Smithfield, RI – The Pioneer softball team squeezed out a pair of one-run victories Sunday afternoon against Bryant to end the regular season on a five game winning streak. Alyssa Garza (Santa Clarita, CA) had the big hit in game two with a double to left field, plating two runs and breaking a 2-2 deadlock. Sophomore Melissa Tobin (Hudson, MA) provided the game winning run in the fourth inning of the opening game with a single through the middle of the diamond. Senior pitcher Jen Russell (Seymour, CT) tossed 12.2 innings in the pitching circle and picked up the victory in both ends of the double dip.
Bryant (25-19, 14-6 NEC) struck first in game one with a pair of runs in the bottom of the second frame. However, that would be all the Bulldogs would manage against Russell in the first contest as the SHU starter scattered seven Bryant hits. The Pioneers immediately answered in the top of the third as Tobin and Taylor Froelich (Garden Grove, CA) both found themselves in scoring position with two outs. The next two batters, Courtney Lee (Camarillo, CA) and Liz Tsipouras (Simi Valley, CA), each added a RBI to their NEC leading season totals to knot the score at 2-2.
Sacred Heart (27-19, 14-6 NEC) opened the fourth inning with a double off the bat of Nicole Sidor (West Vancouver, BC). Tobin singled up the middle to bring home Sidor and provide the Pioneers with what would prove to be the game winning run. Bryant put the leadoff man on base in its last at bat to bring the tying run to the plate. Russell set down three straight hitters to retire the side and secure the 3-2 victory for SHU in game one.
It was the Pioneers who claimed the first run in game two with a pair of doubles from Annie Dreher (Saugus, CA) and Carley Rudloff (Queen Creek, AZ) in the second inning. Shannon McCoy (Yorba Linda, CA) started another threat for Sacred Heart in the fifth with a leadoff double. SHU extended its lead with a RBI single to left field from Froelich. Bryant put two runners on with one out in the fifth inning to chase the Pioneers game two starter, Sidor, from the circle. Russell closed the door in the inning to preserve the shutout as well as Sacred Heart's 2-0 advantage.
The Bulldogs finally broke through against Russell in their final turn at the plate. Aubrey Mable would end the shutout and send the game to extra innings with a two-run homer. Neither side was able to push across a run in the eighth or ninth as the team's started the tenth using the international tie breaker (placing a runner at second base to start each inning). Froelich walked to start the Pioneers in the tenth and Jade Bowins (Frederick, MD) advanced both runners in her at bat. Garza's double made it 4-2 and again put Sacred Heart up two runs.
Russell allowed just the placed runner to score in Bryant's half of the tenth as she struck out the final batter to end game two 4-3, SHU. The Pioneers finish the NEC regular season as the only team in the league to not suffer a double header sweep.
Sacred Heart can still claim a share of its first Northeast Conference regular season crown if Robert Morris loses one of its final four games in the upcoming week. The Colonials have those games remaining as a result of weather postponements during the course of the year. With any tie atop the final NEC standings the Pioneers will host the 2011 NEC tournament.
Regardless of the location the Sacred Heart softball team will return to the postseason for the first time since capturing the 2009 NEC championship.