In need of a sweep to secure hosting rights for the upcoming NEC Tournament, the Robert Morris University softball team came through in a big way in its regular-season finales, delivering a pair of shutouts against Mount St. Mary’s, 4-0 and 14-0 (5), to earn the 2011 Northeast Conference (NEC) Regular Season crown Sunday afternoon at the North Athletic Complex.
With the two victories, Robert Morris claimed the best record in the league at 15-5 and will enter the NEC Tournament as the top seed. The Colonials will face Central Connecticut State in the first round of the tournament this Friday, May 13th, at a time to be announced. Second seed Sacred Heart will battle third seed Quinnipiac in the other first-round matchup in the two-day, double-elimination format.
Freshman Chelsea Siar (Glenshaw, Pa. / Shaler Area) had a monster day at the dish for RMU, going 4-for-5 with two home runs, including her first-career grand slam, a double, a sacrifice fly and seven RBI. Siar was especially potent in the nightcap as she was a perfect 3-for-3 with the two jacks and six RBI, marking just the fifth occurrence in school history that a Colonial notched at least six runs driven in in a single contest.
Junior Alexa Bryson (Greensburg, Pa. / Latrobe Area) and freshman Geena Badolato (Mt. Lebanon, Pa. / Mt. Lebanon) dazzled in the circle for the Colonials as each threw a shutout, marking the first time Robert Morris allowed a combined zero runs in a doubleheader since a April 14, 2001 twinbill at Central Connecticut State. Bryson recorded the 10th shutout of her RMU career as she allowed just three hits and no walks while striking out 12, the seventh double-digit K performance of her season. Badolato scattered six hits and also did not allow a walk or hit a single batter while lowering her ERA in NEC play to 1.97.
Senior Annie Dubovec (Chagrin Falls, Ohio / Kenston) continued her strong offensive performance from Thursday as she went 5-for-6 with a walk and four runs scored and has now reached base safely via a hit or walk in 12 of her last 13 plate appearances. Sophomore Maritza Jimenez (Vineland, N.J. / Vineland) also contributed significantly by going 4-for-5 with a walk, four RBI, two runs scored and also registered her first-collegiate steal.
While the second contest was shortened by the eight-run rule, the first game was in doubt for much of the way. Each team had one baserunner through the first inning and a half before RMU jumped on the board with a pair in the home half of the second.
Jimenez started the rally by lining a first-pitch single into left field, and then classmate Jessica Tanigawa (Marysville, Wash. / Marysville-Pitchuck) came on to pinch run. Senior Kayla Crooks (Pittsburgh, Pa. / Brashear) followed with a successful sacrifice before freshman Cassie Show (Connellsville, Pa. / Connellsville) singled to center, sending Tanigawa to third. Siar delivered the first run with a lineout to deep center, but the Colonials were not done. After freshman Chelsea Evans (Beaver Falls, Pa. / Riverside) was hit by a pitch, junior Allie Patton (Poland, Ohio / Poland) sent the first pitch into left center for a run-scoring single, giving RMU a two-run lead.
Although Robert Morris put three runners in scoring position combined in the third and fourth frames, it was unable to add to its edge. However, with the way Bryson was pitching, it was of little matter to the Colonials—the junior retired 14 consecutive Mountaineer batters from the second through the sixth innings, including eight by way of the K.
The Colonials extended the lead in the fifth when Crooks’ full-count sacrifice fly to left with one out scored Dubovec, who had singled to open the inning. Robert Morris added its final tally largely thanks to the speed of Patton. After the junior worked a full-count walk, she stole second without a throw and came around to score from second on a lined single by redshirt junior Jessica Calderone (Wilmington, Del / St. Mark’s) that deflected off the diving third baseman’s glove and into foul territory.
After allowing a leadoff double in the seventh, Bryson retired the next three hitters in order to preserve the shutout.
Dubovec notched her team-leading fifth three-hit game of the season in the opener and also her team-leading 15th multi-hit game of 2011.
Robert Morris made the second game more comfortable by blowing it open in the middle innings. After Badolato ended the top of the first with a strikeout with a runner aboard, the RMU offense went to work in the bottom half.
Patton led off with a single on the first pitch, and Calderone then put down a solid sacrifice. Dubovec grounded a hard single through the middle to score Patton, junior Jaci Timko (Houston, Pa. / Chartiers Houston) followed with a single into right field and Jimenez then added to the lead with a single that ricocheted off the second base bag, scoring Dubovec.
Badolato sent down the Mountaineers on three consecutive groundouts in the second, and the Colonials put up a single tally in the bottom half. Show was hit by a pitch to open the inning; with the freshman taking off for second on the next pitch, Siar pulled back a bunt and lined a hard single into right center, moving Show to third. Show would then come home to score as Siar was thrown out trying to steal second as RMU traded a run for an out.
Robert Morris did not allow a Mountaineer runner to reach base in the third, and the Colonials then broke the game open in the bottom half. Calderone led off with a well-placed bunt single and moved to second when Dubovec singled into left after initially showing bunt. Timko then advanced both runners with a sacrifice, which allowed both runs to score when Jimenez promptly lined a single into right center. After a second out, Show drilled a double to left, scoring Jimenez all the way from first, and Siar then followed with a blast to straightaway center to make it 8-0.
Mount St. Mary’s loaded the bases in the fourth, but Badolato came back from a 3-1 count to record a swinging strikeout and leave the sacks full. RMU put the finishing touches on its victory in the bottom half by scoring six times. Patton led off the inning with a single and again moved to second courtesy of a sacrifice by Calderone. After Dubovec walked, both Timko and Jimenez came through with run-scoring base hits. A second out followed, but a Mountaineer error kept the inning alive for Siar. The freshman took full advantage by crushing a grand slam to left center, setting the final margin.
The Mountaineers put runners on second and third in the fifth, but Badolato kept the shutout intact and sent RMU fans home happy when she got a popup that was handled, somewhat fittingly, by Crooks, one of the two seniors on the RMU roster.
Five Colonials—Dubovec, Jimenez, Patton, Siar and Timko—registered multi-hit games in the nightcap as RMU drilled 14 hits in just four innings on offense. Siar’s three-hit performance was the first of her career while Jimenez notched her first three-hit game of the season while knocking in four runs.
The regular-season title is the fifth for Robert Morris since the conference began conducting a full round-robin in 1995. The Colonials have won the NEC Tournament in each of the past two seasons in which they were the outright regular-season champions.
The sweep extends the Colonials’ winning streak to seven games, tying the longest winning streak for RMU since the club won eight consecutive contests in 2005, a stretch that included Robert Morris running through the NEC Tournament unbeaten.
RMU pitching has conceded only four walks in its past six games combined and sports a 1.87 ERA over the course of the current winning streak. The Colonials have also walloped 12 homers in their past seven games and are hitting .380 as a team during their current winning streak.
The Colonials will commence play in their fourth-consecutive NEC Tournament, the longest active streak in the league, this Friday, May 13, at the North Athletic Complex. Each team will play two games Friday, and there will be two or three games played Saturday, including the championship.