By Tim Ferrier
A beautiful spring day was the backdrop as the softball team split its home and conference opener on March 30 at the Herb and Joan Young Field against the Niagara Purple Eagles, with both games ending in a thriller.
Rider also lost a pair of games against Canisius on March 31 and its top offensive weapon.
Sophomore infielder Sam Ward led Rider in batting average and RBI with .333 and 10, respectively, following the Canisius series. After the series ended, Ward entered the transfer portal and left the team, according to Rider Athletics.
After tying game one with her two-run double in the bottom of the seventh, freshman infielder Gianna Epps scored the game-winning run on a walk-off double from the bat of junior outfielder Kelsey Merigliano to give Rider a 6-5 comeback win.
Entering the seventh, the Broncs found themselves down two runs, having trailed the entire game. A single by infielder Gabby Bram followed by a pinch-hit double from catcher Shelby Miller allowed both juniors to score on Epps’ late-game two base knock.
“Honestly, it’s not about the individual performance, it’s about the team performance,” said Ward. “[In] the first game, I feel like we were all on the same page.”
Head coach Davon Ortega praised the team’s ability to fight from behind.
“It was good. It was the first time that we actually came back and we fought as a team so I was happy with how we were swinging the bats,” said Ortega.
Game two saw the Broncs lose a heartbreaker in the final inning.
Freshman designated hitter Grace Stansfield’s third inning RBI double stood as the only score on either side.
When down to their last strike, Niagara’s Kendall Watkins sent a game-winning two run blast over the fence to give the Purple Eagles the win.
Despite a strong pitching performance from junior Elyse Cuttic, the Broncs did not muster up much offense to hold on at the end.
Ortega emphasized the need for Rider’s offense to get on track before games against Canisius.
“We have to hit the ball consistently. We can’t hit the ball, then not hit the ball. We can’t watch strikes go by. We have to start putting the ball in play a little bit more,” said Ortega.
Sunday’s doubleheader against MAAC rival Canisius did not go as planned for the Broncs as they dropped both games and fell to 3-23, 1-3 in conference play.
The Golden Griffins took a 4-0 lead in the first inning of game one and did not look back, defeating the Broncs 8-6.
Rider made a push in the game, though. The Golden Griffins’ scoring stalled after the third inning, which allowed the Broncs to make things interesting as they tacked on three runs in the bottom half of the frame.
Marigliano, Ward and freshman outfielder Lani Moreno drove in the three runs in the third. Two more runs were delivered in the seventh via a two-run single from Cuttic, but the comeback attempt concluded there.
Freshman Brooklyn Trujillo got the start but lasted just 0.2 innings and took the loss. Sophomore Debra Jones came on in relief to pitch the remainder of the game.
The loss in game two was even worse for the Broncs as they fell to Canisius in five innings in a 9-1 defeat.
Rider scored its only run in the bottom of the fifth as senior designated hitter Kiera Swank drove in Moreno on a two-out RBI single, giving Swank her first RBI of the year.
Cuttic started game two and was handed the loss, while junior Emily Oltman came on in relief to record the last out for the Broncs. Marigliano finished the day with two hits, an RBI and three runs to give herself a team lead of 11 on the year.
Rider’s next game is scheduled for April 3 at Princeton at 3 p.m.