Three Gator athletes were carted out of the first inning due to injuries during softball’s season-ending doubleheader Saturday that only continued Sonoma State domination of the home team.
The Gators could not prevent Sonoma State’s offense from picking up runs, and ended up losing both games 10-0 resulting in a complete shutout for the four-game series. The Gators went through three pitchers in game three alone, while Sonoma State held on with NCAA strikeout leader Samantha Lipperd, who came into the series with a career-high 332 strikeouts.
“They lost their number two pitcher about two or three weeks ago and she [Lipperd] is all they have,” said head coach Cristina Byrne. “She is literally their only pitcher.”
But pitching wasn’t the only thing that forced the Gators to experience both the highs and lows of softball. Prior to the game, both teams celebrated senior athletes and their families. Catcher Jenna Wermes, along with third baseman Kelly Mast, center-fielder Kylie Herrada and right-fielder Heather Jensen stood with their families as the team showered them with flowers and hugs.
“I’m done with softball but hopefully I can coach,” Jensen said. “Time to start the real life.”
Reality hit hard in the first pitches of the game as starting-pitcher Marisa Ibarra and infielder Lucy Fernandez were both injured while trying to tag out Sonoma State infielder Hayley Condon, who was sliding into third base. Then within moments freshman pitcher and first baseman Torrey Rook buckled to a knee injury during her pitching warm-ups. By the end of the first inning, Sonoma State was up 2-0.
“It kind of caught us off guard,” said Gator coach Byrne. “The rest of the game was spent trying to catch up with our emotions.”
Pitcher Ali Garcia shut down the Seawolves offense until first baseman Ali Palermo scored on right-fielder Megan Konieczka’s groundout to third base. The Seawolves advanced their lead 5-0 when designated hitter Keisi Chinen smashed the ball over the fence in center field on the first pitch for a two-run homer.
In the top of the seventh inning the Gators found themselves in a bases loaded scenario, allowing the Seawolves to pick up three more runs. Garcia was finally pulled off the mound when Shannon Kehr hit a two-run RBI down the left-field line, sending home Condon and catcher Skylynn Myers. After walking Chinen, Cara Spence, junior first baseman turned pitcher, got the first out of the inning catching Konieczka’s infield flyball.
“I was kind of scared. Actually I was really scared,” said Spence, who hadn’t pitched a game since her freshman year. “I didn’t even really warm up. But considering that all of our pitchers were out at once, I was their last resort.”
Gator defense got behind Spence on the next play as center-fielder Herrada took the perfect route to catch a fly ball. By the end of the seventh, Spence earned her first strikeout in two seasons when pinch-hitter Jayme Tickemyer swung and missed sending the Seawolves back to the dugout.
With only one out left in the game, Lipperd gave up her first walk sending designated hitter Ashley Huff to first base. She got back in the zone during the next at-bat striking out Wermes and putting an end to the first game of the day. The Seawovles won 10-0.
“I was trying to stay pretty confident and relaxed on the mound,” Lipperd said. “And I know if I can just put a nice strike in there my defense will have my back on every play.”
Lipperd pulled herself out of a dangerous bases-loaded scenario during the bottom of the third inning in game four, a situation that could have revitalized the spirit of the Gators. But the last game of the series ended up being more painful for the Gators as the Seawolves skyrocketed to 10 runs in the first five innings of the game forcing the umpires to call the “mercy rule” to end the game.
“It’s been a great year,” said Gator assistant coach Tara Tembey. “Numbers don’t say that but team wise we know we have strength coming back and we look forward to next season.”