In a surprising 8-6 win in their first game of a double header against Notre Dame de Namur University Thursday, the Gators softball team showed off their skills with clutch hitting and great defensive plays.
Coming off a tough week prior to starting their eight game stretch on Thursday, the Gator softball team learned that they have the power to fight through even the toughest of games.
“We were down after a tied game and you know, we didn’t give up,” said head coach Cristina Byrne. “It was an absolute team effort top to bottom. We batted around and everybody came up with a big hit. It wasn’t one hit that did it. It was four and five and six hits that whole inning.”
At the Silver Championship Bracket at the Tournament of Champions in Turlock, Calif., the Gators won three of their six games, losing to the Argonauts. Three days later, the Gators were ready to settle the score in a rematch.
During their matchup against NDNU in Turlock, the Gators fell 2-0 earning only three hits and no runs off of Argonaut’s pitcher, Sammy McConvey.
“We had the toughest throw of the tournament last weekend and we started to see that fire in them,” said coach Byrne. “We started to see that ability to come back and to fight back.”
The Gators did exactly that in Game 1 against host NDNU.
When Ashley Jackson took the mound to relieve fellow pitcher Marisa Ibarra in the bottom of the sixth inning, a few of the fans of NDNU were unwelcoming. With NDNU leading 5-2 over the Gators, the boastful shouts from the bleachers were loud and clear.
As the Argonauts’ outfielder, Danielle Gray took the plate first against Jackson, the crack of her bat was met with cheers from the bleachers once more as her homer pushed NDNU to a 4-run lead over their opponents, making a comeback for the Gators bleak.
Starting off the seventh inning, sophomore outfielders Heather Jensen, Kylie Herrada and senior outfielder Alyssa Esquibel loaded up the bases giving the Gators a chance at taking control of the lead. As senior third baseman Lea Cardenas came up, tensions were high as the first pitch popped into NDNU catcher, Kayla Anderson’s glove on a called strike. Cardenas made contact with the ball for a 2-run single to center field bringing the Gators up 4-6. A sacrifice fly by sophomore short stop Summer Powell, followed by a ground ball past second base allowed the Gators to score twice tying up the game 6-6 with only two outs. Freshman Jenna Robertson tripled earning the Gators a 2-run lead over the Argonauts and silenced the jeers from the bleachers.
Starting off fresh in Game 2 of the series, Heather Jensen immediately fired off a solo home run pulling out an early lead for the Gators.
The Gators managed to further their lead with a 2 RBI single from Alyssa Esquibel. Following an impressive three innings for the Gators, Summer Powell hit a 2-run homer sending her team into a dominant 5-0 lead.
The pacing of Game 2, drastically different than the first, revealed a side of the Gators that has gone unseen for most of the season. Struggling during the season with defensive support, coach Byrne acknowledged that the team has come a long way and can only get better.
“Our offense is leading to our defense getting better,” coach Byrne said.
Clearly, the offensive efforts from the team were contagious during their final game against NDNU.
At the top of the seventh with a healthy 6-run lead over the Argonauts, senior first-baseman, Rachel Kroneder hit her first collegiate career home run. Her teammates erupted into cheers from their dugout as Kroneder ran the bases.
“It felt like a good hit but, I don’t know,” said Kroneder. “I’ve never hit a home run before so it’s like, ‘oh I got a solid piece!’”
Greeted by hugs and high-fives by her teammates at home plate, Kroneder further solidified her teams lead, 11-4.
“It felt good,” Kroneder said with a laugh. “It was nice to trot.”
With their sweep of NDNU, the Gators proved they are more than capable of success when the odds are against them.
“I am really proud of the fact that they’ve learned to fight and that now they know how good they are and really starting to see that,” coach Byrne said.