To kick off the 2022 season, UConn softball went to Leesburg, FL for the Northern Lights, Southern Nights Invitational and won two of five games.
For the first game, the Huskies took the field against the No. 11 Mizzou Tigers on Friday.
Marybeth Olson started out strong on the mound for the Huskies, retiring her first three batters faced in order. In the bottom of the inning Laurin Krings escaped trouble for the Tigers, stranding two as UConn failed to capitalize on a lead off single, a stolen base, a walk and a wild pitch.
Back on the mound, Olson stranded a pair of her own in the top of the second inning, notching her first strikeout of the season as well. For UConn’s chance at-bat, it was Krings’ turn to send the batters down in order, as the game went to the third scoreless.
After two consecutive strikeouts, Mizzou shortstop Jenna Laird broke the tie, launching a solo shot to right-center field off of Krings. That was all the Tigers would get, though, as a quick foul out ended the inning. Mizzou’s only lead of the game would not last long, as UConn came right back. First, centerfielder Aziah James walked, then took second on a wild pitch. Shortstop Briana Marcelino followed this up with a single—advancing James to third. Later in the inning, when Marcelino tried to steal second, a Kendyll Bailey throwing error allowed James to score and Marcelino to go to third. Despite only having one out in the inning, Krings got the next two Husky batters to strike out.
In the top of the fourth, Olson kept things quick, only allowing a single, which was later erased on a caught-stealing. In the bottom of the inning, UConn took the lead for good. Leftfielder Sami Barnett started off the action with a double to right-center, and first-basewoman Emily Piergustavo succeeded in sac-bunting her to third. Immediately after, catcher Erika Coreth scored Barnett with a single to right. Third-basewoman Rosie Garcia singled after that, advancing Coreth to second, and at this point Coreth was replaced by pinch runner Hollis Wivell. A James sac-bunt advanced Garcia and Wivell to second and third, bringing up Marcelino. Mizzou chose to put her on base intentionally, loading the bases. Back-to-back singles from rightfielder Lexi Hastings and second-basewoman Jana Sanden scored Wivell and Garcia, extending the lead to 4-1 and knocking Krings out of the game, who was replaced by Emma Nichols. Nichols then struck out her first batter to get the Tigers out of the inning.
Going to the fifth, Olson kept rolling, pitching a 1-2-3 top of the inning. In the UConn frame, Barnett scored off of a walk, a Piergustavo hit-by-pitch, a Coreth sac bunt and a Garcia groundout, taking Huskies into the sixth with a 5-1 lead.
The top of the sixth ended up being the end of the road for Olson, who gave up a single to centerfielder Brooke Wilmes, then got two outs before giving up an RBI double to catcher Hatti Moore and was replaced by Elise Sokolsky, who ended the inning with a strikeout. Marcelino kicked off the bottom of the sixth by reaching on a Laird error, then stole second and advanced to third on a Hastings groundout. She later scored on a Barnett single, extending the UConn lead to four.
The Tigers’ last time up was a quick one, as Sokolsky was able to erase a Bailey single to secure the save and the Huskies’ first win of the season.
UConn’s second game of the weekend came immediately after Mizzou, a contest against Northwestern. Marcelino led off the game by walking, stealing second and then advancing to third on a passed ball. Unfortunately for the Huskies she would be stranded, as Wildcats starter Danielle Williams struck out the next three. In the bottom of the frame, Northwestern shortstop Maeve Nelson walked, then was doubled in by catcher Jordan Rudd. UConn starter Sokolsky got out of the inning with only one run allowed.
The Huskies were held hitless in the second, with their only baserunner being Coreth, who was hit by Williams’ pitch. In the Wildcats’ half, first-basewoman Nikki Cuchran doubled, then was replaced by pinch-runner Sammy Stanley, who would score on a single from rightfielder Skyler Shellmyer to make the score 2-0.
Williams’ two innings of no-hit ball ended in the third, with a James single to lead it off, but she was caught stealing. UConn would end up leaving two on, as Williams struck out two in a row following a walk to Marcelino and a single from Hastings. The third would be Northwestern’s only quiet inning, as Sokolsky sent them down in order to bring it to the fourth.
In UConn’s half of the fourth, Williams had an inning almost identical to her second, with the only baserunner allowed being Piergustavo after she was hit by a pitch. This is when the Wildcats broke the game open. With two outs, second-basewoman Grace Nieto reached first base on a Piergustavo error, allowing the inning to continue. Two batters later, centerfielder Rachel Lewis hit a grand slam, with all four runs unearned, extending the Northwestern lead to 6-0. Sokolsky got through the inning, but it was the end of her outing.
