By Chris Gionta
Late in the regular season, an intense aura was felt at Potter Field. The Springfield College softball team came into their doubleheader on Saturday afternoon with a 26-6 record, which was an identical mark to their counterpart in Babson.
“(There was) definitely a playoff atmosphere,” said Springfield head coach Kate Bowen. “Both teams came to play and they played really hard.”
The level of play left no question as to how the Beavers and Pride have landed in the top two spots in the NEWMAC this season. They played two extremely competitive games, with Babson taking both — the first by the score of 4-2, and the second by the score of 3-2.
The first game of the doubleheader started with four scoreless innings, but it did not come without scoring opportunities. After only one total base runner reached in the first two innings, Babson provided a threat in the top of the third.
Two singles and a walk loaded the bases with one out. Then, with the infield playing in, Gillian Kane induced a ground ball to shortstop Breannah McCann, who fired it home to get the force out. The following batter hit a weak fly ball to right field that was caught by Mackenzie Doyle.
The Beavers’ pitcher proved tough to hit, as she struck out five Pride batters in the first three innings. Yet, Doyle reached on a line-drive single to start the bottom of the fourth. Two batters later, Sam Witmer took a hit-by-pitch that advanced Doyle into scoring position. Eventually, Bowen called a double steal that ended up successful. However, Babson’s pitcher was able to get out of it and keep the game scoreless.
Each team made sure to capitalize on their opportunities in the fifth inning. After the first two Beaver batters reached in the frame, the next hitter hammered a ball into the left-center field gap to drive in the two runners.
The Pride responded with a rally of their own. With one out, McCann walked, then Katie Leacoma slapped a ball softly to the left side, and was able to reach for an infield single. Maggie Britt followed her up with a sacrifice bunt to put two runners in scoring position for Doyle. Springfield’s leadoff hitter took to the pressure situation well — hitting a line drive over the second baseman’s head and driving in both runners.
“I think we had a game plan coming in (against Babson’s pitcher),” Bowen said. “The first time through the lineup she got us, then I think we really executed after that and tried to put the ball in play a little bit more.”
Babson loaded the bases with one out in the top of the sixth inning. A fly ball to left field was dropped and allowed a run to score, but the Pride were able to get the force out on third base.
The Beavers displayed the flashing of their leather in the bottom of the sixth to prevent Springfield from responding. The Pride led off with Witmer, who hit a hard line drive out to right center field. Yet, the Babson center fielder was able to speed to her left and catch the fly ball in stride. Then, with two outs, Kayla Stvan hit a ground ball past the right of the first baseman, but the Beavers’ second baseman slid to her left and grabbed it. The first baseman went back to the base, and the second baseman performed a glove flip to get Stvan out.
Babson added an insurance run in the seventh, then closed out the 4-2 victory in the bottom of the frame.
The scoring got started in a quicker fashion in the second game. With base runners on first and second with two outs in the top of the first, a Babson batter hit a blooper that was able to fall between the left fielder and shortstop and drive in the first run of the game.
Springfield looked ready to respond early after Doyle walked and Alli Olsen hit a double to the right-center field gap to put runners on second and third base with no one out. However, after a groundout to the shallowly-playing infield, a pickoff by the catcher at third base, and a flyout, the Beavers escaped the difficult jam.
The Pride capitalized two innings later, however. With one out, Britt and Doyle each slapped the ball to the left side for singles. Then, Olsen drove Britt in on an RBI single to right-center to tie the game.
After another scoreless frame from starting pitcher Emily Gell, Springfield added more. Ava Fernandez led off the inning by hitting a line drive down the first base line that rolled to the fence for a triple. Next, Callie Gendron drove her in on a single.
In the top of the sixth, trouble ensued for the Pride. After a leadoff single, the runner was advanced to third on two groundouts. Then, Babson took two walks to load the bases with two outs. The Beavers hit a ball that was seemingly going to the outfield but was stopped by McCann on a dive to her right. Everyone advanced safely, but the dive limited Babson to one run on the hit. However, the next batter hit a low line drive that rolled into right field and drove in the go-ahead run.
Babson then brought in its starting pitcher from the first game of the doubleheader to get a six-out save. She proved to be just as effective as she was in game one, and allowed just one base runner in her two innings of work while striking out three. This helped lift Babson to a 3-2 victory to earn the doubleheader sweep.
Losing the pair of games was not ideal for the Pride, but there is a strong possibility that they will rematch the Beavers in the playoffs. The goal for them is to continue to improve to end up on top in the postseason.
“I think (what we can improve upon is) just focusing on the little things, and just making sure we execute and not take it farther than one pitch at a time,” Bowen said.
The next time Springfield will be in action is for a Wednesday doubleheader against Worcester State at Potter Field that starts at 3 p.m.
Photo: Springfield College Athletics