Coming off a tough one-run loss to Saint Joseph’s on Friday, the Fordham softball team needed four consecutive wins over 32 hours to retain its Atlantic 10 crown and that’s exactly what they did. The Rams knocked off #2 Dayton, 1-0, in an epic 1-0 marathon match-up on Saturday in between a two-hour rain delay, but still needed to win three straight on Sunday. Fordham cruised to a 6-2 victory over #3 Massachusetts in the morning matinee and then gained revenge over the #5 Hawks with two straight wins, first a 4-3 extra-inning walk-off victory before a more comfortable 5-1 result, to win the Atlantic 10 Conference Championship for a fourth straight year. The Rams improve to 39-19 on the season with the three wins.
With the conference auto-bid in hand, the Rams await their fate in Sunday night’s NCAA selection show as to where they will head to play in this weekend’s NCAA Regionals.
It was an extremely blustery day at the Athletic Complex on the Mount Vernon Campus of George Washington University despite the sun shining overhead. The conditions caused issues in the field at times and definitely kept several balls in the park on the day. To fit the three games into the schedule, game one began at 9 a.m.
Head coach Bridget Orchard opted to rest Rachel Gillen in game one after her marathon start of a career-high 12 innings the day before and started junior Lauren Quense against Massachusetts opposite All-Conference first teamer Meg Colleran. It turned out to be the right decision as Quense went the distance and allowed just two unearned runs during a 6-2 victory, eliminating the Minutewomen in the process.
Quense allowed baserunners in all seven innings but worked out of trouble in all but the final frame. In the first two innings, no runner reached second, while in the third the Minutewomen had runners on the corners with one out but failed to bring a run in. After being staked with a four-run lead in the third, Massachusetts put its first two batters on in the fourth but a 1-5-4 double play wiped out the lead runner and the hitter Godin. Tara Klee led off the sixth with a double and the they would load the bases with one out but, again, Quense battled and induced two outs to escape the jam. The Minutewomen would plate two during a seventh-inning rally when Erin Stacevicz singled to lead off and Jena Cozza reached on an error, moving over on a wild pitch. Kacee Carbone walked to load the bases with two outs and Lindsey Zenks double to right field plated the first two. Quense responded by striking out Godin swinging to eliminate Massachusetts and advance.
The Rams scored their runs in the third and fourth innings. Chelsea Skrepenak doubled to deep right center to start the third and Morgan Figueroa attempted to bunt her over but instead beat it out. On the throw to first, the freshman took off for home and slid just under the tag to kick off the scoring as Figueroa scampered to second. Van Hoven singled through the right side to put runners on the corners and Sydney Canessa scored the sophomore with a deep sac fly. Van Hoven was caught stealing for the second out to empty the bases but Fordham summoned three straight hits after Lindsay Mayer walked, with Gillen’s RBI double and Madison Shaw’s RBI single plating the final two runs. Canessa smacked a nontraditional double low and hard on the ground and over the third base bag, rolling down to the wall, scoring Van Hoven. Canessa came around on a throwing error by Cozza to cap the offense for the game at six.
Saint Joseph’s swapped places with the outgoing Minutewomen in the visitors’ dugout and the beginning of the A-10 Championship final began 40 minutes later. Quense moved over to first base and in came Gillen, owner of an identical 0.37 ERA and WHIP in the tournament up to that point.
The Rams got off on a great foot when Mayer punished a ball through the wind and over the scoreboard in left field in the first inning to put the “home” team up 2-0 early, eventually pushing across a third when Jessica Hughes, who had tallied three hits in three at-bats in game one, singled in Shaw from second after the sophomore had led off with a double. Shaw hustled down the line and just barely got under a tag at the plate in a sequence that saw the batter’s boxes clouded in dust. As has been common with Fordham in recent days, the game became a nail biter starting in the fourth inning when Cyndi Wilson smacked a solo home run down the left field line to cut the deficit to two, 3-1. Sarah Yoos, who enjoyed a tremendous tournament at the plate, again got to Gillen for a two-run home run to dead center field off the railing hanging high above the fences.
