Syracuse Softball to Play for USF Tournament Championship
By Sam Lebowitz
CitrusTV Softball Beat Reporter
Tampa, Fla. – Syracuse (7-9, 0-0 ACC) will fight for the USF Tournament title on Sunday after once again splitting a doubleheader.
Syracuse first played the USF Bulls (9-7, 0-0 AAC), the tournament’s host team. Alexa Romero started on the mound for the Orange and turned in one of her best efforts of the season. She struck out nine batters over six frames and did not walk a batter for the first time this season in a start. Her lone outing without a walk prior to this game this season was a two-batter relief appearance on February 22nd against Louisiana Tech.
Romero allowed just five singles and an unearned run. That run came in the third when AnaMarie Bruni topped an infield single with one out and advanced to second on a throwing error by Rebecca Clyde. Later in the inning, Brooke Hartman singled through the right side to score Bruni with two outs.
That single, skinny run was good enough to beat Romero as USF right-hander Georgina Corrick shut down the Syracuse offense. Corrick allowed just two hits and struck out ten in a complete game shutout, 1-0. She has an earned run average of 1.88 this season after posting a miniscule 1.14 and 25-6 win-loss record for the Bulls last season.
That loss concluded the round robin portion of the tournament as Syracuse went 1-2 in their scheduled games. Despite this, the Orange were placed in the tournament’s second seed and faced the third seed, Rutgers (7-11, 0-0 Big Ten).
This is the fourth time in 2020 that Syracuse and Rutgers matched up on the diamond, and after dropping the first two contests, the Orange cruised to a 6-1 win yesterday.
Catie Dobbs’ hot stretch ended quickly and early in this game. The Scarlet Knights handed her an early exit within minutes of the game starting. Taylor Fawcett tripled to the alley in right-center as the second batter of the game. Then, Gabrielle Callaway followed with a two-run homer. Later in the inning, Payton Lincavage muscled her own two-run shot out of the ballpark to double the early Rutgers lead and knock Dobbs out of the game after just two-thirds of an inning.
It did not take long for Syracuse to respond as the SU bats finally woke up after a dormant first game. In the bottom half of the first inning, Jamie Gregg and Gabby Teran reached on an error and hit by pitch, respectively. Neli Casares-Maher followed with an RBI double into the right-field corner to get the Orange on the board. Mia Cunnings grounded out to score Teran, cutting the deficit in half, 4-2, but making the second out of the inning. That’s when the Orange hit parade began.
AJ Kaiser broke out with the first of her three hits, driving home Casares-Maher with a sharp single. Miranda Hearn drove a double to the center field fence to bring home Kaiser and knot the game at four. Toni Martin followed with a double of her own, scoring Hearn with the go-ahead score. At that point, Corah Price relieved Jaden Vickers in the circle for Rutgers. Both starting pitchers were knocked out before recording three outs.
Paris Woods greeted Price with a run-scoring triple. Gregg, batting for the second time in the inning, chopped a soft ground ball to second base and used her wheels to beat it out, scoring the seventh Syracuse run of the opening frame. When the dust settled, 12 SU hitters took turns at the dish and six got hits.
But the Orange were not complacent with their biggest offensive inning of the season. In the second, Cunnings singled home Casares-Maher, before Kaiser ripped her second home run of the season, extending the lead to 10-4. Kaiser also drove home her third hit and fourth RBI of the game with an RBI double in the fourth inning. She finished a triple shy of the cycle with her best performance of the season to date.
On the pitching side, Kaia Oliver settled in for the long haul against the Rutgers lineup after relieving Dobbs. She was up for the task, tallying six-and-a-third innings of hitless relief to finish the game. The only baserunners against her were three walks and a hit batter. Rutgers simply could not get anything started against the freshman.
The 11-4 win means that Syracuse will play for the tournament crown on Sunday. The Orange will play USF in a rematch of Saturday’s first contest at 11:30 a.m. A tournament win would be an important morale boost for Syracuse as they prepare for ACC play to kickoff next weekend with a series in Chapel Hill against UNC.
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