NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. – Guided by a strong start from senior Kelli Jo Deardorff (Bedford, Mass.) and a two-RBI performance by junior Ashley Perry (Winchendon, Mass.), the Merrimack softball team edged Saint Anselm, 5-4, in game one before dropping a slugfest, 13-8, in the late game, as the Warriors settled with a Sunday doubleheader split against the Hawks in Northeast-10 Conference Divisional action at the Warrior Softball Diamond.
Moving to 17-17 overall by virtue of the split, Merrimack enters the final week of the regular season sitting in fourth place in the Northeast Division with an 8-5 record. With nine games remaining – eight of them divisional – the Warriors still have room to move up from their fourth-place position in the standings, sitting one game back of Saint A's (17-18, 10-5 Division) for third and three games back of UMass Lowell for second.
Deardorff used a five-strikeout, four-hit performance over seven innings to limit the Saint A's bats and five early Merrimack runs prove to be the difference, as the Warriors held on to edge the Hawks, 5-4, in the opener Sunday.
Perry and classmate Nicole LoPilato (Medford, Mass.) each finished with two hits, with the former coming through with a game-deciding, two-RBI single in the bottom of the second to break a 3-3 tie and push the Warriors ahead in the early goings.
From there on out, the Hawks would manage just one more run against Deardorff, who finished with one earned run allowed to lock up her second victory of the weekend. Saint A's starter Tayla Trask fell to 8-11 after surrendering five runs – three earned – despite a 10-strikeout outing on the mound.
The Warriors jumped over all the Hawks with three runs in the bottom of the first, as Deardorff helped her own cause by scoring a run on a squeeze play to put the home side on top. After a second run came in on a passed ball, Deardorff then crossed the plate during a delayed steal, giving the Navy and Gold a 3-0 cushion after an inning.
After an error gave the Hawks extended life in the top of the second, Nicole Boucher tied the match on a three-run homer, but in the home half of the frame, Perry connected with runners at second and third, ripping a single up the middle with two outs to push the Warriors in front again, 5-3.
Both teams' pitchers locked in over the next two innings before Deardorff found herself in a jam in the top of the fifth. Julie LeClair deposited a base hit into right to score Boucher, allowing the Hawks to claw to within a run (5-4). But Deardorff buckled down and retired the final eight batters she faced to lock up the win in game one.
Both sides nearly combined for 30 hits over the course of game two, but Saint Anselm's offense was just a bit more potent than Merrimack's, as the Hawks outslugged the Warriors en route to a 13-8 victory in the late game to split the day's two-game set.
Saint Anselm scored at least one run in every at-bat, as the Hawks used a 16-hit game at the plate to barrel over the Warriors with an impressive offensive onslaught. Merrimack, meanwhile, had a decent game itself on offense, finishing with 13 hits in 34 at-bats (.382).
The top third of the Merrimack lineup finished 6-for-12, including a 3-for-4 outing from senior Tawny Palmieri (Peabody, Mass.), but the Hawks' No. 1 through No. 4 hitters went a combined 10-for-19 and generated eight runs of offense by themselves. Along with Palmieri, juniors Keaira Monet Perry (Bellingham, Mass.), Jaclyn Giovannini (Plano, Texas) and LoPilato each added two hits apiece, but the Warriors were outscored by an 8-2 margin over the last four innings en route to the defeat.
Freshman Alexis Perry (Westford, Vt.) allowed seven earned runs over 4 1/3 total innings while senior Alie Thomas (Medford, Mass.) was charged with the loss after yielding the deciding runs in the top of the fourth. Deardorff also totaled a third of an inning of relief. Saint A's starter Paige Cormier, meanwhile, improved to 9-7 after striking out four and walking one over seven innings.
After falling behind by a run early, Giovannini responded with a three-run bomb in the bottom of the first to push the Warriors ahead. Saint A's promptly responded to tie the contest at 3-all in the top of the second before Palmieri drove home two in the bottom half of the inning, giving Merrimack a 5-3 lead after two frames.
Right on cue, the Hawks again tied the game with a two-spot in the top of the third, but Merrimack again responded with a solo shot off the bat of LoPilato in the bottom of the third. In the fourth, however, the Hawks took a lead they would never relinquish, as LeClair managed to tie the game on an RBI groundout before an RBI single off the bat of Monique Gauthier moved the visitors ahead, 6-5.
Merrimack's bats, meanwhile, went silent during back-to-back innings, giving the Hawks a chance to capitalize. Saint Anselm added another run in the fifth and two more in the sixth to take a 10-6 lead before the Warriors mounted a rally in the sixth, highlighted by a solo shot from Ashley Perry and an RBI triple by Keaira Monet Perry.
But Cormier induced a lineout to second to end the threat, allowing the Saint A's offense to tack on three more insurance runs in the seventh to account for the final margin of victory.
The Warriors get right back at it Monday (April 22) with a makeup contest against UMass Lowell at the Warrior Softball Diamond. First pitch is slated for 4 p.m.