By Carolo Pascale
The best start in Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) play in the softball team’s history belongs to the 2021 Rider Broncs.
Rider is sporting a 6-2 record, with senior pitcher Debra Jones throwing 16 strikeouts throughout back-to-back doubleheaders vs. Niagara University on March 26 and March 27.
In game one of the series, Rider got started in the first inning when junior outfielder Lani Moreno drove in the first run of the game after hitting a single, giving the Broncs a 1-0 lead.
Moreno went 2-for-4 hitting in the game and had four RBIs.
“Lani is one of our most consistent hitters. She has been since she stepped on campus a couple years ago,” Head Coach Davon Ortega said. “I think last weekend, she was a little bit off. She adjusted and it was more of a mental approach plus she was more aggressive.”
The Broncs continued to drive in runs in the second, scoring five runs and extending their lead to 6-0.
Scoring was limited from there, with Rider securing a 7-1 victory.
Niagara scored a single run in this game due in large part due to Jones, who threw eight strikeouts through six innings.
“This season feels just a little bit different because of the loss of last season and the fact that this is my senior year, ” said Jones looking back on her performance. “It all just serves as a reminder to give it everything you’ve got when you step on the field for both games and practice, in order to make this season really count.”
As for game two, it didn’t start as well as the first one for the Broncs, as the teams were tied 1-1 after two innings.
Niagara was very aggressive at the plate in the third, scoring three runs to take a 4-1 lead.
Rider, trying to mount a comeback, scored two runs in the fourth inning to make the score 4-3.
In the bottom of the fifth inning, junior catcher Grace Stansfield hit an RBI double, tying the game at four runs.
In the final inning, Stansfield came up to the plate with runners on first and third and a chance to win the game.
Stansfield proceeded to slap her second walk-off single of the season to win the game for the Broncs, 5-4.
“Grace has been training for this. She’s confident right now and she knows her role. She knows what her job is,” said Ortega. “She’s just been seeing the ball really well and she’s grown into that position where it’s almost like she enjoys the pressure of it.”
Game three of the series was a rather uneventful one in the scoring department.
There was no score until the fourth inning when graduate student outfielder Kelsey Marigliano brought home junior catcher Kaitlin Vazquez with a single to put the Broncs up 1-0.
Rider scored again in the bottom of the fourth when sophomore catcher Chaela Crowder hit a single to drive Marigliano home to put the Broncs up 2-0.
That was it for all of the scoring in the game, as the Broncs won with a final of 2-0.
Jones starred again, pitching a complete game with six strikeouts and only allowing five hits.
With the win, the Broncs had set the record for the best start in MAAC play in program history with a record of 6-1.
After once again holding down the mount for the Broncs, Jones talked about how the team has been successful throughout the team’s games so far.
“Fundamentally those things include a focus on the little things, as well as good execution and communication on the field,” said Jones. “But the thing that really stands out about this year’s team is the heart and passion we have for the game, because we know we have what it takes to prove a lot of people wrong this season.”
The final game of the series didn’t go the way the Broncs intended.
After tying the game in the first inning, Rider trailed 3-1 at the end of the third innig.
Rider couldn’t seem to figure it out on the mound, having to remove two struggling pitchers before trotting Jones back out in the fourth to calm the game down.
Jones, who had pitched a complete game in game three, pitched another three innings in this final game.
The Purple Eagles scored three runs in the game, leaving Lawrenceville with a 6-1 victory.
With a 6-2 record, Rider will face the 1-3 Siena Saints of Siena College in another back-to-back doubleheader series on Friday, April 2 and Saturday, April 3.