Softball Eliminates Queens, Ends NCAA Tourney Run with 2-1 Loss to SNHU

MANCHESTER, N.H. – The Saint Anselm College softball team split its two-game slate at the NCAA Division II East 2 Regional Saturday at Southern New Hampshire University's Penmen Field, knocking out Queens College (N.Y.) with a 2-1 win in the midday game before getting eliminated from the postseason tournament by the host Penmen by the same 2-1 score in the nightcap at Penmen Field.

The split decision ends the 2015 season for Saint Anselm, which finished the year 23-14 overall. The Hawks, who were making their second ever NCAA Regional appearance in school history and first in 13 seasons, moved to 2-4 all-time in postseason play.

All five games played in the East 2 Region have showcased incredible pitching performances, and Saturday's pair of Saint Anselm matchups were no different. In the opener, senior Tayla Trask (Lincoln, Maine) gave up just one unearned run on four hits while striking out five and inducing 12 groundouts. Senior Paige Cormier (Rochester, N.H.) also pitched a gem in the Hawks' second matchup of the day against rival SNHU, relying on some stout defense with nine induced groundouts and eight flyouts to give up just one earned run.

With bases loaded and facing a 1-0 deficit in the bottom of the sixth inning, freshman Shannon McLaughlin (Tewskbury, Mass.) rocketed a game-winning two-RBI single through the left side to score juniors Julie LeClair (Taunton, Mass.) and Pattie Turner (Warwick, R.I.). LeClair led off the inning with single to third, and Turner reached base on a misplayed sacrifice bunt. Senior Kasey Moran (Medford, Mass.) then laced a shot up the middle to load the bases for McLaughlin as the Hawks soared into the lead.

Prior to the sixth, Queens ace Isabelle Yaroch cruised through the Saint Anselm batting order, scattering just three hits over the first five innings while striking out eight on the afternoon.

The Knights tacked on the first run of the game in the top of the second inning, as Samantha Mattson reached on a dropped third strike and was eventually plated on an RBI single from Stevianne Ognibebe. 

Moran finished the game 2-for-3 at the plate, while McLaughlin, LeClair, Turner and freshman Amanda Bickford (Salem, N.H.)—who led off the game with a drive up the middle in the first inning—each tallied a hit against the Knights.

Entering the second elimination game of the afternoon, the tide and tone had shifted a bit since the two teams met just over 24 hours prior. The Penmen, who were upset by LIU-Post in a 1-0 shutout Saturday morning, were facing a Saint Anselm team that was fresh off an emotional comeback victory over Queens.

The Hawks came out ready to exact some revenge against the Penmen, as the two teams squared off for the fifth time this season with bats a-swinging. Each team recorded six hits, but both teams played some excellent defense to help the pitchers' causes.

LeClair sent an early message in the top of the first inning, muscling a two-out double into the gap in right center. Turner nearly put the Hawks up with the next at-bat, but her flare down the left field line was snared by SNHU's Holly Eicher to end the threat.

Southern N.H. then responded with a pair of leadoff hits by Mo Hannan and Ali Maloof to put runners on first and third with no outs. Katie Caruso then launched a sacrifice fly out to junior Michaela Criscione (Franklin, Mass.) in right to score Hannan. Still a runner in scoring position, Cormier got a pair of Penmen to fly out to Bickford in deep center to escape with a one-run deficit after a wild first inning.

Both teams went 1-2-3 in the second inning and added a harmless single apiece in the third before the Hawks evened the score in the top of the fourth. Turner dropped a one-out single into center that skipped over the glove of Hannan, moving her to second on the error. Moran then moved her to third, nearly beating the throw on a sacrifice bunt. After McLaughlin walk, freshman Megan Murrell (Scarborough, Maine) knocked one just out of Hannan's reach in left center to easily score Turner from third to even the game at one run apiece.

Three straight 6-3 groundouts shut down the SNHU fourth, and senior Hannah Byrne (Lynn, Mass.) added her first hit of the day but was stranded at first in the Hawks half of the fifth.

The Penmen then took advantage of some miscommunication on a bunted ball back to Cormier as nobody covered the bag to allow the leadoff batter Brittany Perdigao to reach. An ensuing bunt was properly managed by both teams but a dropped fly ball to right field allowed runners on the corners with just one out and NE-10 Player of the Year Ali Maloof stepping to the plate. On a wild series of events, Maloof's bunt barely crept into fair territory and was scooped up by Turner who made the play at first. However, both Penmen on base got late breaks on the ball as LeClair tossed to shortstop Hannah Paitchel (Pelham, N.H.) at second base, who then tried to cut down the runner at home. Perdigao, with a wide slide away from the throw, beat Turner's tag as the Penmen retook the lead, 2-1.

SNHU nearly added a run in the bottom of the sixth after loading the bases on some Saint Anselm blunders, but a Perdigao fly out to freshman Leah Hunt (Londonderry, N.H.) in left field, followed by a cannon shot to Turner at home beat the Penmen pinch runner for an inning-ending double-play.

The Hawks had one last chance to draw even in the top of the seventh as Murrell picked up her second hit of the game with a leadoff drive to center. After pinch runner Sam Hennequin (Auburn, N.H.) replaced Murrell at first, Hunt offered up a beautiful sacrifice bunt to advance her to second. Southern N.H. boasts the fourth-best defense in the entire country, and it showed on the final play of the game as Paitchel grounded out to short and the relay from first to third snagged Hennequin trying to steal an extra base to end the game.

Maloof, throwing her second complete game of the day, gave up six hits but still managed to strike out six Hawks while issuing just one walk. Overall, she improved her season record to an impressive 22-2 after tossing a one-hitter—that one hit coming as a homerun—against LIU-Post earlier in the day.

Southern N.H. will earn a rematch against the Pioneers in Sunday's East 2 Regional Championship series, but will need to beat them twice in order to advance to next weekend's Super Regional round. Saint Anselm, meanwhile, finishes its campaign among the top 33 teams in the country as seniors Trask, Cormier, Byrne, Moran and Hayley Leclaire (Hudson Falls, N.Y.) each ended their four-year careers in the NCAA Tournament.

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