“Huge” is the word coach Joe DiPietro used to describe the aftermath of Saturday’s double-header.
The Owls (19-20) entered the weekend 7-3 in the Atlantic 10 Conference and fourth in the standings and were looking to make a push for one of the top two spots. But things took a decidedly dramatic turn for the worse against St. Louis (19-17, 7-5 A-10).
Within four hours Temple had dropped two games and slipped into a tie with the Billikens. Suddenly they find themselves on the edge of making the conference tournament, depending on how the standings play out at the end of the day, one week after looking like a lock to be one of the six in.
“We had a chance to distinguish ourselves as one of the top teams in this league and didn’t do it,” DiPietro said.
In the first game the Owls sent out freshman ace Kelsey Dominik (9-3). Dominik entered the day having allowed three earned runs in her past two appearances.
She did her job, surrendering three runs on two homeruns in six innings of work, but Temple couldn’t capitalize. Despite boasting the most potent offense in the conference, with 233 runs scored, Temple managed just two runs against freshman southpaw Brianna Lore (9-12).
“Kelsey didn’t pitch bad, she gave up two homeruns,” DiPietro said. “The first game we just came up a little bit short. We really didn’t have a whole lot of chances.”
Dominik finished with three strikeouts against no walks and gave up just four hits.
But Lore was simply better. The second starter on the staff allowed five hits in seven innings, striking out eight without walking a batter.
And she managed to do what no pitcher had done in 23 games: keep junior catcher Stephanie Pasquale off the bases.
Pasquale entered with a 21-game hitting streak and had reached base safely in 23-straight. But in three trips to the plate the conference leader in batting average grounded to third, grounded to second and grounded to second once more.
“Obviously she was disappointed, but she put herself into those situations,” DiPietro said. “She swung at a lot of bad pitches today.”
No Owl had more than one hit in the first game. Senior centerfielder Ali Robinson and junior third baseman Devynne Nelons contributed the only runs in the game, both off solo shots.
Looking to rebound in the second half of the twin bill the Owls sent out junior Brooklin White (4-7) to the mound. The only problem was DiPietro had to bring her back to the dugout after facing just 10 batters.
White never recorded an out in the game, coughing up five runs before being pulled with the bases loaded. Two more scored on junior Kylie Kristovich but they were charged to White.
“She didn’t throw strikes,” DiPietro said. “If you don’t throw strikes people get on base and then bad things happened. She had no command of any of her pitches, she didn’t look very confident, so I had to get her out of there as fast as I could.”
Kristovich got three straight outs, but a run scored on a grounder to junior shortstop Sarah Prezioso and another scored thanks to a wild pitch.
Down 7-0, the Owls struggled at the plate and were unable to get a baserunner past second for three innings. They caught a break in the fourth, down 8-0 thanks to a leadoff single by Pasquale, who went 2-3 in the second game. Three batters later Nelons drove a pitch over the leftfield fence for a three-run shot to pull within five, but that would be the closest they’d get.
The Billikens’ second freshman starter, Laney Kneib (10-5) went the distance, fanning two while walking three and giving up six hits.
A half inning later Kristovich began to struggle, allowing a single and hitting the next batter before allowing a one-out homer that scored three more. Sophomore Jessica Mahoney came in to stop the bleeding and got the final two outs, but the Owls trailed 11-3.
Prezioso and Pasquale did their part to keep the game alive with back-to-back singles with one out but two-straight grounders to third ended the game in a run rule at 11-3.
The Owls have less than 24 hours to right the ship against Butler (18-20, 7-5 A-10) in another double-header beginning at noon. Butler split their Saturday double-header with St. Joseph’s (27-5-1, 10-2 A-10) and are one of the teams fighting to stay in the A-10 playoff hunt.
“I think it’s huge because now it puts a ton of pressure on us tomorrow,” DiPietro said. “We have to win two of those games tomorrow. 2-2 is not the best road trip but at least if we get to 2-2 we’ll be 9-5 [in the A-10].”