By Hannah Newman and Carolo Pascale
With one victory against Canisius and two victories against Niagara on April 9 and 10, Rider softball reached 20 wins for the first time in a decade over the weekend.
‘That’s how we hit’
The Broncs opened a doubleheader vs. Canisius with a 4-2 loss in their first game but bounced back with a 5-4 walk-off win in their second game on April 9.
Rider junior outfielder Alyssa Ansara reached first on a bunt and advanced to third off a bunt from senior second base/shortstop Gianna Epps in the bottom of the third inning of game one.
In the top of the sixth, Canisius dominated the game with three runs but the Broncs snuck in one more in the bottom. Giese ended the bottom of the seventh inning with a 1-2-3 knockout.
“One of the things that we have been lacking for a few games is intensity. We did not come out intensely. We did not come out ready to beat them or take it from them,” said Head Coach Davon Ortega.
The Broncs went into game two of the series carrying the heat of the first game on their shoulders, while Cancisus took the lead with a score of 4-2 by the top of the seventh inning.
“It’s frustrating because I know what we are capable of doing and I know that we are in our heads and this is mental instead of seeing the ball and hitting it. It is hard to be a coach in that situation but I trust my kids and I know they will make the adjustments,” said Ortega.
By the bottom of the seventh inning third baseman Brianna Koonce, pitcher Jessie Niegocki and Epps loaded the bases to keep the winner unpredictable.
A line drive hit down to center field by outfielder Amanda Cooper gave the Broncs two runs. After the ball was bypassed by center fielder Christie McGee-Ross, Niegocki made her way across home plate from first for the winning run.
“It’s never a shock because that’s how we hit. That’s the type of team we are,” said Ortega.
Senior day domination
The second half of the back-to-back doubleheaders saw the Broncs take on the Niagara Purple Eagles on April 10. Rider defeated Niagara in both games of the series, first posting a shutout 5-0 victory, and then defeating the Purple Eagles again 3-1.
April 10 was also senior day for the Broncs. The program is graduating seniors first base/catcher Grace Stansfield, catcher Kaitlin Vazquez, pitcher Brooklyn Trujillo-Quintana, second base/shortstop Gianna Epps, outfielder Lani Moreno and junior utility Elena Gonzalez. Gonzalez will be graduating from Rider early, doing so in just three years.
“Four of the six are part of my first recruiting class,” said Ortega. “It’s really cool for them to be able to come full circle, where when they started and we couldn’t win any games when they got here as freshmen and now we are able to sweep conference opponents.”
For the first game, the Broncs went with their ace in sophomore pitcher Anna-Marie Groskritz.
In the third inning, the Broncs earned a 1-0 lead that was started by Ansara. She perfectly placed a bunt and was able to beat out the throw to first, which then allowed Cooper to knock a deep single into left field, sending her home for the lead.
The fifth inning is where the Broncs took over. It started with Cooper hitting another single into left field. Stansfield singled as well, which allowed Ansara to score off of an error, giving the Broncs a 2-0 lead. Rider continued the offense when both Moreno and junior catcher Chaela Crowder hit RBI singles to the left side, putting the Broncs up 5-0.
From there, the Broncs rode off the great pitching from Groskritz, who pitched her second complete game. She threw 103 pitches, just three shy of her 106 pitches just the day before.
“Coach Ortega has us practice all year round, always hitting the gym and conditioning,” said Groskritz. “We’ll do high pitch count days and just always be out working.”
Once the game concluded, the scoreboard showed a 5-0 Broncs win. Moreno went a perfect 3-for-3 at the plate and had two RBIs. Groskritz posted four strikeouts through seven innings of work and only allowed one hit.
The second game of the Niagara doubleheader started with the Broncs forcing another three-up, three-down top of the first, now with Trujillo-Quintana in the circle.
The hitting once again came quick and strong for the Broncs, with Stansfield sending an RBI single to the right side, giving the Broncs a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first. The hit was Stansfield’s 100th career hit as a Bronc.
“It just feels like I finally helped turn the program around, and it’s a big milestone for myself,” said Stansfield.
In the top of the second inning, Niagara had an infield hit but the Broncs made two throwing errors on the play, which led to Niagara tying the game at one run apiece.
“We get complacent,” said Ortega. “We don’t put it away. We get complacent and then our mental game goes to crap. You can print that.”
The bottom of the second was better for the Broncs, when Ansara hit an RBI single, giving Rider back the lead 2-1.
After that hit, it was a quiet game until the bottom of the sixth, when Vazquez hit an RBI single up the middle, giving the Broncs a 3-1 lead, which would ultimately be the final score.
Trujillo-Quintana also pitched a complete game for the Broncs, throwing just one short of 100 pitches, which included five strikeouts.
“I think the positive thing is pitching this weekend,” said Ortega. “But I think what we need to do is to take away what we need to work on to improve, and to continue on the road.”
The Broncs will go on the road to face Fairleigh Dickinson on April 13 and will be on the road for almost the entirety of their remaining games. They won’t return home until May 6, when they finish their season against Monmouth.