Clutch hitting, solid pitching and spectacular defensive plays helped the SF State women’s softball team avoid a sweep to the Cal State Monterey Bay Otters at home.
Seasoned senior Gators’ pitcher Ashley Jackson faced off against freshman Otter Kylie Linnane in the first of the four-game series with Cal State Monterey Bay at “The Swamp.”
Although SF State lost the series 3-1 and were outscored 14-8, they split the first doubleheader match with a 3-1 victory March 11.
“The bottom line is we have to do three things: pitch well, play defense and score some runs,” said fourth-year head coach Cristina Byrne. “When we do this, great things tend to happen.”
Making her 11th start of the season in game one, Jackson (4-10), with a 1.74 earned run average, proved why pitching is an art that requires durability and precision: she not only pitched all seven innings for a complete game, but she also notched her fourth win of the season.
“I mean no matter who was up there, they couldn’t get a hit off of her,” said senior outfielder Alyssa Esquibel. “There were some balls hit back to her, and she made some incredible plays.”
Despite giving up a leadoff single to sophomore outfielder Angelina Orozco and a RBI-single to senior catcher Shae Olds in the first inning, Jackson dominated the rest of the game.
With her 5-foot-11-inch frame, Jackson was able to use her short stride, quick release point and smooth delivery to shut down the Otters’ offense. Facing 25 batters, she gave up no walks, four hits, and one earned run in the game.
“We fought back,” Byrne said. “She had 10 strike outs on 85 pitches. We also finally got that big hit by Alyssa to seal the game.”
The Gators’ big hit came in the fourth inning after a walk by senior pitcher and designated hitter Kendra Wood. Wood later advanced to second base after senior third baseman Lea Cardenas reached first base on an Otters’ error.
With runners on first and second, freshman middle infielder Jenna Robertson hit a single to left field off Linnane. While Robertson’s shallow hit didn’t push across any runs, it did load the bases for Esquibel.
With the score 1-0 Otters, Esquibel got a hold of a ball and crushed it into right center for a three-run double.
“I think the team performed amazingly,” Jackson said. “My teammates got me the lead, so I didn’t have to worry about that. I just had to pitch. It gives me free range to mess with hitters knowing that I don’t have to throw from behind.”
The Gators returned to the mound the following day striving to make up for the 5-1 loss in game two.
In an unusual last minute decision by Otters head coach Andrea Kenney, Linnane was bumped to start game four preventing another “Jackson/Linnane” pitching duel.
Unfazed by the switch, senior catcher Kelsey Wood was confident that freshmen pitcher Jordan Stanaland would fare well against Linnane.
“This is my fourth year doing this, so I am used to Monterey,” Wood said. “I know they are a good team so it’s not too surprising.”
Fresh out of Notre Dame High School and a first-time collegiate athlete, Linnane cruised through six shut-out innings while striking out five batters.
With her team up 3-0, Linnane’s no-hit bid came to an end in the bottom of the seventh inning after Cardenas and Esquibel hit back-to-back singles up the middle.
Kendra Wood’s sacrifice fly to right field drove in Cardenas from third and placed pitch-runner sophomore outfielder Kylie Herrada on second base after a wild pitch thrown by Linnane.
Having runners on the corners, the pressure for the Gators to make a comeback rested on the shoulders of pinch-hitter and sophomore catcher Kelly Mast as she set foot in the batter’s box.
“I was a little nervous (when the ball) went higher than what I would’ve liked,” Mast said. “But, then I got excited when I saw it dip down.”
Mast’s single to center tied the game 3-3, offering SF State the chance to emerge victorious in extra innings. However, the Otters’ three-run rally in the top of the eighth crushed SF State’s hope to even the series.
“I have never doubted their fight,” Byrne said regarding the effort the teams has made this season. “Our record isn’t indicative of that.”