Softball sweeps Niagara to move into first place
In softball, a sweep of a doubleheader requires great concentration, patience, and determination to win. Some teams may lack these disciplines, and are not able to consistently beat a team twice in one day.
Apparently, this is not the case for the Marist softball team.
The Red Foxes hosted Niagara on Saturday and swept the Purple Eagles in two games by a combined score of 16-7. In Game One, Marist earned the 10-2 victory in six innings, and in Game Two, edged out Niagara 6-5. It was the fifth doubleheader sweep that the Red Foxes have achieved this season.
"I was really proud of the girls this weekend," Head Coach Joe Ausanio said. "When we lost those games [against Rider] last week I was a little bit concerned, and we hadn't played since then. But they [the team] came out and executed the game plan. I was just really proud of the overall team effort."
With the sweep, Marist now shares the top spot in the MAAC standings with rival Siena, as their conference record now stands at 6-2. The team got strong contributions both their hitters and pitchers on Saturday: on offense, Alyssa Zahka drove in five runs on four hits, and pitcher Emily Osterhaus had both wins for the Red Foxes.
After not playing in six days, Marist got on the scoreboard early in Game One, scoring two runs in their first at-bat. After the Purple Eagles scored two runs of their own to tie the game in the third inning, the Red Foxes scored eight unanswered runs to eight run-rule Niagara, and win the game in six innings. The decisive blow against Niagara came on a two out, two-run home run by Haley Birnbaum, her third of the season.
Game Two would prove to be a much tougher contest than the previous game. After once again building an early 2-0 lead, Niagara would come back to tie the game after Jen Hare's deep home run to centerfield off of Marist pitcher Paige Lewis in the fourth inning. An inning later, Niagara would take the lead 3-2, but the Red Foxes grabbed the lead back, 4-3, after a two-run single by Zahka.
However, Niagara would not go away quietly, as they once again tied the game in the top of sixth inning. In the next frame, Marist would take the lead they would never relinquish, as Ashley Corriss (sacrifice fly) and Meghan Lamoureux (squeeze bunt) drove in a run each. After giving up one run with one out in the seventh inning, Osterhaus got Ali Grab to ground into the game-ending double play, preserving the 6-5 victory.
"Niagara is a good team. They beat Fairfield and Iona, so they definitely aren't slouches," Ausanio said. To get to wins this past weekend is absolutely huge, and now with our conference record, we really control our own destiny."
One of the big reasons why Marist was able to get those wins came from the strong pitching performances by Osterhaus. The eldest member of the Red Fox pitching staff, Osterhaus pitched a complete game in Game One, and came on in relief to seal the victory in Game Two. She has now won five straight decisions.
"I think being the only junior on the staff, and having more experience, I understand how important these conference games are," Osterhaus said. "Now that we are in MAAC games, we have to win every game from here on out. So I've kind of just stepped it up mentally, and that has really helped my game."
On Saturday, Osterhaus pitched a combined 7.1 innings, striking out seven Niagara batters while only giving up one earned run. Despite her recent success, Osterhaus knows what she wants to get better at as the stretch run of the season begins.
"I definitely want to stop walking so many people. Along with that, making sure I stay ahead in the count. I have a great defense behind me, so if I can just make them [the hitters] put the ball in play, then we'll be fine," Osterhaus said.
As the season winds down and critical conference matchups are played, fatigue is obviously a feeling that teams want to avoid. The Red Foxes are no different, and Ausanio has made sure that his team will be in the best shape possible come May, when the MAAC Tournament takes place in Poughkeepsie.
"I think last year, we did run out of gas a little bit in the tournament," Ausanio said. "We have a great conditioning program this year, and that, combined with the off days, has really been great for us [the team].
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