CLEVELAND, Ohio – The Bucknell softball team opened its 2014 season on Saturday, taking on Cleveland State and Canisius in the Cleveland State Dome Tournament. The Bison put up a valiant fight in both outings but couldn’t quite eke out a win, dropping a 1-0 decision to the host team and falling 11-10 in eight innings to the Golden Griffins. Bucknell sinks to 0-2 in the very young season, while Cleveland State is 2-0 and Canisius is 1-1 after the first day of action on Krenzler Field.
Bucknell’s first outing of the day was a defensive affair, as both pitching staffs and fielding units worked overtime to keep the game scoreless for the first five and a half innings. Sophomore Amanda Fazio, a 2014 Preseason All-Patriot League team selection, made her first start of the year against the Vikings, pitching a complete game in which she allowed six hits and one unearned run while striking out six batters.
“Amanda pitched brilliantly,” said head coach Bonnie Skrenta in reflecting on the day. “She didn’t allow a single earned run and was really challenging their batters, but we just didn’t generate enough offense. Cleveland State had only one opportunity in the game to score, and unfortunately they capitalized on it.”
The early morning contest was the setting for freshman Jacee Almond’s first career start, and the rookie led off the order for the Bison. Junior Erin Cox registered the first hit of the game, singling to right field in the top of the second, but the final out of the inning halted Bucknell’s hopes for one-run lead.
Senior Courtney Conover knocked a double into left center in the top of the third, and junior Cydnee Sanders singled to left field at the top of the fourth, accounting for two of the Bison’s three hits in the contest, but neither of those solid efforts were converted into runs, and the scoreboard sat untouched through the top of the sixth inning.
The Vikings broke the seal in the bottom of the sixth, beginning when Susan Knight led off the inning with a single to left field. Sidney Morgan came in to pinch run and an Erica McNew single up the middle, coupled with an error in the field, allowed Cleveland State to sneak in its one and only run of the game. Bucknell was unable to respond in the top of the seventh, dropping a 1-0 decision in its season opener.
The tables turned in Bucknell’s second game of the day, as its showdown with Canisius turned into an offensive battle that took extra innings to determine a victor. The Bison turned eight hits into 11 runs against the Golden Griffins, and the team was led by Almond’s 3-for-3 outing that was made even more impressive by her first two collegiate home runs. The rookie also scored three runs and drove in three RBI.
“We adjusted our batting line-up in the second game,” said Skrenta, “and it allowed us to really increase the amount of quality at-bats that we produced. Jacee’s performance really stood out and it was clear at the end of the day that we are heading in the right direction with our offense.”
Bucknell took an early lead in the contest, as Almond homered at the top of the lineup to put her team on the board. Sanders, batting in the second spot, was walked, advancing to second on a ground out, but that was as far as she would get, as the Bison took the 1-0 edge into the second.
The top of the second was troublesome for the Bucknell defense, as the Golden Griffins exploded for six runs, largely due to a four-run homer by Meghan Cuda. Freshman Lara Bean relieved Bucknell starting pitcher, sophomore Dana Nielsen, with one out remaining, and the Bison set about getting themselves back into the game.
Almond and Sanders each had singles in the bottom of the third, and a ground out by senior Kristen Zahn drove both of them in to narrow Canisius’ lead to 6-3. The Golden Griffins responded with another run in their next at-bat, but Sanders singled to second base in the bottom of the fourth, bringing freshman Chaylen Andolino and senior Mallory Lyons in and whittling the deficit down to two.
Canisius scored once in the fifth and twice in the sixth, increasing its lead to 10-5, but a four-run surge at the bottom of the sixth kept Bucknell competitive, bringing them within one. Almond hit a two-run homer to account for half of the production, while Zahn also knocked one out of the park, bringing in two more runs.
Bean didn’t allow a hit in top of the seventh, providing her team with a real chance to pull out a victory, and the offense responded, as a double from Lyons drove in the tying run, sending the game into extra innings. Canisius earned a run on an error in the top of the eighth and while Bucknell came close, advancing Conners to third, the Golden Griffins’ defense clamped down, giving them the 11-10 extra inning win.
Nielsen pitched 1.2 innings in the second game of the day, striking out two batters but allowing five hits and six earned runs. Bean earned her first collegiate appearance in relief, putting in 6.1 innings of work. The rookie finished the day with five strikeouts, three hits and just one earned run.
Bucknell will return to action on Sunday morning, taking on two more opponents in the Cleveland State Dome Tournament. The Bison are scheduled to take on Bowling Green at 9 a.m. and Robert Morris at 11 a.m., and live stats for both contests will be available.