The Shepherd Rams softball team (12-6, 5-3 MEC) had a setback performance offensively in its home double-header losses to the Notre Dame College Falcons (8-13, 4-4 MEC) on Monday afternoon, March 26, in Shepherdstown West Virginia. In game one, the Rams fell by a 3-1 score to the Falcons. Game two did not fair much better for the Rams, as they fell again to the Falcons, this time by a 4-3 score.
Shepherd was not able to record its’ first hit until the bottom of the fourth inning with a double by sophomore third baseman Allison Baker. The Rams were only able to register six hits in the entire game off of Falcons starting pitcher McKenzie Zigmont (W, 3-2), who earned the win by pitching all seven innings, allowing just one hit, and striking out six Rams in the first game of the day.
Rams senior starting pitcher Kaitlin Munda did her part to match Zigmont’s stellar performance with a solid showing of her own. Munda tamed the Falcons’ offense through the first three innings of play, allowing only one hit through three innings of play.
Everything unfolded terribly for Munda and the Rams in the top of the fourth inning, however, as two devastating errors would go on to cripple the Rams’ chances in the opening game of the day.
Freshman right fielder Kim Crookston hit a ground ball that Munda fielded. Munda could not made an errant throw, as did junior first baseman Connor Gilligan, that allowed Crookston to get all the way to third base on the play. In the process, junior second baseman Shelby Stephens and left fielder Katelyn Rheude scored two unearned runs on the play, giving the Falcons a 2-0 lead.
Later on in what turned out to a disastrous top of the fourth inning for the Rams, Munda threw a wild pitch that provided Crookston sufficient time to steal home plate, giving the Falcons a 3-0 lead in the process.
All three runs the Falcons scored were unearned runs. On a day where the Rams’ offense was already struggling, it was shaping up to be a rough afternoon for the Rams with these costly mistakes.
Munda was not charged with any of the three runs that the Falcons were able to generate while she was on the mound, despite her two mishaps.
Zigmont really did not face serious danger from the Rams’ lineup until the bottom of the fifth inning. With the bases loaded, Zigmont committed her only real blunder of the day by accidentally hitting Shepherd senior pinch hitter Molly Staley, driving in Baker to give the Rams their only run of the first game, trimming Notre Dame’s lead to a 3-1 score.
Still in the bottom of the fifth inning, it appeared that the Rams were finally gaining some momentum offensively with Staley being hit by Zigmont’s pitch.
This momentum would quickly stop when Rams freshman Leann Brown reached first base on a fielder’s choice, but sophomore relief pitcher Taylor Stocks was caught trying to reach home plate on the plate and was thrown out by Stephens at home plate.
The inning would end with two runners stranded on second and third base for the Rams, as junior catcher Rachel Taylor flied out to right field.
Shepherd was never able to produce a significant scoring chance for the rest of the game, causing them to eventually fall by the 3-1 score.
Munda (L, 3-3) took the loss for the Rams. She pitched four and two-thirds innings, walked just one Falcon, and struck out seven Falcons, but her costly errors factored largely in the game’s outcome.
Game two would be a little bit better for the Rams offensively, but they would go on to fall by a 4-3 score.
A defensive error by the Rams plagued their efforts against the Falcons once again in the top of the fourth inning. Crookston, after hitting a ground ball, reached first base on an error by Rams freshman shortstop Ashley Burger. This gave Stephens enough time to advance to third base, while Rheude scored on the play thanks to Burger’s error to give the Falcons a 1-0 lead.
An RBI-single by Falcons junior Erin Calhoun brought home Stephens to stretch the Falcons’ lead to 2-0 later on in the top of the fourth inning.
Shepherd, seeking to avoid being swept on their home field, needed an answer quickly, and got one in the bottom of the fifth inning. Junior starting pitcher Lori Sturgill showed her offensive skills by tripling to left center field that drove home senior pinch runner Sarah North, reducing the Falcons’ lead to a 2-1 score.
The Rams did not score any more runs in the bottom of the fifth inning, but did manage to put across two more runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to take a 3-2 lead.
Junior right fielder Alexis Sheaer helped provide the first of these two runs for the Rams by hustling to first base off of a ground ball that she hit. Shearer reached first base on a fielder’s choice, as Brown scored on the play to tie the game at a 2-2 score.
Staley put the Rams in front with a sacrifice fly to right field later on in the inning that brought home Taylor, giving the Rams a 3-2 lead.
Sturgill was not able to close the deal against the Falcons in the top of the seventh and final inning, however, as the Falcons found a way to score two crucial runs to take a 4-3 lead.
After Sturgill got the first two Falcons’ batters out in the top of the seventh inning, the Falcons would go on to record hits in their next three at-bats to score two runs to take the lead. Senior first baseman Nicole Paolucci got the scoring started for the Falcons in the inning with her RBI-single that turned into a triple thanks to an error by Shearer. Pinch runner Laina Combs was able to score on the play to tie the game at a 3-3 score.
In the next at-bat, Falcons junior shortstop Halli Swiger sent a clutch RBI-single up the middle that drove home Paolucci to give the Falcons a 4-3 lead that they would not relinquish.
Falcons sophomore relief pitcher Taylor Olson was able to retire the first three Rams’ batters in the bottom of the seventh inning to preserve the hard-fought 4-3 victory for the Falcons.
Olson (W, 5-6) came in relief of Falcons freshman starting pitcher Mikayla Grajczyk and earned the win for the Falcons. Olson limited the Rams to two runs on two hits in her two and one-thirds innings of work.
Sturgill (L, 5-3) pitched all seven innings for the Rams in the losing effort, striking out eight Falcons’ batters and allowing four runs (one earned) in the process.
With the two losses to the Falcons, the Rams were in third place in the MEC with a 5-3 record as of Tuesday morning, as West Liberty and Fairmont State occupied the two spots in front of them.
Despite the two losses on Monday afternoon, the Rams had a chance to make things right with another double-header, this time on the road, against West Chester in West Chester, Pennsylvania, on Tuesday afternoon, March 27. A recap of both games will be available tomorrow evening, March 28.
Anthony Bracken is the sports editor of The Picket. He can be reached at email@example.com