By CHRIS MACKOWIAK
Featured photo: SU Athletics Director Dr. Gerry DiBartolo, SU Head Coach Margie Knight and the SU seniors pose with a poster presented to Knight for her 800th career win. Chris Mackowiak photo
Before each game, the Salisbury University Softball team hears a familiar voice during their pre-game warm-ups. It is not just their Head Coach Margie Knight, but also famed movie boxing legend Rocky Balboa.
“It ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done,” Balboa says in-part in the recording.
While the Sea Gulls have heard the monologue all season, it took on renewed meaning during the first section of the CAC Tournament on April 28. The adversity mentioned hit home for SU, who hosted one of two three-team pods as part of the first section of the CAC Tournament. The remaining team from SU’s pod would go on to the CAC Championship series.
On day 2, second-seed SU and third-seed York College (Pa.) were the last two teams remaining in the pod. Since SU won their two games Friday, York needed to force a second game in order to keep their hopes alive.
York’s bats came alive in the first contest, shutting out the Sea Gulls 14-0 as Spartan pitcher Ginger Lewis recorded a one-hitter and her 13th victory. The win forced a final win or go home game.
At the conclusion of the first game, the entire Sea Gull squad ran out to meet with coaches in left field. That is when Knight brought SU’s everyday routine to the forefront.
“I said that we can continue to look back, but we can’t change that,” Coach Knight said. “I said, ‘Those words. Listen to those words. You all know them.’ They all recite it when they’re over there. I said, ‘You gotta get back up. Let’s go.’”
SU took a hit, but the fight was not over. Game two proved to be an intense battle between the Spartans and the Sea Gulls.
Entering the top of the third inning, York had an early 3-1 lead via a three RBI double in the previous frame. SU senior second baseman Annie Pietanza came to the plate as the lead-off hitter in the inning.
“I don’t think anything was going through my head other than shear confidence,” Pietanza said. “My heart wasn’t pounding. I just I knew that I had to do it for the team.”
On an 0-1 count, Pietanza hit the ball far into the outfield for a solo home run, cutting the York lead to one. Pietanza provided two more runs in sixth inning through a double, eventually giving SU a 5-3 lead.
Two more Spartans came across in the bottom frame, leaving a tie game to the final inning. After York walked in a Sea Gull run, the Sea Gulls loaded the bases, bringing junior right fielder Cat Ramagnano to bat.
“Think nothing and that’s when you’ll hit good,” Ramagnano said. “Before each pitch, I’m taking a huge breath, but it’s just calming me down so that way I can just focus on the ball.”
Ramagnano opened things up with a two-RBI double, which provided SU with a 9-5 lead entering the seventh inning. That is when the SU fielding shined.
After two Spartans quickly got on base, a line drive was hit to Ramagnano in right field. York right fielder Ashley Meekins tagged up at second base and looked to advance to third. Ramagnano and SU third baseman Amelia Trotter had other plans.
“I knew I was gonna get her,” Ramagnano said. “As soon as I got the ball, I knew where I was going. We always say where we’re gonna go before each play, and it worked.”
With Trotter applying the tag, Ramagnano threw out Meekins at third base for a double play. The final out came on a similar play when a single dropped in front of Ramagnano. She once again launched the ball over to Trotter at third base to tag out the advancing runner, giving SU the 9-5 victory and conference championship berth.
In just two batters, Ramagnano had aided the effort for all three outs. For Coach Knight, she was impressed by the fielding of both or right fielder and third baseman.
“Amelia put down two super tags. We work every single day at our skill perfections. We work on tags,” Knight said. “She did two great pop tags and made sure she caught them because that’s not an easy ball to catch on this field.”
In the game, SU senior pitcher Rachel Milligan worked a complete game, throwing 135 total pitches. Milligan says that she knew that she needed to be at her best in order to aid her teammates. She and the other three seniors are also happy to be able to put more work in next week.
“It means that I have to go to practice next week and I’m extremely excited about it,” Milligan said.
The championship berth was the second major moment for the program over the weekend. On Friday in SU’s 7-1 win over Mary Washington, Coach Knight recorded her 800th career collegiate softball victory. The NFCA Hall of Fame inductee is the 13th coach in Division III history to reach 800 wins, also ranking fourth in all-time win percentage (80.8 percent).
Knight was not aware of the upcoming moment until SU Athletics Director Dr. Gerry DiBartolo told her about it earlier that week. She did not want it to be a distraction from the real goal.
“We’re not gonna alert anybody. We’re just gonna play because the conference tournament is more important,” Knight chuckled. “It’s about the people who have been through the program. We’ve had so many coaches that have helped to keep this program where it is.”
Now with a chance at a 19th conference championship under Knight, the program is exactly where it is used to being under her 22 seasons of head coaching.
In the conference championship, SU will travel to fifth-ranked and top-seed Christopher Newport University (33-7, 13-1 CAC). The Sea Gulls were swept in their double-header in Newport News, Va. earlier this season 8-0 and 5-3 respectively.
“We have nothing to lose down there,” Coach Knight said. “They swept us earlier in the year, but we were a little different team then. We’re playing much better. I’m really proud of the girls. We’ll see.”
“There’s a reason they’re ranked in the top-10. They’re good, but so are the Sea Gulls.”