side
After each side registered a run in the first – including another RBI for Gibbs on a sacrifice fly to center – Merrimack took a four-run lead with four runs in the top of the third.
LoPilato led things off with her first bomb of the year – a solo homer to left field – to give the Warriors a lead they'd never relinquish. Then, with two outs, Gibbs walked and junior Jaclyn Giovannini (Plano, Texas) reached on an error to put two on. That set the stage for Francher, who blasted her second home run of the year – a three-run bomb – to round out the four-run, two-hit frame.
Down, 5-1, Saint Mike's responded with two runs against senior starter Alie Thomas (Bedofrd, N.H.) in the bottom of the third, as the hosts sliced the deficit in half to pull to within 5-3 after three innings.
But the Warriors put up more crooked numbers in the top of the fourth, highlighted by a two-RBI triple off the bat of Palmieri, who would round out the inning by scoring on a wild pitch to give Merrimack an 8-3 advantage.
Saint Mike's would again fight back, plating two runs in the bottom of the sixth on a two-run double off the bat of Frank, but Bauer would strand the tying run at the plate to end the threat.
Merrimack tacked on two more insurance runs in the seventh, as sophomore Courtney Ulak (Rehoboth, Mass.) knocked in the final two tallies of the game on a base hit to center, accounting for the final margin of victory.
The Warriors continue their division slate with a Tuesday (April 16) home tilt against Stonehill. First pitch for the single-game afternoon showdown is slated for 3 p.m.