By Stephen Neukam
The softball team won four straight games at home over the weekend, defeating Manhattan and St. Peter’s in two doubleheaders, which freshman baseman Payton Romines accredited to “saging the field.”
“It’s actually kind of funny,” said Romines. “The older players on the team said that there was a curse on the field. We saged it and then we came up with two sweeps, so that might have something to do with it.”
The curse she was referring to was the Broncs’ recent record after the team lost six straight games entering the weekend. The Rider bats came alive on April 14, defeating Manhattan, 8-1 and then 7-6. Most notably was a walk-off double for freshman infielder Melanie Wilkinson in game two. Rider collected 14 hits over the span of the two games. This offensive outburst comes after six straight games in which Rider failed to score over four runs.
“We talked about having that grit and a never-give-up attitude,” said Head Coach Davon Ortega. “We just have to fight and fight and fight no matter what. It seemed to work.”
The Broncs carried this mentality into the April 14 game, defeating St. Peter’s 5-4, and 7-3.
Rider led throughout game one, putting up four runs in the bottom of the second inning to take an early advantage. Sophomore Elyse Cuttic, the starting pitcher for the game, began the inning with a lead-off home run.
The Peacocks tied the game in the fifth inning, but Rider reclaimed the lead when sophomore outfielder Sabrina Torres delivered a pinch-hit single, which drove in what was ultimately the game-winning run in the bottom of the sixth.
Freshman Debra Jones picked up the win on the mound for the Broncs, pitching two and two-third innings of perfect relief and striking out two.
Rider came from behind in game two on April 14 after St. Peter’s opened with a 2-0 lead. Romines came up with an RBI in the bottom of the second to cut the Peacocks’ lead to 2-1.
Romines then tied the game at 3 with a two-run double in the bottom of the fourth, following a St. Peter’s home run in the third inning.
Rider then blew the game open with a four-run sixth inning. Freshman infielder Sam Ward drove in a run on a fielder’s choice, and junior catcher Kiera Swank cleared the loaded bases with a three-run single to right field.
The Broncs would then hold on to the lead. Sophomore Emily Oltman earned the win in game two, striking out six over four scoreless innings of relief.
Rider lost a pair of games to Wagner earlier in the week on April 11, dropping game one, 3-2, and game two, 10-5.
Senior outfielder Toni Niño had an impressive weekend in particular, picking up her 100th career hit. She is the second Bronc to reach the milestone this season, following fellow senior outfielder Monica Clark.
“Toni is, by far, a player every coach wishes they had,” said Ortega. “She’s just phenomenal. I can’t say enough good things about her. She has been a great leader for the team. She just takes care of everything and gets the job done.”
Niño’s praises were also sung by Romines, who said, “She’s the most consistent player on the team. She makes sure everyone is on their game. She’s just a great person to be around.”
Niño reached this mark during one of the best seasons played in the last decade by a Bronc. She has the fourth-most runs scored in the last ten years with 16 games left, after crossing the plate 33 times through 34 games. She has also been perfect on the basepaths, converting 7-for-7 stolen base attempts.
Romines picked up five hits and drove in five runs over the four games, bouncing back from a rough stretch over the past couple of weeks. Coming into the weekend, she had just two hits over the last six games.
“I just had to fix my mentality,” said Romines. “I was in my head for a few of the games before. [Volunteer Assistant] Coach Paul [Ortega] told me, ‘You’ve got this.’ I saw the ball better today than I felt like I did before.”
The resurgence of offense by the Broncs was happily welcomed as Rider prepares for a road trip with more MAAC action.
“I think we need to remember what we did in these games. We need to take that and ride the momentum. Our next few MAAC opponents are not going to take us lightly because they see that we are hitting the ball. We just need to be mentally tougher,” said Davon Ortega.
The wins place Rider seventh in the MAAC with a conference record of 5-5 and an overall record of 12-22.
Rider travels to sixth-place Fairfield on April 21 for a doubleheader beginning at 12 p.m.