With the score tied at 3-3, pitching took precedence over the next three innings. Both offenses tallied exactly one hit over the next three frames but failed to score, until the eighth inning. Saint Joseph’s head coach Terri Adams brought in freshman Ashley Ventura to start the seventh and the rookie worked a clean frame. However, she ran into trouble the next inning. Quense walked with one out and was subbed out for senior Cailin Winokur on first. Figueroa stepped up with two outs and slapped the first pitch into shallow left field to put runners at first and second. Van Hoven took Ventura’s third pitch into center field and Winokur was able to score with ease to force a do-or-die final game.
Gillen went the distance, eight innings of three-run ball with six hits and two walks allowed, while striking out 10. Madison Clarke was removed after 2.1 innings after giving up the first three runs in favor of Anna Lauterbach who stymied the Rams offense to the tune of just one single with three strikeouts. Venture garnered her ninth loss with the walk-off hit.
The Rams offense totaled 10 hits by seven different players, with Canessa, Skrepenak and Hughes all notching a pair.
Where game two was mostly an even affair with tense moments, the only instances of tension in game three were the final outs as the Rams again cruised to a 5-1 victory behind the work of the double team of Quense and Gillen in the circle and a balanced offensive attack. Ventura remained in to start game three and lasted just two innings, allowing five hits and a walk but only one run. Madi Shaw doubled to deep left center to start the second but was gunned out at the plate after Hughes singled sharply to center. Quense walked after that and Skrepenak singled down the left field line to load the bases but Ventura was able to limit the damage to just a RBI fielder’s choice from Figueroa to put Fordham on the board.
In the fourth, the Rams plated their eventual game-winning run on yet another fielder’s choice and a throwing error, this time off the bat of All-Rookie selection Skrepenak to score Hughes when a throw to third to catch the lead runner flew beyond her reach. Lauterbach, now in for two innings, was able to work out of the jam despite a Figueroa single. Fordham scored another in the fifth on a Shaw RBI single to left center with one out and two more insurance runs in the sixth on a Van Hoven groundout and a Canessa single to center.
In the end, Quense allowed just one run, on a Sarah Yoos double, in 5.1 innings with five hits allowed and one walk, while striking out three. Gillen stepped into the circle in the sixth inning and allowed just one hit over 1.2 frames to earn her second career save, both coming in the last two weeks.
The underclassmen trio of Shaw, Hughes, and Skrepenak all tallied two hits in three trips to the plate, while Canessa also notched a pair.
Fordham landed four on the All-Tournament team – Rachel Gillen, also named the Most Outstanding Player, plus Lauren Quense, Lindsay Mayer, and Madi Shaw.
For the tournament, the Rams were paced by a quartet of underclassmen. Jessica Hughes’ .389 average (7-for-18) with two runs and three stolen bases led the squad. Behind her, Chelsea Skrepenak hit .357 (5-for-14) and Shaw hit .353 (6-for-17), same as Morgan Figueroa, with the latter scoring three times and the former hitting two doubles. The team as a whole hit .283.
Lauren Quense allowed just one earned run over two starts, good for a 0.57 ERA, tallying wins in both contests with 13 hits in 12.1 innings. Rachel Gillen appeared in four contests and pitched her way to a 2-1 record and 0.98 ERA with three complete games in her three starts, allowing just four earned runs in 28.2 innings with 20 strikeouts to just two walks. The grad student allowed just 14 hits over three days and picked up her 37th and 38th career complete games and 13th career shutout in the process, the latter tying Gillen with former teammate Michele Daubman for third-most all-time.
The Rams await their opponent in next weekend’s regionals. Over the last three years, Fordham has traveled to Harrisonburg, Va. (James Madison), Tallahassee, Fla. (Florida State), and Norman, Okla. (Oklahoma).