By Carolo Pascale and Luke Lombardi
The softball team found itself on the wrong side of a series sweep as the Broncs dropped all four of their games to Iona by no more than four runs, on April 17 and April 18.
The Broncs and Gaels’ first matchup was a close, extra-inning contest where Rider’s bats went quiet for the second half of the game.
Iona’s second-half defensive performance was anchored by starting pitcher Kara Zazzaro, who hurled all eight innings for the Gaels while amassing 13 strikeouts and allowing six hits.
In the top half of the third inning, Iona struck first on the scoreboard. Rider answered by scoring three runs of its own, including the first career home run for sophomore first baseman Caitlyn Danovich.
Rider did not score for the rest of the game, as Zazzaro’s performance allowed Iona to claw back to tie the game in the sixth inning. Neither team scored in the seventh, which brought the contest to extra innings, where the Gaels took advantage with a pair of eighth-inning runs to cement a 5-3 victory.
Despite the loss, Rider had a strong pitching performance from senior Debra Jones. She threw six innings, struck out seven batters, walked one and, like Zazzaro, gave up six hits and three earned runs.
The second game on Saturday was a heartbreaker for the Broncs.
Rider took a 2-0 lead in the first and began with a fantastic pitching performance from freshman Anna-Marie Groskritz. Through the fifth inning, she had only given up one hit, which came in the first inning.
However, Iona started the sixth frame with a two-run home run from Gaels catcher Jamie Sheeran.
“After the home run, I was pretty annoyed because it was only the second hit of the game, so that was definitely frustrating,” Groskritz said. “But I was kind of just like ‘OK, I guess I’ll get the next one, but then I got taken out so I didn’t really have time to do that.’”
Iona put up three more runs in the seventh and prevented a Rider comeback to win the game.
The win, however, was not without controversy.
Late in the fifth inning, Iona successfully challenged an illegal defensive replacement, citing that Rider did not properly re-enter a replacement after a Gaels groundout with the bases loaded. Because of the challenge, the at-bat was reset and on the next pitch, Sheeran hit a bases-clearing double to give Iona the game-winning lead.
April 18 was senior night for the Broncs. Graduate student outfielder Kelsey Marigliano, senior pitcher Debra Jones and senior third baseman Melanie Wilkinson were honored before the start of the game.
All three have played well this year for the Broncs and contributed in the first two games of the series against Iona.
In game three of the series, home runs dominated the day. Every single run in the game came from round-trippers.
However, Iona’s Zazzaro threw a second complete game, her second in two days, as she struck out seven Rider batters.
Iona took the lead in the game’s first at-bat when Gaels outfielder Jessica Chilcott hit a deep home run giving them a 1-0 lead.
In the fourth inning, Iona had a runner on as outfielder Emma Capuano hit a two-run homer and extended the Gaels lead to 3-0.
In the same inning, Rider got one back when Broncs junior outfielder Lani Moreno hit a home run that barely cleared the fence, making the score 3-1.
The Gaels extended their lead with another two-run home run by Sheeran in the seventh, finishing off the game with a final score of 5-1.
In the final game of the series, the Broncs needed a win to avoid a sweep.
Groskritz was called upon again for Rider and she pitched a complete game, giving up five runs and four hits while striking out four Gaels.
Iona came out swinging again in the top of the first as they took a 1-0 lead off a double into left field.
Rider came back in the bottom of the first, tying the game off a Moreno double making the score 1-1.
In the second inning, Iona scored four more runs, giving them a 5-1 lead, matching the final score from the previous game.
However, Rider scored more than one run in this game as it scored three runs to push the score to 5-4. The Broncs scored one in the third inning and two in the fifth as they tried to make a comeback.
Rider fell just short and couldn’t finish the comeback as Iona completed the sweep with a 5-4 win.
“This was a tough weekend for us. There were glimpses of good things happening. We just couldn’t put it together,” said Head Coach Davon Ortega. “We get to see what we’re made of now – we can either roll over or use this as motivation to step up through the rest of the season.”
After the sweep by Iona, the Broncs would go on to face Monmouth University on April 20 at home in a doubleheader.
The first game of an April 20 doubleheader against Monmouth was a fairly uneventful one in terms of scoring, but was a heavyweight bought in terms of pitching.
Jones pitched a complete game for the Broncs and Monmouth’s Alyssa Irons also pitched a complete game. Jones threw four strikeouts with fours hits against and Irons threw one strikeout with three hits against.
The only runs of the game came in the sixth inning when Monmouth first baseman Julia Thuer hit a double into center field, driving in two runs.
Those lone two runs were enough for Monmouth, as it defeated the Broncs with a final of 2-0, handing Rider its fifth loss in a row.
This game was a little bit more eventful than game five.
The scoring didn’t start until the fourth inning, where the Hawks took the lead from a Thuer double to bring home a run, giving them a 1-0 lead.
Monmouth added another run in the fifth after a walk sent a run home, making the score 2-0.
Rider got on the board when sophomore catcher Elena Gonzalez hit a single into left field sending a run home cutting the Monmouth lead to one, score 2-1.
On the very next at bat, Rider junior outfielder Lani Moreno hit a double to send Gonzalez and another run in to take the lead 3-2.
In the seventh inning, Thuer hit another double for Monmouth as they scored tying the game at 3-3.
Then in the bottom of the seventh, Gonzalez won the game for the Broncs in a walk-off home run making the final score 4-3, snapping a five game skid for Rider.
“It felt great, I’m glad I was able to help my team win, as I think it was due,” said Gonzalez. “I think that we just need to keep hitting and keep up our defense. We know what we are capable of, we know what we can do.”
The Broncs are scheduled to play Marist College on the road in another set of back-to-back doubleheaders on April 24 and April 25.