NO. ANDOVER, Mass. – The Hawks needed three extra innings and some late-game heroics but the Saint Anselm College softball team clinched a berth in the Northeast-10 Conference Championship tournament Friday evening with a 6-5 win against Merrimack College at Warrior Diamond.
The win, which improves Saint Anselm's overall season record to 21-9 and 12-7 in league play, assures no worse than a fourth place finish in the Northeast Division. The Hawks are still well within reach of the #2-seed, but will need at least one loss by Stonehill College tomorrow to break a tie in the standings as the Skyhawks own the tiebreaker between the two teams. Merrimack, meanwhile, falls to 16-24 and 9-13, narrowing its chance to steal the #4-seed from current fourth-place team, Assumption College.
The game looked in complete control by the visiting Hawks early on, as Saint Anselm jumped out to an early 1-0 lead with an RBI single through the right side by senior Kasey Moran (Medford, Mass.), scoring junior Pattie Turner (Warwick, R.I.).
The Hawks then added four more runs in the top of the third with back-to-back leadoff doubles by freshmen Hannah Paitchel (Pelham, N.H.) and Amanda Bickford (Salem, N.H.). Junior Emily Crannell (Wilmington, Mass.) then looped a single to right to score Paitchel, and freshman Megan Murrell (Scarborough, Maine) took the first pitch of the at-bat to center with a double to score Bickford. Turner pushed one to right to score Crannell, before Merrimack starter Alexis Perry was chased from the circle with still nobody out. Finally, Moran's fielder's choice scored Murrell to cap of a wild inning of four runs and five hits.
Merrimack, however, chipped away at the four-run deficit literally one swing at a time. Despite eight strikeouts from Saint Anselm senior pitcher Tayla Trask (Lincoln, Maine), the Warriors pegged her for four homeruns on the afternoon—three of them solo shots until the game-tying two-run dinger in the bottom of the fifth to lock the score at 5-5.
Saint Anselm nearly scored the go-ahead run in the top of the seventh, after Moran reached on a four-pitch walk with two outs. Senior Hannah Byrne (Lynn, Mass.) then pushed her classmate to third with a single to right. Moran then broke for home on an ensuing wild pitch, but the ball took the most fortunate of caroms for Merrimack off the backstop and Moran was tagged out to end the inning.
Senior Paige Cormier (Rochester, N.H.), who had come on in relief after the game-tying jack, threw a very solid five full innings, holding the Warriors to just four hits while adding three strikeouts and issuing a walk to eventually pick up the win in the circle.
Merrimack then had its first chance to end the game with bases loaded and just one out in the bottom of the ninth, but Cormier reeled back to induce a foul-out popup to Turner behind home plate and an unassisted groundout to Byrne at third to send it to the 10th inning.
As dusk began to fall on Warrior Diamond, the international tiebreaker was put in play as Moran, the last out of the ninth inning, was placed on second to start the 10th. After seven pitches and two quick outs, Paitchel then came through with a huge double to center to score Moran and retake the lead.
With the Warriors' Stephanie Lapierre placed on second, Cormier induced a groundout to Byrne at third, who successfully held the runner from advancing. The next batter belted a single to center as Lapierre rounded third, but Bickford slung a perfect strike to Turner at home plate to cut down the runner and preserve the 1-0 lead. Finally, a groundout to Byrne ended the game and handed the Hawks a playoff berth in quite the dramatic finish.
Saint Anselm will finish up its regular season with two more games at Merrimack Saturday, playing a double-header at noon and 2 p.m.