Williams’ fifth inning would be the most efficient of what would become a five-inning complete game shutout, as she retired the side including two strikeouts. On offense, the Wildcats put the nail in the Huskies’ coffin. Sokolsky was replaced on the mound by Meghan O’Neil, and Northwestern got things started with a one-out walk from leftfielder Angela Zedak, who scored immediately on a triple from third-basewoman Hannah Cady. The game ended on a pinch-hit single from Kendall Peterson, scoring Cady and triggering the eight-run mercy rule.
On Saturday, the Huskies aimed to bounce back from the blowout loss to Northwestern, facing Michigan State. Sokolsky was once again starting for UConn against Ashley Miller of the Spartans.
UConn got up to bat first, and while Marcelino drew a walk and successfully stole second, this was all that came of their first attempt. In the bottom half, first-basewoman Camryn Wincher singled with one out and one on, and then third-basewoman Alexis Barroso hit an RBI-single. The next batter up, catcher Macy Lee hit another single, making the score 2-0 Spartans.
Miller sent the Huskies down in order in the second inning, bringing the Spartans back up quickly. They immediately capitalized, with rightfielder Jenae Wash singling and then stealing second. Miller then helped her own cause by singling and stealing second as well. Mackenzie Meech’s single up the middle would score Wash, and also end Sokolsky’s day, as she was replaced on the mound by Delaney Nagy. The Spartans would tack on two more runs off a Barroso single that she stretched into three bases, scoring Meech and Miller.
For the next two and a half innings, the score stayed at 5-0. In the bottom of the fifth, Lee walked, then was pinch-ran for by Marissa Trivelpiece. Trivelpiece would score on a passed ball, a wild pitch and then sac-fly from designated hitter Kennedy Wyllie. The score would be 6-0 for the remainder of the game, as Miller picked up her second win and Sokolsky her second loss.
The second game of Saturday for UConn was against Penn State. Contrary to the high-scoring affairs that the first three games were, this was a pitcher’s duel between UConn’s O’Neil and the Nittany Lions’ Bailey Parshall. Through five innings, the only run on the board was via a solo homer from UConn leftfielder Giuliana Abruscato in the bottom of the second. Penn State rallied to tie the game at one apiece in the top of the sixth, with O’Neil walking third-basewoman Michelle Leone, then giving up a triple to centerfielder Lilia Crouthamel. Crouthamel attempted to score from third two batters later but was caught on the base path to get O’Neil out of the jam. UConn’s turn at bat in the sixth was quiet, and for the top of the seventh, Sokolsky came out in relief of O’Neil.
After a perfect inning from Sokolsky, UConn rallied to win it. First, Sanden walked and was replaced by pinch-runner Wivell. After a Makenzie Mason pinch-hit sac-bunt put Wivell on second, Hastings hit a walk-off double to center to win it for the Huskies.
UConn’s final game of the weekend was a Sunday morning matchup against Wisconsin. In the top of the first, the Huskies were unable to capitalize off a Marcelino double. Olson’s second start of the weekend began in disaster in the bottom of the inning. Centerfielder Ally Miklesh led off by drawing a walk, then stole second. Second-basewoman Ellie Hubbard reached on a James error in center, and then Olson walked designated hitter Jolie Fish to load the bases. Next batter up, a passed ball scored Miklesh and advanced the runners. The remaining two would be tripled in by third-basewoman Skylar Sirdashney, which would end Olson’s outing with only one out recorded. O’Neil would come in to stem the bleeding, but not after another passed ball would score Sirdashney to make it 4-0 Wisconsin.
Those runs would be all that the Badgers would put up in the entirety of the game, as O’Neil would go on to pitch five shutout innings, allowing only three hits. The deficit would prove too much for UConn’s offense. Nonetheless, the Huskies did mount a comeback attempt.
In the top of the fourth, Garcia led off the inning with a double and was able to score on an error that allowed Sappington to reach first in the next at-bat. Sappington would be replaced on the base paths by Wivell, who would also score after a Barnett single, a Sanden single and a James walk.
One inning later, Marcelino singled to lead off and once again stole second. Three batters later, she was singled in by Barnett, cutting the Wisconsin lead to only one. This is where the game stayed for the remainder, however, as the Badgers held on to win 4-3.
Overall, the Huskies’ first weekend of the season was filled with ups and downs. Handily beating a ranked opponent is a great accomplishment, and rallying to walk it off against Penn State was another highlight, but the blowout losses to Northwestern and Michigan State, as well as the seven unearned runs allowed, will certainly hurt.