Softball struggles to find footing

Marco Cicchino, Staff Writer

A difficult March slate fazed the Mercyhurst softball squad to the point of the cellar of the PSAC West Division, now 2-8 overall after being swept by a combined score of 4-1 today (12) at Gannon’s McConnell Family Stadium. But a 7-5 non-conference slate in the winter—including all nine of their wins away from the confines of the Mercyhurst Soccer Field—has the young squad just four games under .500 and poised to make a late-season run. Yet after falling in eight of their last 12 games, the schedule does not get any easier for the Lakers, as they to Edinboro (8-12, 2-4) tomorrow (13) after today’s doubleheader loss to the Golden Knights, then hosting Slippery Rock (14-13, 3-3) on Friday (15) and traveling to West-leading California (21-1, 8-0) the following day.

Today’s doubleheader was dominated by the starters, and the Lakers were unable to take advantage of two Lady Knight errors and a 10-5 advantage in hits. That first error came in the top of the third, with Oswego’s Allison Yule on first: on a 2-2 count, senior Courtney Brothers singled to third on the seventh pitch of the at-bat, but a throwing error by third baseman Nathaly Pacheco allowed Yule to advance to third. But Greater after Brothers stole second, Latrobe’s Olivia Gumbita responded by striking out left fielder Tawny Godin and inducing a lineout from Mount Mercy (Angola) right fielder Kayla Larson, stranding both runners in scoring position. In the bottom of the fourth, the Lady Knights manufactured the game’s only run to snap a four-gae skid and sent Frontier’s Heather Nye to her sixth loss: after a single and sacrifice, Horseheads product Alexa Archambeault singled up the middle to put Jackie Martínez on third. After Archambeault stole second, shortstop Rachel deGuia grounded out 5-3 to drive in Martínez. Meanwhile, Gumbita got out of jams in the fifth and seventh en-route to her eighth win, scattering three hits in the fifth but inducing a 5-4-3 double play; Brothers singled immediately after Frewsburg pinch-hitter Emily Hair singled to corner the bases, Larson ended the threat with a lineout to short. Gumbita finished her day with seven strong shutout innings, scattering ten hits and striking out four while throwing 117 pitches. Meanwhile, Nye went six and just had the mistake in the fourth, and only allowed five hits while inducing 77.8% of her 18 outs on the ground.

In the second game, the Lady Knights officially kept themselves out of the West cellar and sent the Lakers there as Peters Township’s Kellyn Perich needed just 90 minutes and 86 pitches to hold the Lakers to a run on six hits. Perich helped her own cause in the third, driving in the Knights’ first run, taking advantage of a walk and stolen base off the legs of freshman right fielder Autumn Smith. Peters’ Carly Konopka worked out of a fourth-inning jam for the Lakers with two quick swinging strikeouts, but after being stranded on second in the top of the fifth, Smith hit a leadoff double, and two outs later Martínez singled down the left-field line to double the Knights’ lead. Brothers returned the favour in the sixth with a single to drive in Fonda Fultonville Central’s Cassandra Egleston, but Archambeault hit another leadoff double, advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt, and scored the insurance run on a 9-3 putout off the bat of deGuia. The Lakers then took advantage of Perich’s fatiguing arm and recorded two hits in the seventh, but Perich retried three of the last four batters to send their crosstown rivals to their fourth straight loss. For the Lakers, Konopka fell to 1-1 on the year, allowing three earned on four hits and two walks while striking out five; meanwhile, Perich nearly evenly split her outs in the air and the field, while adding four to the Lakers’ 108 strikeouts at the plate this season, still good for fifth in the PSAC.

It appears the Lakers are struggling as a team, but individual bright spots have the team ready to turn it around. While the pitching has faltered to the tune of a 4.54 team ERA—third-worst in the PSAC—its .282 batting average ranks seventh overall and second in the six-team West Division (Indiana, Pitt-Johnstown, Clarion, Bloomsburg, and Lock Haven are in the new softball-only Central Division). But Leanne Baker’s squad—and the Knights that defeated them today—are two of only five teams to have scored fewer than 100 runs this season, and the Lakers are dead-last in the conference allowing a .337 average to opposing hitters while throwing the second-fewest innings in the league.

Leading the Lakers’ charge from the plate is Saegertown’s Rachael diBartolomeo, eighth in the PSAC with a .395 average and fifth with a .711 slugging percentage, averaging out to seventh in OPS at 1.121. Her five home runs make her the only Laker to hit more than two, and her 30 hits, 54 total bases, 7 doubles, and 9 stolen bases also lead the team. Brothers is not far behind at a .375 clip and driving in 19 runs, and her .966 fielding percentage is fourth on the team. But the Lakers are allowing runs at the worst times, failing to record a victory this season when trailing after the fourth inning and are 2-9 when allowing the first run of the game. The Lakers are outscoring opponents 19-8 in that fourth frame, but hold negative or neutral differentials in five innings, including -14 in the third and -5 in the sixth. The Lakers are also 0-8 when trailing after the sixth and have yet to record a comeback after the third inning this season, and even there are 2-8 in such contests.

On the mound, the Lakers lowered their season ERA by nearly 1.7 runs with today’s results, but are still third-worst in the PSAC at 4.54 overall. Rotation leader Anna Cochis is only 27th in the league with a respectable 3.16 average in 48.2 innings, while Portia McBride has allowed the fewest hits in the league, 26 in as many innings and is seventh with 17 runs allowed. Nye is 17th with 15 walks and tied for 14th with Konopka with eight doubles allowed. Together, however, Nye (.358) and Cochis (.344) respectively have the third- and sixth-worst allowed batting averages in the PSAC, and the Lakers hold a -.55 batting differential despite issuing the second-fewest walks and drawing the fourth-fewest.