Softball: Huskies swept by Wildcats heading into the playoffs

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The UConn Huskies softball team wrapped up their regular season with a disappointing series result.

In the first game, the Wildcats had an early opportunity to strike as walks to Paige Rauch and Angela Giampolo put runners on first and second with no one out in the bottom of the first. Those two failed to score as the next three Wildcat hitters were retired via two strikeouts and a flyout.

Things were quiet until the bottom of the third inning, when Giampolo lined a 2-1 pitch into the outfield. She easily could have gotten a double if Aziah James did not make a spectacular diving catch in deep center field to end the frame. 

Still scoreless, the Wildcats got their run support early as a single to Chloe Smith and a walk to Ally Jones started the bottom of the fourth inning. Ryan Henry was able to bring in the first run when she singled down the left field line, allowing pinch-runner Erin Gray to score from second base.

In the top of the sixth, singles by James and Jana Sanden as well as Briana Marcelino reaching on a fielder’s choice loaded the bases with one out. Instead of allowing runs to score, Rauch kept her cool and sat down Sami Barnett and Devon Casazza to deny the Huskies any chance of doing so.

That would hold as the Huskies went down in order in the seventh and the Wildcats took game one with a 1-0 victory. This was more a strong pitcher’s duel between Rauch and O’Neil with neither pitcher letting their guard down.

Villanova’s Rauch shut out the Huskies while allowing two hits, one walk and 11 strikeouts, extending her total to a conference leading 164 on the season. O’Neil, meanwhile, only went six innings, allowing one run on five hits, five walks and seven strikeouts.

The second game was more about offense. After getting Casazza and Barnett into scoring position in the top of the second, the Huskies fought back by dropping four runs in the top of the third inning. To start the frame, Guevarra, Sanden, and Marcelino all singled to load the bases. With one out, Barnett was hit by a pitch that brought in the first run of the game. After Hollis Wivell struck out swinging, Casazza delivered a huge bases-clearing double into left center field to give the Huskies a nice 4-0 lead.

The Huskies wanted to add more in the top of the fourth as Guevarra and James singled and Sanden was hit by a pitch to load the bases again, but Barnett and Marcelino were both set down to extinguish any opportunity to do so.

In the bottom of the fourth, Henry demolished a softball to deep left center to cut the Husky lead from 4-0 to 4-3. That three-run home run was Henry’s 12th of the year, which leads the conference. The Wildcats were not done yet as a walk to Tess Cites and a subsequent Dani Dabroski double tied the game at four.

In the bottom of the fifth, Megan Kern doubled, and Henry walked to give the Wildcats two on and nobody out. A fielder’s choice, a wild pitch and a walk later, the Wildcats had the bases loaded with one out. With that opportunity in mind, Giampolo gave the Wildcats the lead on a bases-clearing double of her own. After being down 4-0, the Wildcats had scored seven unanswered to take a 7-4 lead.

In the top of the seventh, the Huskies got the bases loaded with one out after Rileigh De Weese grounded into a fielder’s choice, Wivell singled and Casazza was hit by a pitch. With Emily Piergustavo at the plate, one run came across as a passed ball by Sara Kennedy allowed Barnett, who was running in De Weese’s place, to score.

Down 7-5, Piergustavo proceeded to reach first on a throwing error by Kern to pull the Huskies within one. After Madisyn Estorga struck out and Guevarra was intentionally walked, the Huskies had the bases loaded once again and James had the opportunity to do something special. Instead, James grounded out to third base and the Wildcats took both games of the doubleheader and the series by a score of 7-6.

Both Payton Kinney and O’Neil had good outings in this one. Kinney started and went 3+ innings, allowing four runs on three hits while walking five and striking out seven. Her seven strikeouts gave her 116 on the year.

In the last game of the regular season, the Huskies got out to a hot start once again with the hopes of avoiding a sweep. In the top of the third, the Huskies were able to get that big lead. 

After Marcelino singled up the middle, on a full count pitch, Guevarra doubled her in to give the Huskies a 1-0 advantage with one out. On back-to-back pitches, Sanden was hit by a pitch and Barnett singled to allow Guevarra to score and gave the Huskies a 2-0 advantage.

The big play of the inning occurred when Casazza took a 2-2 pitch so deep to left field it left the ballpark for a three-run home run, giving the Huskies a commanding 5-0 lead. That home run was Casazza’s eighth and tied her with Marcelino for the team lead.

But the Wildcats would not surrender, in the bottom half of the third inning, Villanova loaded the bases on a walk to Rauch, a hit by pitch on Giampolo and a single by Smith. A full count walk to Jones allowed the Wildcats to plate their first run and cut the Husky lead down to 5-1.

After a foulout from Julia DaCosta, Kern launched a double to right center that unloaded the bases and diminished the Husky lead down to 5-4. It appeared as though every time the Huskies got a big lead, it would evaporate within the next half inning.

But the Huskies were going to make the Wildcats work to regain that lead. In the top half of the fourth inning, James was able to move around the bases without collecting a hit as she walked, took second on a passed ball and took third on a wild pitch. She would proceed to score when Marcelino reached on an error to make it a 6-4 ballgame and she advanced to second on a wild pitch. Marcelino would give the Huskies a 7-4 lead when she was brought in on a sacrifice fly by Sanden.

Alas, Villanova was able to work for that lead as Giampolo walked in a run with the bases loaded in the bottom of the fourth to make it a 7-5 ballgame. They would proceed to take their lead back in the bottom of the fifth when a fielder’s choice by Rauch allowed Kern to score and a single by Giampolo brought in Cites and Dabroski to give the Wildcats an 8-7 advantage.

The Huskies could have tied it in the top of the sixth after Sanden doubled, but a strikeout and flyout ended any hopes of that happening. The Wildcats then responded by bringing in a run with the bases loaded on a Dabroski single. The Huskies had an opportunity to rally in the top of the seventh but were set down in order as the Wildcats swept the series with a 9-7 victory.

Both Kinney and O’Neil went three innings while allowing four runs on a combined eight hits, four walks each and 11 total strikeouts.

Thanks to the way in which the conference tournament is scheduled, the No. 3 seeded Huskies (20-18, 12-9 Big East) will meet up with the No. 2 seeded Wildcats (32-12, 15-2 Big East) in the first round of the playoffs. Their game will take place on Thursday, May 13, at 3:00 p.m. EDT. 

The winner will advance to the “second round” against the winner of No. 4 Butler (qualifying after Creighton was unable to participate) vs. No. 1 DePaul. The loser will take on the loser of that first round matchup in their “second round” contest. As always, live stats will be provided.

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