The University of Rhode Island softball team swept Atlantic 10 foe Saint Louis University this past weekend, winning the opener at an alternative site before prevailing in the next two at the URI Softball Complex.
The Rams (5-18, 3-3 A-10) played their first home games of the year, and were looking to end a drought that at one point included a 13-game losing streak. Neither Rhode Island or Saint Louis (14-16, 3-5), however, would be able to take the field at the URI Softball complex on Friday, as the weather forced the first game of the series to be relocated to Pioneer Park in Fairfield, Connecticut. Nonetheless, URI came out with their bats ablaze.
Saint Louis landed the first blow, after freshman pitcher Sarah Gunderson gave up a leadoff home run to shortstop Alex Nickel. The Rams would not be trailing long, however, as the offense erupted in the bottom of the third. The Rams scorched the Billikens for seven runs on five hits and two errors. Freshman outfielder Caileigh Holland put her team on the board with a one-out, two-run RBI double. Junior second baseman Bri Castro, who led off the half inning, added fuel to the fire with a bases clearing double to center field that gave URI a commanding 7-1 lead, which grew by one following a Jenna Cubello RBI single in the fourth.
The big cushion is all Gunderson needed to coast the rest of the way. She ran into trouble one more time in the sixth inning when her kryptonite Nickel homered for the second time in the afternoon. Saint Louis tacked on another run off of the reliving Becca Rogers, but fell well short of victory, as the Rams ended a three-game skid with the 8-3 win.
URI was finally able to enjoy the support of their home crowd when the series moved to its assigned spot in Kingston. The teams squared off in a Sunday doubleheader that produced two very different types of games, but Rhode Island victories just the same. The first contest was a competitive, low scoring one that put the onus on the pitching staff to keep the game in hand. URI struck first when Billiken pitcher Maddie Baalman struggled to find the strike zone in the third inning. Two Rams walked and another reached base via a hit-by-pitch. Junior Paige Julich came up to the plate with the bases loaded, and was also hit, giving the Rams their first run of the game. Senior outfielder Danielle Gariglio singled to drive home Cubello for the 2-0 lead.
Saint Louis cut the deficit in half the next inning, but could have tied the game had Gariglio not made what was ultimately a game-saving play when she threw out the go-ahead run at home plate. Castro singled home Kylie Shivery for a crucial insurance run in the fifth. The Billikens again pulled within one run in the sixth, but left the game-tying run on base in the final frame to give URI the series win at 3-2. Rogers earned a no decision, going just over three innings and allowing one run on two hits. Sophomore Julia Waraksy gave 2.2 innings of relief and got her first win of the season, allowing one run while walking three. Gunderson came in for her second save.
Head coach Bridget Hurlman was thrilled to play at home and knew how much meant for her team to have the crowd behind them after a long time spent on the road.
“We always feel the love and support from the URI faithful and I honestly think that that always plays a part when you have a good support system and people are there cheering you on. It gives you that second extra wind. For us, I guess it would be that eleventh man.”
URI continued to surge, pulverizing their opponents in the series finale. The Rams again pounced early, scoring four in the first inning to immediately remove some of the pressure from starting pitcher Waraksy. Julich drove in the game’s first two runs on a base hit and Gariglio later did the same with a two-run RBI triple. The complexion of the game changed slightly after a strong response by the Billikens in the top of the second inning cut the lead in half. URI, however, would answer right back in the next half inning with three runs of their own, and would never look back. Shivery, the junior shortstop officially finished the game in the sixth after hitting a three-run blast to left field. Freshman Alex Pleasic delivered three innings of shutout ball despite walking seven batters, and picked up the first win of her career. Classmate Madi Lewis secured the 10-2 victory in her two innings of relief.
The win gave the Rams much-needed momentum after being swept by conference opponent Fordham University in their previous series. It was the first time URI had won three consecutive conference games since 2006. The historical significance was not lost on Hurlman, who believes the team is on the verge of a breakthrough after a long rebuilding process.
“It’s amazing,” Hurlman said. “I mean that’s something that hasn’t been done in 11 years here. This team in particular is really special. They really are looking to represent URI to the fullest extent and bring pride back to the program. We played teams that are in the top 60, top 50 in the nation and I honestly think it did prepare us to be ready for conference and be ready to take it to some of our foes.”
Shivery went 6-for-9 (.667) with one home run and four RBIs in the sweep, which earned her Co-A-10 Player of the Week honors. Hurlman knows how important it is for the cleanup hitter to produce and believes Shivery has become a model of consistency the team relies on to get runs on the board.
“Since coming to URI, Kylie has been an RBI machine,” Hurlman said. “She almost expects that out of herself at this point. Obviously your four hitter is important, I was glad that she had the kind of weekend that she knew she could have.”
The Rams lost their momentum when they ran into to the University of Massachusetts Lowell yesterday, taking the 10-5 road loss. URI jumped out to a 2-0 lead, scoring one run each in the first two innings. The River Hawks then broke the game open with a four-run third inning. The Rams then came roaring back to tie the game 5-5 in the top of the fifth. UMass Lowell left URI in the rearview for good with a five-run spurt in the bottom half of the inning. Holland and Summers each had two RBIs.
The Rams will now head to St. Joseph’s University for a three-game series beginning with a doubleheader on Saturday.