By CHASE GORSKI
The Salisbury softball team (15-13) played their most important in-conference matchup thus far this season, going up against Frostburg St. (14-9) in a two-game series that had massive Capital Athletic Conference (CAC) playoff implications.
Coming into their doubleheader Sunday, the Sea Gulls owned a 3-1 record in the CAC while the Bobcats were one of two CAC teams that remained undefeated with a record of 4-0.
Game One: Salisbury 3, Frostburg St. 7
What looked to be a dominant pitching matchup in the first two innings shifted towards a breakout offensive performance by Frostburg St. Neither team could record a hit until the top of the third inning when the Bobcats took advantage of two key walks and a hit batter by Salisbury junior starter Rachael Milligan.
After a quick first out, Milligan allowed the next two Bobcats to reach base after hitting senior shortstop Megan Tracey in the helmet and following it up with a walk to junior centerfielder Sam Gatton. After both runners advanced on a bunt by FSU, Milligan walked senior first baseman Hannah Tavik to load the bases, setting the stage for Frostburg to break onto the scoreboard.
Senior right fielder for the Bobcats Emily Harvey made Milligan regret those base runners with a three-RBI triple to take the lead for Frostburg. After a solid first two innings, Milligan felt her mentality changed, allowing Frostburg to take the lead early on.
“I became timid and rigid instead of just playing the game and trusting my defense behind me,” Milligan said. “I was trying to rely on not letting them hit the ball and I need to relax and let the game play.”
The Sea Gulls battled to stay in the game. After Frostburg put up another run in the top of the fourth inning to stretch their lead to 4-0, Salisbury’s offense broke onto the scoreboard in the bottom half of the fourth.
Following a lead-off single by junior right fielder LeAnne Collins, freshman designated player Brooke Yerger was hit by a pitch to put two runners on and no outs. After a groundball by senior center fielder Caitlin Lake, Yerger was out at second but Lake was able to beat out the throw while advancing Collins to put a runner on first and third with only one out.
The Sea Gulls’ junior second baseman Annie Pietanza put them on the board with a run batted in (RBI) double to right field, and freshman left fielder Mikayla Meehan followed it up with a double of her own, scoring both Lake and Pietanza to cut the Frostburg St. lead to one.
But Frostburg’s starting pitcher Allison Short limited the damage and ended the inning, leaving two Sea Gulls on base. Short, before the fourth inning, had yet to allow a single hit and was key in preventing Salisbury from gaining enough momentum to mount a comeback.
Once back in the dugout for the top of the fifth, the Bobcat offense picked up where they left off, scoring three more runs on four hits and another walk pushing the score to 7-3 and effectively chasing Rachael Milligan from the circle and forcing Salisbury to go to their bullpen.
Walks have been Milligan’s kryptonite so far this season, averaging over three walks in each appearance, making it difficult for her to maintain her confidence throughout difficult innings. Despite her rough outing, Sea Gulls head coach Margie Knight has confidence that Milligan will be able to bounce back and knows exactly what she needs to work on.
“To believe in herself, she’s got the tools. She now has to believe she has the tools,” coach Knight said.
Once given another four-run lead, Short demonstrated why she is the Bobcat’s ace by shutting out the Salisbury offense in the final three innings, allowing just one hit and recording her eleventh complete game of the season in the Bobcat win.
Both Milligan and her teammates looked to start fresh in game two and learn from their mistakes. Milligan looked to take the day’s game and improve from it in her next start.
“[I’m] working on being relaxed and focused and not letting this bad outing affect my outings in the future,” Milligan said. “Erasing it and having a clean slate.”
Game Two: Salisbury 1, Frostburg St. 0
The Sea Gulls shifted the tides in game two, riding a dominant starting pitching performance and a deep home run to a 1-0 win.
Game two of the doubleheader featured less offense and stellar pitching from both sides in the form of Salisbury’s sophomore Shannon Powell and Frostburg’s senior Hannah Tavik. While the beginning of the game started quietly with both pitchers settling into a groove, it was the Sea Gulls who struck first in the third inning.
After recording two quick outs to start the inning from Tavik, junior second baseman and clean-up hitter Annie Pietanza stepped up to the plate.
The clean-up hitter, or the batter who hits fourth in the lineup, typically is the team’s power hitter who has the ability to hit the ball out of the park.
Pietanza demonstrated that power with her fifth home run of the season on a fastball from Tavik delivering what many would call a no-doubter over the left field fence. Right off the bat, Pietanza knew it was gone.
“I didn’t swing as hard as I normally would, so it was nice just to hit the sweet spot of the bat,” Pietanza said. “It felt like the bat did all the work.”
That one run proved to be all the Sea Gulls would need, as Powell completed her masterful outing, allowing five hits while striking out six in her complete game shutout of the Bobcats. While Powell was dominant throughout the game, her confidence seemed to increase following Pietanza’s home run that gave her a lead.
“I’m going after everyone because my team just put me in the lead and I owe it to them to get people out,” Powell said. “Anything less than keeping [Frostburg] from scoring is disappointing my team.”
The Sea Gulls used the momentum gained from the home run to keep morale high and carry them through the rest of the game. Both Pietanza and Powell fed off of their teammates’ enthusiasm in the dugout, which in a conference game was at an all-time high.
“Especially during conference play against rivals, we are probably a little louder than we are normally,” Pietanza said.
Powell, who exudes confidence in the circle, stayed calm even in innings where the Bobcats would string together a couple hits, and used her off-speed to keep the opposing team off-balance. Coach Knight felt that today’s success will be key for her moving forward.
“[Shannon’s] been pitching really well over the last several games and her confidence level is up really high,” coach Knight said. “It really doesn’t faze her to give up a hit.”
As for conference standing, their win in game two moved their record to 4-2 in the CAC and keeps them toward the top of the leaderboard with eight conference games left in the season.
“This was huge for us; I think it’s going to be a real dogfight,” coach Knight said.
The Sea Gulls continue conference play on Wednesday against the Wesley Wolverines (14-10) and will look to build some momentum against one of the teams in the bottom of the rankings before going up against the CAC’s last undefeated team in Christopher Newport this weekend.