Riding behind tremendous defense and the pitching prowess of first year star Ashley Pugliese in game one, along with a ferocious offensive attack resulting in a five-run comeback in Game Two, the Springfield College Pride softball team clinched a spot in the NEWMAC Championship with two walk off wins Saturday afternoon against WPI.
Game One was a struggle for both WPI and Springfield at the dish, as the game totaled just five hits between the two teams.
After a scoreless seven and a half innings, Springfield came up to hit in the bottom half of the 8th with a chance to claim game one.
The leadoff hitter was Junior Kayla Stvan, who was able to reach first on an error to kickstart the inning. Sophomore Dana Serricchio executed a perfect sacrifice bunt to move classmate Cheryl Nicosia (who pinch ran for Stvan) over to second with one out.
Two batters later, pinch hitter Emily Woznick drove in Nicosia by reaching first on a throwing error by WPI’s shortstop. This was the game’s only run, proving Springfield victorious in what was truly a pitcher’s duel.
Pugliese was terrific on the mound for the Pride, striking out seven batters while only allowing three hits. She pitched all eight innings, finding great success in her offspeed pitches.
“For me, my curveball and curve rise were working the best,” began Pugliese as she assessed her performance. “I was able to notice that they were standing way off the plate, so I focused on hitting my pitches on the corner and it was working really effectively.”
Game Two picked up shortly after the conclusion of game one, where WPI was able to, unlike Game One, jump out of the gate quickly, setting the tone for the rest of the way.
The latter portion of the doubleheader was all about offense, it just took a while for the Pride to get the memo.
WPI’s Skylar O’Connell got the party started, crushing a 3-run HR down the left field line.
Springfield would add one run on an RBI single from junior Sara Mulligan, driving in first year Alli Olsen in what was the Pride’s only run until the final frame.
WPI would tack on three more insurance runs, building what seemed to be a comfortable 6-1 lead heading into the bottom of the 7th.
Pride head coach Kate Bowen and company were looking for a spark to aid a much needed last inning rally, and they were able to find just that and much more.
Stvan led things off with a double that was ripped down the right field line. Her pinch runner, senior Taylor Mancinone, scored two batters later on a bunt from classmate Christina D’Ambro. This was the spark Bowen was petitioning for.
Following a single from junior Mackenzie Doyle that loaded up the bases, Olsen cracked a single of her own into right field, moving everyone up a base and driving in a run. Junior Ava Fernandez was then hit by a pitch to punch in another, bringing the score to 6-4.
Mulligan and Woznick each drove in a run to deadlock the score at six heading into extras yet again.
“We’ve talked about it all year, we need a spark,” said Bowen. “Where there’s a spark there’s a fire, we just needed to start stringing some hits together. Once we got a few hits, I looked over to the dugout and told them we have to keep believing we can do this. We started to do just that and once we did, it was an awesome outcome.”
Bowen brought Pugliese back in to shut down WPI yet again in the extra frames, to which she did exactly that. She may be in her first year wearing the Jersey, but the big stage does not appear to have any effect on Pugliese.
“I was very nervous in the beginning,” Pugliese admitted. “Coming out and starting as a freshman is a big expectation, but I kind of just calmed myself down and told myself this is what I worked so hard for, and that kind of eased me through the rest of the game.”
Bowen lauded at the work ethic of Pugliese, noting her ability to remain cool, calm, and collected on the mound.
“[Pugliese] brings a silent confidence on the mound,” Bowen declared of her first year ace. “She’s efficient, she’s really starting to find her groove out there. She wasn’t able to play WPI [in the regular season], so she stepped up to the task and continues to improve each game.”
The score remained six apiece until the bottom of the ninth. Senior Abbi Conley ripped a clutch one out triple into center, positioning the Pride with an exceptional chance to win. Mulligan stepped up to the plate, and delivered under pressure, driving in Conley to send the Pride to the NEWMAC Championship with a final score of 7-6.
It has been a difficult and trying year considering the ongoing pandemic, which is a notion that Bowen recognizes, and it helps her appreciate just how special her team is.
“I’m so proud of them. The resiliency they have shown all year, we’ve just been through so much. This is where we wanted to be, and they have worked really hard for it and they have earned it, and we are all so excited for the next challenge,” Bowen said.
The Pride will travel to Babson next weekend in a best-of-three series, with the winner claiming the right to not only a NEWMAC Championship, but to a berth in the NCAA Tournament.