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Saturday, Apr 20, 2019 at 5:52 pm

Syracuse Befuddled by Changeup, One-Hit by Struggling Panthers

By Tom Russo

CitrusTV Softball Beat Reporter

Perhaps Coach Shannon Doepking should contact Six Flags with the idea for a new roller coaster called “The Syracuse Offense.”  Or maybe “The Orange Bats.”  Surely someone could come up with a better name, but the Syracuse offense has been nothing short of a roller coaster this season.

The up-and-down saga that has been this year for Syracuse could easily be summed up in the past 24 hours.  Yesterday, the Orange blew the doors off Pittsburgh in a ten-run run-rule victory. Today, Syracuse (19-24, 8-9 Atlantic Coast) fell completely silent in a 2-1 loss to the Panthers (8-38, 3-14).

The Orange mustered only a single hit off of Pittsburgh starter Brittany Knight, who entered the game with a 6.00 ERA. That one hit came in the second at-bat of the game, when Alicia Hansen knocked a single into right center field.  Gabby Teran, who led the game off with a walk, came around to score from first as the center fielder bobbled the ball.

From that moment on, it was almost exclusively downhill for the Orange on offense.  In fact, it started in the same frame when Hansen was called out for leaving early on an attempted stolen base.

After the game, the batters explained that it was Knight’s changeup that turned what was an offensive juggernaut yesterday into a groundout machine today.

“She was just changing her speeds and I think it kind of threw us off a little bit,” Teran said.  “We didn’t stick to our plan, and it just didn’t work out for us.”

“I think that our own heads beat us honestly,” Hansen said.  “I think that this was a pitcher that we’re more than capable of hitting, we’re more than capable of hitting her very hard.  I think that we just got into our own heads a little bit, the more she just kind of threw all over the place.”

Coach Doepking agreed with her players’ assessment of their own game and Knight’s game.

“She kept us off balance and we didn’t make any adjustments to the soft stuff and because we were so unbalanced on the soft stuff, we weren’t able to get on-time with the hard stuff either.  We were kind of caught in the middle of the two pitches.  We need to pick one or the other, you can’t get caught in the middle or you get that kind of outcome.”

However, despite the sudden offensive ineptitude, Syracuse was actually leading until the top of the sixth inning thanks to a sterling performance by Miranda Hearn, who had her best outing of the season tossing five and a third shutout innings.

“I think Miranda just stepped up for this team,” said Doepking.  “We needed somebody for this middle game to step up and give us solid innings and that’s exactly what she did.”

Hearn employed the same tactic as Knight for her success: Changing speeds.  But she kept hoping that her offense would give her some more cushion.

“Every single time they went up to bat, I had all the faith in the world that they were gonna hit, that this was gonna be the inning where they’re just gonna score a bunch of runs and we were gonna get it then,” said Hearn.

But the eruption never came, and after giving up a one-out single in the sixth, Doepking lifted Hearn in favor of Syracuse’s ace Alexa Romero.

Romero promptly got a dribbler back to the circle for the second out, and no one seemed worried even after she hit the next batter.  Then Pittsburgh catcher Walker Barbee got a hold of one and lifted it into the left center field gap.

It was clear immediately that Hansen was having trouble tracking the ball, and sure enough, it dropped in front of her.  By the time she scooped it up and fired it back in, two runs were in and Barbee was standing on second.

“That definitely should have been an out,” said Hansen.  “Lex is taught to go in there and get that hit off of her, Lex is allowed to get that ball hit off of her, and I just have to have her back out there.  It just got caught in the sun for me.  In any other game that should be a fly-out.”

If Hansen had reeled it in, it would’ve ended the inning and Syracuse would’ve come to bat in the bottom of the sixth still leading 1-0.  Instead, it proved to be the deciding play of the game as the Orange offense remained missing in action, getting only a single baserunner on a walk in the final two frames.

Syracuse will now hope the roller coaster swings back up in the rubber game of the three-game on Sunday at noon.

twrusso@syr.edu ǀ @TomRusso24