Softball: Huskies’ series win over Seton Hall helps secure playoff spot


The UConn Huskies continued to dominate in Big East play by winning their midweek series against the Seton Hall Pirates.

Due to some forecasted rain in the area and a shift in scheduling, the Huskies got to play under the lights for the first time on their renovated field, and they made the most of it.

Both the Huskies and Pirates had opportunities early in the game as both teams got two runners on in back-to-back frames via walks (UConn) and singles (Seton Hall). Not a single one of those base runners was plated home and after one-and-a-half innings, the game remained scoreless.

For four-and-a-half innings, this was a pitcher’s duel between Meghan O’Neil and Shelby Smith. That all changed in the bottom half of the fifth when the Huskies brought in two runs. After singles by Emily Piergustavo and Reese Guevarra as well as a walk to Aziah James loaded the bases, Jana Sanden was able to give the Huskies the lead after getting hit by a pitch. Briana Marcelino was able to bring home the game’s second run on a sacrifice fly that allowed Guevarra to score.

The Pirates were able to cut their deficit in half when Darby Pandolfo hit a lead-off home run in the top of the sixth, but the Huskies responded right back to double that lead back to two when Rileigh De Weese walked in Makenzie Mason with the bases loaded.

That wound up being enough as Payton Kinney mowed down the Pirates in order in the top of the seventh to secure a 3-1 victory. With this win, the Huskies officially clinched their spot in the Big East conference tournament and also earned “home-field advantage” as the tournament will be held in Storrs at the renovated Burrill Family Field.

As mentioned earlier, both pitchers were phenomenal. Seton Hall’s Smith took the loss despite going 5.2 innings while allowing three runs (two earned) on five hits, four walks and five strikeouts. O’Neil, who collected her tenth victory of the season, went 5+ innings herself, allowing just one run on seven hits, one walk and six strikeouts. Kinney also collected her first save of the season after striking out four over two innings.

In the first game of the next day, the low-scoring aura remained, but favored the other team this time.

The Huskies had opportunities in each of the first two innings to blow this game wide open. In the first inning, both Guevarra and James reached on a walk and a single, but the threat was extinguished when each of the next three hitters recorded outs. 

In the second inning, the Huskies were able to load the bases on a walk to Devon Casazza, a hit-by-pitch on Ashley Esty, and a walk to Piergustavo. The Huskies could have scored in this frame, but Casazza was thrown out at home on a fielder’s choice and James grounded out to end the threat facing the Pirates.

That said, the Pirates acquired their first lead of the series when Hailey Arteaga singled in Lela Allen while moving Janae Barracato to third base. After intentionally walking Pandolfo, Kiana Tate struck out to prevent any more runs from scoring.

The score remained 1-0 in favor of the Pirates until the fifth inning, when Barracato singled in pinch-runner Marisa Pla to double the Pirate lead to 2-0. The Huskies had the opportunity in the bottom half of the frame to make things interesting, but with two on and two out, Casazza struck out swinging.

The Huskies were able to get one run back in the bottom of the seventh After finishing off a unique double play in the top of the sixth, Sami Barnett doubled to give the Huskies a spark for an interesting rally. The good news, Barnett was able to score when Marcelino doubled, the bad, Marcelino’s double almost left the park to tie the game. Instead, the Pirates held on to win 2-1 as Casazza flew out to left before the Huskies could tie or win the ballgame.

Marybeth Olson took the loss despite going 4.2 innings allowing two runs on five hits, one walk and five strikeouts. Kelsey Carr of Seton Hall picked up the complete game win as she went the distance allowing just one run on five hits, four walks and five strikeouts.

In the third game, the Huskies played like they wanted to win early. Seton Hall may have had two runners in scoring position in the top of the first, but UConn were able to bring their runners home on a two-run home run from Sanden, her team-leading eighth of the year.

But the Pirates were not going to let the Huskies win that easily. Walks to Barracato and Pandolfo led to some early trouble in the top of the third and they both came around to score when Kelsey Carr singled to tie the game at two.

The Huskies would rally in the bottom half of the third as Piergustavo was hit by a pitch, Guevarra walked and Sanden singled two batters later to load the bases. With one down, Barnett put her car in the clutch as she dropped a double just to the right of the left field foul line. That double allowed Piergustavo and Guevarra to score and the Huskies took a 4-2 lead. They did not stop there as Marcelino brought in Sanden on a sacrifice fly to make it a 5-2 ballgame.

The Huskies added some insurance in the bottom of the fourth when Reese Guevarra lined a two-out double to right field. The double, which was kicked away by Barracato, drove in Lauren Benson and gave the Huskies a 6-2 lead.

Over the next two and a half innings, both teams collected one hit combined, a single by Casazza in the bottom of the fifth, and the Huskies held on to win the game by a score of 6-2, improving their Big East series record to 5-1.

Seton Hall’s (8-21, 4-11 Big East) Smith only went 2+ innings this time, allowing four runs on two hits, one walk and one strikeout. 

Payton Kinney took care of business once again despite going only four innings. She allowed two runs on five hits, three walks and two strikeouts, improving her season total to 109, enough for third in the conference behind Butler’s Karli Ricketts (113) and Villanova’s Paige Rauch (153). O’Neil got the save in relief by going three innings while allowing nothing on no hits and one strikeout.

The Huskies (20-15, 12-6 Big East) will wrap up the regular season against the Villanova Wildcats in Villanova, Pennsylvania. With the way the standings are right now, this could be the prelude to a future playoff game as the Huskies sit in third place while the Wildcats (29-12, 12-2 Big East) are currently in second place.  

On Saturday, May 8, there will be a doubleheader with first pitch scheduled for 12:00 p.m. EDT and the second game commencing at 2:00 p.m. EDT or about 30 minutes after the first game ends, whichever comes first. The regular season will wrap up for both teams on Sunday, May 9, at 12:00 p.m. As always, live stats for each game will be provided.

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