The softball team won its first conference series last weekend against Rutgers, taking the second and third games of the series after falling in the opener.
In Saturday’s early game, Temple’s first home match-up of the season, the Owls were shut down by Rutgers pitcher Alyssa Landrith. The Owls were held to two hits, while Landrith walked three, struck out nine and hit one batter.
“I thought we had a really bad approach to her,” coach Joe DiPietro said. “We struck out a lot. I’m not a big fan of third strikes looking. They give you a bat for a reason. You have to go up there and you have to swing. I think when we take third called strikes we’re being defensive instead of aggressive, and that’s not how I am as a coach. I’m aggressive, and I want my players to be the same way. Sometimes they are, sometimes they’re not.”
The Owls’ sophomore right-handed pitcher Kelsey Dominik took the hard-luck loss. Dominik gave up two consecutive RBI-singles in the third inning, allowing the Scarlet Knights to take a 2-0 lead, the only runs she allowed. Rutgers got 10 hits against Dominik, who walked one and struck out three.
“I thought she pitched good,” DiPietro said. “She gave up 10 hits, but she didn’t really get hit around. If we would have had a hit here and there, I think it would have helped us.”
The hits DiPietro had been looking for came in the second game of the day. The Owls started off the bottom of the first with a single from senior shortstop Sarah Prezioso and a double from freshman left fielder Toni Santos. A sacrifice popup from sophomore second baseman Leah Lucas drove in the game’s first run; and then Dominik, now playing first base, hit a two-run shot to put the Owls up 3-0.
The Scarlet Knights responded with a home run of their own, with Alexis Durando leading off the second with a solo homer.
But in the bottom of the frame, Prezioso went yard with a two-run blast, and the Owls led 5-1 after two innings.
“What happened in the second game is, we started to swing, instead of looking for pitches,” DiPietro said. “And the result was we started to get some hits in bunches. And once you hit, everybody starts to hit.”
Freshman righty Amanda Gatt started the game for the Owls, and ran into trouble in the third. Gatt gave up four runs on four hits in the inning, including another solo home run, so the game was tied when the Owls came up in the bottom of the third.
After a groundout and two singles, sophomore center fielder Annie Marcopolus drove a pitch over the wall in left center, putting the Owls back in the lead, 8-5.
DiPietro decided to leave Gatt in to pitch the fourth, and she held Rutgers off the board. DiPietro said he thought his decision to keep Gatt in the game was the right move.
“When things are going bad, as a coach, you can’t show that you don’t have confidence in one of your players,” DiPietro said. “You have to stick with them, to a point.
“She has to be mentally tough enough to fight through it,” DiPietro continued. “The only way she’s going to learn is by doing it out here. And she was good; she understood. She learned from it. So that’s the most important thing. She’s going to be a really good pitcher as she goes on.”
Gatt did give up another solo home run at the start of the fifth inning. It was the sixth home run of the day for the two teams – each side hitting three apiece.
In the bottom of the fifth, the Owls’ bats exploded again. The team sent 11 batters to the plate, scoring six runs on four hits. Rutgers used three pitchers in the frame, who walked four batters and hit Santos with a pitch. The last walk was drawn by senior third baseman Devynne Nelons driving in Dominik. That put the score at 14-6, and the game ended due to the eight-run mercy rule.
On Sunday, Dominik and Landrith faced off again in the rubber match of the series.
The Scarlet Knights jumped ahead in the second with an unearned run coming home on a groundout.
Temple responded in the third. Nelons doubled down the left field line to drive in senior first baseman Brooklin White, tying the game at one. Right fielder Julia Kastner, the next batter, then led off a complicated play. Kastner bunted the ball to the shortstop, who threw the ball past the first baseman. Kastner was still awarded a single on the play. Nelons, meanwhile, rounded third and attempted to come home on the errant throw, but the first baseman threw her out easily at the plate. Rutgers’ catcher then threw the ball to second to try to get Kastner, who was attempting to advance from first. The throw sailed into centerfield, and went almost to the wall. Kastner came all the way home, and the Owls took a 2-1 lead.
“Yesterday we only had two hits against that kid in the first game, and we had nine strikeouts,” DiPietro said. “Our approach was a lot better [Sunday]. I think when they got the lead, for us to come back and get those two runs was big.”
The two teams were quiet for the next few innings, and then the Owls began to start utilizing the long ball again. Prezioso hit a solo home run in the fifth – her second homer in as many games.
“I can’t believe that teams actually pitch to her with nobody on base,” DiPietro said. “She’s a potential home run every time up. She’s having a phenomenal year. It’s almost like when she goes up, you take it like, ‘Oh, Sarah’s going to do something. She’s going to get a hit.’ And if she does get a hit, the way she runs, she’s going to steal a base. When she gets a single, it’s almost like it’s a double because she’s stealing second.”
Then in the sixth, freshman catcher Kaylyn Zierke hit a two-run homer to give the Owls a four-run lead. It was Zierke’s first career home run.
“I was happy for her that she finally got one,” DiPietro said. “Because when you see everyone else hitting them, you think, ‘Well, how come I’m not hitting them?’ And you put a little more pressure on yourself.”
In the seventh, the Scarlet Knights staged a rally, loading the bases with no outs. Chandler Howard singled home a run to make the score 5-2, with the bases still loaded.
“Of course we made it interesting at the end, as we always do,” DiPietro said.
On the next play the runner at third was forced out at home, and then Dominik struck out the next batter for the second out.
Rutgers was not done yet, though, and another run came in on a walk, and the Owls’ lead was trimmed to 5-3.
But the next batter grounded out to White at first, and the Owls hung on to win the game and the series.
“The last inning got a little crazy, [but] the good thing with [Dominik] is, even though she’s only a sophomore, she’s got a good head about her,” DiPietro said. “So she was able to get a big strikeout looking on the four hitter, which was the key to the whole inning, I thought.”
Temple (13-19, 3-6 American) is now tied with Rutgers for fifth in the eight-team American Athletic Conference.
The team is scheduled to play a doubleheader against Villanova on Tuesday at Ambler, with the first game starting at 3 p.m.
Don McDermott can be reached at email@example.com.