By Trey Wright and Jake Tiger
Rider softball saw its best individual pitching performance in a decade with the program recording its first no-hitter in 10 years on April 2. It was part of a stretch on April 2 and April 4 that saw the Broncs jump out to a 3-1 start in conference play.
Entering Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) competition at 13-9, Rider softball passed its first conference test with flying colors, defeating the Fairfield Stags in a double-header on April 2, thanks to pitch-perfect performances on the mound.
The first game was off to a slow start for Rider getting its first player on base in the bottom of the third.
However, fielding and excellent pitching from sophomore Anna-Marie Groskritz kept Fairfield’s offense at bay tossing seven scoreless frames.
In the bottom of the eighth, senior shortstop Gianna Epps singled to center field followed by junior catcher Elena Gonzalez, knocking another ball to center field, ending the game in a 1-0 win for Rider.
The back half of the double header was much of the same on the bump, with sophomore pitcher Jessie Niegocki, being excellent. She set the tone in the top of the first with a strikeout and two popouts.
Rider’s offense clicked early in the batter’s box with Niegocki leading off with a double on the first pitch she saw.
Eight runs were scored in game two, with the mercy rule being called after four-and-a-half innings.
The support was more than enough for Niegocki, who struck out five batters and recorded the first no-hitter for the program in almost 10 years to the day, when Rachael Matreale threw one on April 7, 2012, against Saint Peter’s.
“I honestly didn’t even know it happened until it happened and they announced it at the end of the game,” said Niegocki on the no-hitter. “But it feels pretty good, especially to go from a relief role last year to filling more of a role this year.”
After the Diane Fulham ‘89 Bullpen was dedicated earlier before both games, it was only fitting that stellar pitching led the Broncs to victory, in honor of one of the all-time greats for Rider softball.
‘Just the way it falls sometimes’
While the Rider Broncs and Iona Gaels were ready for a long day of softball on April 4, they likely were not expecting a 19-inning battle of attrition.
Rider softball earned a hard fought 5-4 win after 10 innings in the first game of its doubleheader against Iona, before dropping the second game 7-4.
“We scored first, and I think we just got complacent because we typically score a lot of runs,” said Head Coach Davon Ortega. “I think we sat on our runs and we mentally just had a letdown.”
In game one of the doubleheader, the Broncs entered the top of the seventh with a 3-0 and a chance to seal the deal, but the Gaels ended up taking the lead thanks to a miraculous four-run rally off of sophomore pitcher Groskritz.
Fortunately for Rider, it was able to respond, as Gonzalez doubled to left-center field, allowing junior outfielder Amanda Cooper to score the equalizing run.
The Broncs later claimed victory in the 10th inning, after a perfect bunt by junior outfielder Alyssa Ansara brought freshman outfielder Kellie Ervin home.
The second game of Rider’s doubleheader told a similar story, with the Broncs claiming an early 3-1 lead behind stellar two-way play from sophomore pitcher Niegocki. Niegocki went 3-for-5 at the plate with an RBI.
However, just like the first game, Rider’s lead suddenly slipped through its fingers.
Iona tied the game at four after a three-run rally in the top of the sixth, sparked by a solo home run by Iona’s Jessica Chilcott.
“We did not make an adjustment offensively,” said Ortega. “We had every opportunity to win and we didn’t do that. They came out and they did.”
Another homer by the Gaels in the ninth gave them 6-4 lead and an eventual win.
“I think we just fell off defensively in both situations. [In the] first game, we still did enough to keep us in it, second game we didn’t,” said Niegocki. “That’s just the way it falls sometimes.”
Rider softball will look to get the ball rolling again on April 6 with another home doubleheader, this time taking on Drexel University.