Boston University 4, Bucknell 3 (8 innings)

The Bucknell softball team jumped out to an early lead and fended off a late rally, sending Thursday afternoon’s game into extra innings, but an RBI-single in the bottom of the eighth gave Boston University a 4-3 win on the opening day of the 2014 Patriot League Tournament. The Bison, who earned the third seed in the competition with their 10-8 conference record, fell to 21-25 with the loss and will seek to avoid elimination when they play No. 1 Lehigh on Friday afternoon. The Terriers improved to 33-19 and will vie for a spot in the championship showdown when they take on No. 4 Army in the morning contest.

Bucknell out-performed Boston University offensively, as the Bison tallied nine hits to the Terriers’ seven, and junior Cydnee Sanders, the 2014 Patriot League Scholar-Athlete of the Year and a first team All-Patriot League selection, highlighted the strong effort, going 4-for-4 with two RBI. Freshman Jacee Almond was also impressive in her first post-season game in the orange and blue, recording two hits in her four at-bats, including a solo home run to left field in the top of the third. Senior Courtney Conover was 2-for-3 and sophomore Mariah Midyette also recorded a hit for the Bison.

“Our offensive production was the story of today’s game,” commented head coach Bonnie Skrenta. “We were able to get nine hits on a pitcher who shut us out last weekend and that put us in control for much of the afternoon. Unfortunately, Boston University was able to capitalize on some timely hits and speed, allowing them to sneak by at the end.”

The Bison began to generate offense early, recording a hit in each of the first two stanzas, and Almond put the first run on the board in the top of the third, knocking out her sixth home run of the season to give her squad the momentum. The Terriers quickly snatched it back however, as Moriah Connolly managed an inside-the-park home run in the bottom of the inning to knot the score at 1-1.

After a quiet fourth inning for both teams, Bucknell exploded for three hits in the top of the fifth, regaining the lead. Conover doubled to right center and Almond followed that up with a single to shortstop, putting runners on first and third, and then freshman Carolyn Wan, who came in to run for Almond, stole second to create a prime opportunity for Sanders. The junior responded, sending a shot into left field to drive in two runs and put the Bison up 3-1.

Sophomore pitcher Amanda Fazio didn’t allow a hit in the bottom of the inning, preserving the lead, but the Terriers rallied in the sixth, scoring twice to tie things up at 3-3. Connolly opened up with a one-base hit and was brought home by Brittany Younan’s single to center field before Brittany Clendenny drove in the tying run with a double to center. Freshman Lara Bean relieved Fazio and recorded two quick outs to get the Bison out of the stanza.

Neither team was able to break the stalemate in the seventh, and Almond, Sanders and freshman Jacklyn Tyburk combined for a clutch double play to send the game into extra innings. Sanders recorded her fourth hit of the game in the top of the eighth and stole her 10th base of the year to move into scoring position, but it was the Terriers that would come through with the run, scoring on a Clendenny single to right field to take the win.

Bucknell utilized three of its four pitchers in the contest, but Bean received the loss, allowing one earned run in 1.2 innings of action. Fazio allowed just three hits through 5.1 innings, striking out five and walking none, while sophomore Cindy Cherness finished the game, giving up two hits.

Melanie Russell, who pitched a perfect game against the Bison last Saturday, earned the win for the Terriers, pitching a complete game during which she allowed nine hits and three earned runs while striking out seven and walking none.

“We have a lot of respect for Lehigh,” added Skrenta when asked to look ahead to the team’s next opponent. “We need to do many of the same things that we did today to put ourselves in a position to beat them, but I think the most important key to success will be to get the offensive momentum on our side early. I am hopeful that today’s loss will be motivating for our players and will inspire them to come back and win two with a vengeance tomorrow.”

Bucknell and first-seeded Lehigh will both be in a must-win situation when they meet at 1:05 p.m. on Friday, as the Mountain Hawks dropped a 5-1 decision to Army in nine innings in Thursday’s first game putting both squads on the cusp of elimination. Live stats for the game will be available and it will also be broadcast free of charge on the Patriot League Network.