BOSTON, Mass.— Behind another solid all-around performance on the mound and in the field, the University of Saint Joseph (USJ) softball team defeated the top-seed in the GNAC North, Emmanuel College (EC), 5-3, advancing to the Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) Championship, on a crisp but comfortable Saturday morning at Daly Field.
The Blue Jays (26-17), the number two seed in the south, are now 3-0 in the GNAC Softball Tournament, and automatically advance to the championship game. It is their second GNAC Championship game appearance, the first since they won it all in 2000.
The Saints (25-13) are 1-1 in this double elimination tournament, and await the winner of Saint Joseph's College (SJC) and Simmons University (SU). The winner of that game will face USJ in the finals.
It was once again a battle of the best in the circle, as the Saints' ace, senior pitcher Megan Kieselback (Wethersfield, Conn.) who led the GNAC in ERA (1.99), wins (11), and strikeouts (109), dueled it out with junior pitcher Amaria Sharon (Tolland, Conn.), who was third in ERA (2.48), and tied for third in wins (10). Sharon shook the seats in the Blue Jay dugout with a three-run homerun to left field. She then delivered in the circle, throwing a 90-pitch complete game in route to victory. This is Kieselback's first loss since March 30, snapping an 11-game win streak:
Amaria Sharon (W, 13-5) 7 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 5 K on 94 pitches (72 strikes)
Megan Kieselback (L, 12-6) 1.1 IP, 6 H, 5 R (4 ER) on 27 pitches (18 strikes)
The Blue Jays had several contributions at the plate. Senior third baseman Kara Klimaszewski (Naugatuck, Conn.), and sophomore second baseman Michelle Woodruff (Southington, Conn.) both added an RBI single and a stolen base, while senior center fielder Morgan Skoly (Vernon, Conn.), and sophomore first baseman Amanda Thiel (Torrington, Conn.) hit a single each. Junior designated player McKenna Driscoll (Bristol, Conn.) finished 2-for-3 with two singles.
Senior shortstop Audrey Esakoff (Ventura, Calif.) and junior second baseman Kerry Sendrick (Medway, Mass.) were 2-for-3 with an RBI. Junior right fielder Yuleska Ramirez-Tejeda (South Boston, Mass.) added an RBI triple for EC.
The Blue Jays, who were swept by Emmanuel in a doubleheader on March 31, took lessons learned from that day, and found a way to get ahead early. Sharon kicked things off by ripping a liner to left, which snuck past senior left fielder Olivia Burgos (Newington, Conn.). Sharon then hustled all the way to third. Klimaszewski added a blooper just over Esakoff's reaching glove to score Sharon. 1-0 USJ.
Sharon had a perfect game going through three innings, thanks to an on-point changeup, and some all-out fielding. Freshman catcher Lindsey O'Bright (New Britain, Conn.) capped the second inning with a diving catch on a short popup down the first base line. Skoly showed quick feet in center, as she snagged a ball on the run in the third. Sharon whiffed several batters in between.
USJ did its damage in the bottom of the second. Skoly led off with a bunt single, beating a close throw to first. Thiel followed with a single to center. With runners on first and second, USJ once again showed their discipline at the plate, as freshman left fielder Samantha Iannone (Wallingford, Conn.) hit a sacrifice bunt to advance the runners. With two down, Woodruff stepped in with full confidence, as she smacked a single through the right side to give the Blue Jays a 2-0 lead. With runners on second and third after a Woodruff steal, Sharon blasted a 1-1 pitch to left field. It was her third homerun of the season, and her first career postseason bomb. The three-run blast ended Kieselback's day early. 5-0 USJ.
Sophomore pitcher Mikaela Montemagni (Chicopee, Mass.) was strong in relief for the Saints, avoiding any trouble the rest of the way. The Blue Jays had just two hits against Montemagni in four and two thirds. She also struck out one.
Burgos broke Sharon's perfect game with a double to lead off the fourth, as the Saints tried to get the comeback underway. A sacrifice fly from freshman third baseman Renae Lacroix (Cumberland, R.I.) moved Burgos to third. Sophomore right fielder Alessandra Milardo (Plantsville, Conn.) hustled in for a catch to get out one. Sharon then got a big strikeout on the changeup to get two away, but a Sendrick double to center field drove in the first run for EC. 5-1 USJ after four.
One by one, Sharon continued to retire the side. With three outs to go, the Saints launched their final attack. Sendrick hit a leadoff single. After Russo snagged an out in foul territory, a fielder's choice made it two outs and a runner still at first. All seemed well until Ramirez-Tejeda hit a two-strike triple, driving in a run. Esakoff then added a bloop single to make it 5-3. The Saints refused to go away, but Sharon took a few deep breaths, and forced a popout on the infield to seal the deal. USJ is now one win away from GNAC supremacy.
USJ is headed to the GNAC Championship game, scheduled for 5:30 p.m on Daly Field. They will play the winner of the two early afternoon loser's bracket games.