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Retriever softball finishes non-conference play, prepare for Albany

Last Wednesday the Retriever softball team traveled to Emmitsburg, Maryland to take on the Mount St. Mary’s University Mountaineers in their last non-conference contests of the season. The teams squared off in a double-header with UMBC taking the second game by a score of 5-3. Junior Carly Lesko had a stellar game at the plate raking in six runs batted in, including a grand slam that gave the Retrievers a three-run lead. Meanwhile, senior pitcher Kelly Lane did it all, pitching a complete game and adding a homer in the sixth inning to give the Retriever lead some cushion.

Then in their final regular season series, the Retrievers hosted Hartford in a 3-game series (though Friday’s contest was cancelled) and emerged with two victories. Both victories were nail biters as they were both ultimately decided by a single run. Impressively, UMBC overcame deficits in the 7th and final inning in both matchups. Junior Toni Santonastasso hit a walk-off grand slam in game one while Lesko hit a double that drove in junior Tori Alexander for the game-winning run in game two.

Amidst the double-header, the Retrievers honored their seniors Kinsey Shifflett, Jaclyn Buckley, Kaelin Jackson, Lane, Nicole Casagrand and Jessica Holte for their contributions to the squad and the UMBC community during their time here.

With the regular season in the books, head coach Heather Gelbard and company will look to stir up the America East Softball Championship this week. It would be simple, perhaps, to look at the Retrievers’ record and discount their chances in the tournament, but this would surely be a mistake.

As a simple stat check would dictate UMBC’s 5-10 conference record is not indicative of their skill set at all. Gelbard’s team is top three in a plethora of major statistical categories including earned run average, batting average, runs scored, hits, homeruns, walks and stolen bases.

Freshman Maddie Daigneau and junior Tori Alexander possess two of the top five batting averages in the conference to go along with their combined 38 RBIs. Meanwhile, junior Kim Puccio has been nothing short of fantastic as she leads the conference in ERA (2.90) and wins (9) while also being in the top-10 in an incredible 19 categories.

On Wednesday May 10 when UMBC takes on the fourth seeded University at Albany, both teams will need an explosion at the plate to break through against opposing pitchers. As a team, Albany allows the lowest ERA in the conference at 3.85, followed closely by the Retrievers who garner the second position with their 3.95.

Where Albany excels is their ability to limit extra-base hits. They’ve allowed the fewest homeruns, the fewest triples and the third fewest doubles of any team. But with that being said, UMBC may hold their kryptonite as they have league leaders in each of those statistical categories. Alexander is third in doubles, Daigneau is second in triples and Lesko is fourth in homeruns. Pair this with the fact Daigneau and Alexander have been great base runners (combining for 17) and the Great Danes will need to prepare for some chaos if they want to move on in the tournament.

Meanwhile, UMBC pitchers will have to ensure that the ball stays within the outfield fence as Albany leads the conference in homeruns. But most importantly this matchup will be a practice in patience for the Retrievers. How do you counter great pitching? Waiting for mistakes, driving up pitch counts, getting on base by any means necessary and for UMBC that should come in the form of walks. The Retrievers were walked 134 times this season and should look for more of the same.

This would also be beneficial because despite Albany’s ability to limit scoring and extra-base hits, they rank last in strikeouts. Hence, patience may result in a large amount of base runners which will give way to steal, bunt and hit-and-run opportunities.

UMBC and Albany will face off at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, May 10 at Binghamton University and the victor will go on to face the two-time regular season champion Binghamton Bearcats.