Softball shocks Maryland, falls to NIU

Bryant downs Maryland, nearly nips NIU before falling in Day 1 split in USF Tournament

CLEARWATER, Fla. – Led by a 10-hit outing from its offense and a strong start from junior Jennifer Jacob (Deer Park, N.Y.), the Bryant University softball team stunned ACC foe Maryland, 6-4, before dropping a 7-6 decision to Northern Illinois during an impressive two-game stand in the Bulldogs' opening day at the USF Tournament in Clearwater, Fla.

Meeting for the first time in program history, the Bulldogs (3-9) jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the top of the first and Jacob managed to tame the Terapins (16-7) over the remainder of the game, as Maryland's five-game winning streak came to an end against the Black and Gold. The victory marks just the second win over an ACC school for Bryant after previously knocking off Boston College last season.

Facing a quick turnaround and going straight into the second game of the evening, the Bulldogs put on a display of their resiliency after the Huskies (12-10) grabbed a 5-0 lead through the first three innings. The Bulldogs tallied five runs in the top of the fifth to knot the game at 5-5 before Northern Illinois pulled away with two runs in the bottom of the sixth before eventually winning by a 7-6 margin.

Still, despite falling in the nightcap, Bryant played perhaps its strongest fundamental ball of the season, as the Bulldogs committed just three errors over the span of 13 innings in the field.

In a busy top of the first against the Terps, Bryant capitalized on two errors and used three hits to jump all over Maryland starter Kaitlyn Schmeisser. With a run already in, sophomore catcher Kendall Corder (Carmichael, Calif.) tapped a slow roller to second for an infield hit that also drove in a run, and in the next at-bat, rookie Madeline Velasquez (Los Angeles, Calif.) dropped a suicide squeeze bunt down to plate another run, giving the Bulldogs an early 3-0 lead. One more run would score on a wild pitch before the inning was over, as Jacob took to the circle with a four-run lead before her first pitch was thrown.

Facing a bases-loaded, one-out situation, Jacob induced a groundout to throw out the runner at the plate, but Lexi Carroll managed to score a run with an infield single in the next at-bat. But Jacob regrouped and retired the ensuing batter to escape from the jam with only one run surrendered, as the Bulldogs held a 4-1 lead over Maryland after the first inning.

After two scoreless innings, the Bulldogs padded their lead in the top of the fourth after sophomore Lauren Guy (La Habra, Calif.) led off the frame with a single to right. After Guy moved over to second on a sacrifice play, classmate Aubrey Mable (Aurora, Colo.) deposited a base hit into left field to put runners at the corners for fellow sophomore Amy Weinberg (Pleasant Valley, N.Y.), who tapped a roller down the first-base line, but hesitation from the Maryland infielder allowed Guy to slide in safely to home for the fifth Bryant run of the game.

Maryland countered that inning with a run of its own in the bottom of the fourth after Bree Hanafin – who finished the day 2-for-3 with three RBI – produced a two-RBI single to trim Bryant's lead to 5-3. After surrendering another single, Jacob ended the inning by inducing another groundout to retire the side.

Action picked up again in the sixth with both teams garnering a run each. For the Bulldogs, it was Corder coming up big with an RBI single to bring home senior Laura Bowen (Hudson, Mass.), who led off the inning with a leadoff walk. Down 6-3, Maryland's leadoff batter singled to put the Terps in good shape early in the inning. Jacob, however, forced back-to-back fielder's choices, and Mable and Bowen nearly ended the inning early after missing double-play opportunities by a hair. Maryland managed to score one, however, to make it a 6-4 game entering the seventh.

Bryant would go down in order in the top half of the inning, putting the pressure on the defense as Maryland looked to draw even in the bottom of the seventh. Carroll drilled a double to left center with one out to put the tying run at the plate, and after Jacob allowed a walk, Kelly Trimble came to the plate as a pinch hitter looking to provide some late heroics. Jacob, however, shut the door on the Terapins by inducing a popup to third to end the game.

Jacob picked up the win with two strikeouts while allowing six walks and nine hits. The junior faced 36 batters and tossed nearly 130 pitches and stranded 11 Maryland base runners.

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After changing fields quickly after the rousing win against Maryland, the Bulldogs were forced to start their scheduled game against Northern Illinois a few minutes later than scheduled. Neither team would score in the first, but the Huskies drove in three and two runs, respectively, in back-to-back innings off of junior Brittany Hart (North Andover, Mass.), to take a 5-0 lead into the fourth.

But the Bulldogs stormed back in the top of the fifth with a dramatic rally in which they amassed six hits – all of them singles. Junior Kate Murray (Fitchburg, Mass.) came to the plate as a pinch hitter to lead off the inning and singled up the middle to start the frame. Rookie catcher Karli Theleman (Lisle, N.Y.) reached on a bunt single in the next at-bat, but Murray was thrown out after over-running second base. After a walk, runners moved into scoring position by virtue of a passed ball, and Guy reached first on a fielder's choice to load the bases.

Staring at the first pitch she saw, Bowen nailed a single up the middle to start the rally, scoring the first Bulldog run of the game. Mable would follow suit with an RBI base hit to left, and after a popup it was Velasquez's turn with a huge two-RBI single to right center to make it 5-4. Junior Christina Eringis (Tewksbury, Mass.) tied the game up with a single through the left side, making it a new game heading into the sixth with both teams even at 5-all.

But the Huskies found a way to score a pair in the bottom of the sixth, forcing the Bulldogs to rally again in the top of the seventh. And they almost did just that, as the squad managed to score a run on a passed ball, giving Eringis a chance to tie or take the lead with a second-and-third, one-out situation at the plate. But the junior ripped a frozen rope to right that hung up long enough for the catch, and Northern Illinois was able to end it right there on a double play to retire the runner at second.

The potent NIU bats managed 14 hits in total against Hart, who faced 33 batters and did not allow a walk. Jessica Sturm picked up the win for the Huskies by virtue of a nine-hit, one-strikeout outing. Catcher Stephanie Tofft was strong for Northern Illinois, going 3-for-4 with two runs scored and an RBI for the Huskies.

The Bulldogs return to work tomorrow morning, taking on Canisius in the early game (11:15 a.m.) before facing Florida A&M at 6:15 p.m.

For continuing coverage of Bryant University softball, check back online at www.bryantbulldogs.com; also follow the Bulldogs on Twitter @BryantAthletics.

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