EASTON, Mass. – After the Merrimack softball team's bats came alive in an 8-0 victory in the doubleheader opener, the Warriors rallied to tie the game at 6-6 with two runs in the top of the fifth before the nightcap was called after five complete innings, resulting in a tie, giving the Warriors a 1-0-1 afternoon against the Skyhawks at Gartland Field.
Thanks to the victory in game one, the Warriors improve to 18-18-1 overall and see their Northeast-10 Conference Northeast Division record rise to 9-6-1. Now a full game ahead of the Skyhawks (21-22-1, 8-7-1 NE Div.), game two will officially count as a tie due to NE-10 bylaws stating that the third game of any season series - when tied after the game is considered "regulation" - will stand as a draw.
Powered by a three-run third, Merrimack hopped out to an early four-run advantage and senior Kelli Jo Deardorff (Bedford, Mass.) continued her string of recent dominance with another impressive performance to help the Warriors take game one against Stonehill, 8-0.
Merrimack's offense made the most of its opportunities, as senior Tawny Palmieri (Peabody, Mass.) finished the opener with a team-leading two-RBI, while six other Warriors finished with one hit apiece.
Deardorff, meanwhile, picked up another complete game victory, improving to 8-6 on the year in the process. The right-hander struck out two and limited Stonehill to seven hits over seven scoreless innings, besting her counterpart Megan Ruonavaara, who fell to 13-11 after yielding eight runs – five earned – over six-plus innings.
With Deardorff in cruise control in the circle, Merrimack's offense exploded for three runs – two earned – in the top of the third, highlighted by a two-RBI double off the bat of Palmieri. Before the inning had ended, Deardorff helped her own cause with a sacrifice fly, pushing the visitors in front, 3-0, after three.
An inning later, the Warriors garnered another run after junior Kelsey Francher (Weare, N.H.) led off the frame with a solo homer, upping the lead to 4-0. After a scoreless fifth, Merrimack struck again in the sixth, as senior Helen Gillis (Cape Elizabeth, Maine) led things off with a single to left and eventually scored in the midst of a rundown, sneaking in to score before the Stonehill defense recorded the final out of the inning moments later..
Stonehill finally managed to threaten in the bottom of the sixth, as Deardorff yielded singles to the first two batters, but the righty buckled down and induced a fly ball and an inning-ending double play to escape the jam unscathed.
Merrimack wrapped up the game with three insurance runs in the seventh; Palmieri led it off with a double to left and scored moments later on an infield single off the bat of junior Keaira Monet Perry (Bellingham, Mass.) before both Jaclyn Giovannini (Plano, Texas) and Francher drove in a run each, as well, leading the Warriors to an easy game one victory
In a game that was much more hotly contested than the opener, Merrimack fell behind by two runs early and rallied with two runs in the third and then again with two in the top of the fifth to force a 6-6 deadlock before the Warriors and Stonehill saw their nightcap called after five innings due to darkness.
Freshman Alexis Perry (Westford, Vt.) tossed five innings in relief after Deardorff struggled at the onset, as the former boasted seven strikeouts while yielding nine hits before the game was suspended. Nicole Eisenmann, meanwhile, lasted 3 1/3 innings for the host Skyhawks before Ruonavaara returned to the circle in the top of the fourth.
Both sides had amassed 11 hits apiece before the suspension came, as Stonehill saw a 3-1, first-inning lead evaporate in the third when the visitors went up, 4-3, with a two-spot. But the Skyhawks responded with a run to tie it before taking a 6-4 lead with two more in the sixth.
With darkness falling, Merrimack needed at least two runs to extend the game before potentially seeing the contest called after five innings; if the Warriors had been behind at the time, the final result would have handed Stonehill the victory. But both Francher and junior Nicole LoPilato (Medford, Mass.) came up with clutch RBI singles, driving in the two runs that ultimately proved to be the difference from a loss and a tie.
Palmieri led off the game with a solo homer in the top of the first before Stonehill responded with back-to-back solo homers in the bottom of the inning en route to a three-run first. Junior Jessica Fugazzotto (Newton, Mass.) made it a one-run with an RBI base knock in the second before sophomore Stephanie Lapierre (Berlin, Conn.) gave the Warriors a 4-3 lead with a two-run homer in the third.
The hosts answered with two in the bottom of the fourth but Merrimack had a prompt answer in the fifth, as Francher singled home Monet Perry to start before a LoPilato base hit brought home the tying run.
Merrimack will close out its season series with Bentley tomorrow (April 25) afternoon. First pitch from Waltham is slated for 3 p.m.