By Jake Tiger
A rolling Rider softball squad hit a sudden speed bump, as it began a stretch of 20 consecutive road games and took losses in three of its four games over the weekend.
The Broncs had their five-game winning streak snapped when they split a doubleheader with Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) rival Quinnipiac on April 16 and dropped both matches against Lehigh on April 17.
Rider softball’s bustling home, Herb & Joan Young Field, will feel more like a ghost town in the coming weeks, as the team embarked on a grueling series of away games that does not see them playing a home game until May 6.
“Obviously everyone loves to be on their home field and I’m no different, but we had our fun at home. Now it’s time to take it to some teams on their own field,” sophomore pitcher Jessie Niegocki said.
The beginning of the trip did not go as planned, with the Broncs taking an uncharacteristic grouping of losses, one of them being an 11-3 defeat at the hands of Lehigh and the other two being frustrating one-run decisions.
“Right now we are struggling to close the door [on teams] but I have no doubt we’ll figure it out,” said Niegocki. “We just have to get back to the way we started the season, be aggressive, hit the ball hard, and the wins will follow.”
As of now, it’s unclear just how much the road trip contributed to the losses, but as the Broncs gradually accumulate hundreds of miles of wear in the coming weeks, it will be something worth considering.
“I don’t know if it’s necessarily the travel that factored into our play this weekend, but it’s always a challenge getting up early, getting off the bus and being ready to play,” said Niegocki. “At the end of the day, we just didn’t come out ready to play and Quinnipiac did. It’s just the way it works out sometimes and we have to figure out how to adjust. The same thing can happen whether you’re home or away.”
Hot hand, cold bat
Rider softball’s Easter weekend vacation also saw Niegocki put together a collection of perplexing performances, as her pitching and batting told completely different stories.
Niegocki remained supreme from the circle, helping the Broncs secure their only victory of the weekend with excellent pitching. In the win, she pitched seven innings and allowed just three hits and one run.
“My game is all about spin, and as long as I stick to that I think I’ll continue to be effective,” said Niegocki. “I try not to compare myself to other pitchers because we’re all so different. My goal is to just take it one pitch at a time, one batter at a time, and make every outing better than the last.”
While Niegocki feasted on opposing batters, she was simultaneously amid a brutal offensive famine. The Broncs’ leadoff hitter had just one hit in 13 at-bats across the four games, adding a frigid stain to an otherwise phenomenal season.
“Not to discredit their pitchers but I’d say it’s just one of those slumps, hopefully short-lived,” said Niegocki. “Sometimes you just can’t find a gap, but my plan is to just keep hitting the ball hard and it will fall eventually.”
Before the cold streak, Niegocki had never gone hitless in consecutive games. The sudden disappearance of Niegocki’s stability was a major reason for Rider’s unusual offensive shortcomings, only scoring four runs as a team in its crucial interconference doubleheader with Quinnipiac.
Though, even with the losses, the Broncs and their 7-3 conference record remain atop the MAAC despite a four-way tie for first, thanks to their league-best 23-15 overall record.
Rider softball will continue to slowly chip away at its 20-game road stretch with a doubleheader against Morgan State University on April 20.