SALISBURY, Md. – Tabbed as one of the best regional sites for pitching in the 2015 NCAA Division III softball tournament, the Salisbury, Maryland Regional started in style, with a pair of shutout victories, both coming for the No. 4 Salisbury University softball team, which heads to the final day of the event needing just one more win to advance.
The Sea Gulls picked up 4-0 wins against McDaniel College and Virginia Wesleyan College to open the event at the SU Softball Field.
Game 1: Salisbury 4, McDaniel 0
The opener was all about the senior starting pitchers as Salisbury's Rachel Johnson and McDaniel's Caroline Brehm put on a show, combining to surrender just five hits and four runs, only two of which were earned, but it was Johnson who would prevail in the duel.
"It was a great pitchers' duel, we were able to find a way to score runs and put the ball in play when we needed to so we're pretty happy with this win in the first one," Head Coach Margie Knight said.
The Green Terror (29-12), playing as the home team, put a runner on in the bottom of the second inning when Tayler Hishon blooped a single to center field with one out. Hishon would not advance as Johnson struck out the next two batters to end the inning. It would turn out to be the only hit for McDaniel in the game.
Salisbury would get its first two base runners in the top of the third when senior Angela Malgieri beat out an infield single to the shortstop and junior Kim Dorsey ripped a line drive off the glove of the third baseman, all with two outs. But Brehm would get a strikeout, one of her five on the day, to end the threat.
The Sea Gulls would load the bases in the fifth, drawing three walks, but Brehm would escape again, getting a groundout to end the inning.
She could only avoid Salisbury's offense so long, as the Gulls brought two runs home in the sixth. Juniors Paige Knussman and Annah Brittingham walked to begin the frame and moved up on a sacrifice bunt. The pair remained there with two outs when classmate Molly Simpson ripped a shot off the glove of Brehm. She recovered, but the throw to first sailed high, allowing the two runs to come home for the first lead of the day.
The lead doubled in the top of the seventh when Dorsey singled, and with one out Knussman drilled the first pitch she saw over the left-center field fence for a no-doubt two-run home run and the 4-0 lead.
"We've been sitting idle for two weeks, not having played a game, and I think we were a little frustrated losing in our conference tournament," Knussman said. "I think to get more of a lead was just exhilarating and knowing we were going into the bottom of the seventh winning by more was great."
Johnson made the four runs stand up, retiring the side in order in the bottom of the seventh inning. She surrendered just the one hit and walked one while striking out 14 in the contest, her 10th shutout of the season.
Game 2: Salisbury 4, Virginia Wesleyan 0
The Sea Gulls (32-6) needed to wait just a few more hours to see Johnson's 11th shutout of the year, as she worked for a three-hit shutout against the Marlins in the final game of the day.
Virginia Wesleyan (30-7) topped McDaniel in the second game, eliminating the Green Terror and essentially turning the double-elimination regional into a best-of-three series, and the Sea Gulls got the first win, jumping out to an early 4-0 lead and turning the ball over to Johnson and the Salisbury defense.
The Preston, Maryland native only allowed three hits in the victory, her 23rd of the year, with two of them coming in the first inning. After getting the first out, Johnson surrendered consecutive singles, but the runners would be stranded on first and second, when Johnson got a strikeout and fly out to end the frame.
Salisbury scored twice in the bottom of the first inning, when Dorsey singled to center and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt. Knussman reached on a fielder's choice, grounding to shortstop where Kiersten Richardson attempted to tag out Dorsey straying from second base, but she could not apply the tag. After a pop out, Simpson ripped a two-run single to right-center field for the early advantage.
In the second, the Sea Gulls extended the lead with a pair of singles and a Marlin error that put Malgieri at third and Dorsey at second. With two outs, it appeared that Virginia Wesleyan starting pitcher Kristina Karagiorgis would get out of the inning, as Knussman lifted a ball to the right side. The pop up was dropped, allowing both runs to score, making it a 4-0 game.
"That certainly takes some things away from them because now they have to score four runs, not just one," Knight said of the early four-run cushion. "It also gives us an advantage because we're able to do a little more offensively even though we were not able to push a run across. But we got runners on and we threatened often. But until the game's over, it's never enough of a lead. I'm saying that from a coaching perspective, and I'm sure a player's, we want to beat them every at-bat, every play, and we want to win innings. We won enough innings to win the game and we're very happy."
Johnson rolled from there, allowing only one more base runner, on a fifth-inning single, while striking out five in the contest.
The win sends the Sea Gulls to tomorrow's final day of the regional needing one win to move onto next week's super regional. The teams will face off at 11 a.m.; if the Marlins win the game, the teams will turnaround for the regional-deciding contest at 1:30 p.m.
"Tomorrow's a new day and we'll take it pitch-by-pitch and inning-by-inning, that's our philosophy – we don't look back, we look forward," Knight said.