By BRAD KELLY
The Salisbury University softball team (6-8) opened the Salisbury Invitational by splitting their doubleheader versus the Ursinus College Bears (4-6). The Gulls dropped the first game 8-6 while taking the second game by a score of 10-4.
The first match-up saw the Sea Gulls break out to an early 2-0 lead in the first inning on the heels of two errors committed by the Bears. After a lead-off double from SU junior outfielder LeAnne Collins, Ursinus booted a sacrifice bunt attempt by freshman Brooke Yerger, allowing Collins to score. Salisbury junior infielder Annie Pietanza kept the line moving with a hard single through the left side, knocking in Yerger.
This was last lead the Gulls would have. Bears junior starter Kaitlyn Willis (5.17 earned run average, 11 strikeouts in 2017) and Gulls sophomore starter Shannon Powell (2.96 E.R.A, 13 strikeouts in 2017) traded shutout innings heading into the fourth. But, the Ursinus offense exploded in the top of the frame.
A textbook slap double from sophomore outfielder Sammi Donato ignited the Bears, kick starting a four-run rally. Sophomore first baseman Callie Crouse followed with a one-out RBI single, tying the game. Powell got the second out, but the Bears strung together three hits and a walk in route to two more runs before the end of the inning.
Salisbury quickly answered in the bottom half, once again led by a RBI double by Collins and a Yerger RBI single. The Gulls looked to Powell to shut down the Bears’ offense heading into the fifth, but she could not get the big out, allowing Ursinus freshman catcher Renee Leclerc to come up with a clutch two-out, two-run single.
Ursinus did not look back the rest of the game, adding on two more runs in the sixth. But, the seventh inning did get interesting as the Gulls brought the tying run to the plate in the form of freshmen catcher Grace Bandini. Nothing came of the situation after Bandini sent a deep drive to left, but the Bears leftfielder settled right under it on the warning track.
The Bear’s victory was their second win out of their last seven games, while Salisbury’s loss was their fourth out of their last five.
The second game of the double dip went differently. Salisbury junior pitcher Rachael Milligan (5.56 E.R.A, 18 strikeouts in 2017) took the start in the circle, while the Bears went with their strongest statistical pitcher, freshmen Jennifer Hammons (2.42 E.R.A, 16 strikeouts in 2017).
After trading scoreless frames in the first, the Gulls had their own four-run inning in the top of the second. After junior first basemen Kristen Yanarella doubled with one out, the Gulls drew two consecutive walks to load the bases, bringing Collins to the plate once again with runners on. The right fielder came through again with a bases clearing triple.
“I like to hit ahead in the count as much as possible,” Collins said. “So I wanted to attack the first pitch that I liked.”
The Gulls capitalized off Hammons’s command woes in the top of the inning and the Bears did the same to Milligan in the bottom half answering with two runs of their own. After a run scored on a fielder’s choice, the plate began to move around for Milligan as she walked three straight batters forcing in the second run of the inning. But, she escaped out of the jam before taking on any more damage.
As Ursinus looked to Hammons to stop the scoring, the Gulls notched another a run in the third and two more in the fourth. Freshmen third basemen Kaila Beach knocked in an RBI, while Collins and Yerger created another rally in the fourth, both eventually scoring on an error.
After the trouble in the second inning, Milligan battled her touch-and-go command all game, but settled in blanking the Bears over the next four innings. The Gulls got back in the scoring column in the seventh, notching three runs on the heels of another Collins base hit.
The Bears scored two runs in the bottom of the frame with the aid of two Salisbury defensive miscues. Milligan worked through the trouble to end the game without any further damage at a score of 10-4.
“LeAnne Collins crushed the ball all day long,” SU head coach Margie Knight said. “After a shaky start, Rachel (Milligan) settled down and made the right adjustments.”
Salisbury will continue the three-day Salisbury Invitational with doubleheaders against New Paltz State (0-2) on Sunday at 9:30/11:30 a.m. and Lynchburg (10-2) on Monday at 12/2 p.m.