Softball, Sports

Top aces live up to billing

One hour past high noon on Saturday, there was a duel in the center of the diamond of the Boston University Softball Field. You could almost hear the stereotypical black-and-white western whistling music playing in the distance as two of the best gunslingers in America East took the circle in an epic matchup between the top two teams in conference during last year’s regular season. The matchup, quite simply, did not disappoint.

In one dugout stood Boston University’s number one hurler: junior Cassidi Hardy. Hardy entered the contest with an earned run average that had hovered just over one for most of the season.

Opposing batters had only hit .169 against her up to that point. She had been virtually unhittable, as evidenced by the two times when she was literally unhittable in her two no-hitters on the season.

Across from Hardy was University at Albany pitcher junior Leah McIntosh. The fireballer from the Great White North – more specifically Ontario, Canada – was fifth in the nation with 0.47 ERA as of March 22.

Even more impressive was her 12.1 strikeouts per seven innings ratio, good enough for second in the nation. In the seven-inning format of NCAA softball, this equates to a remarkable 58 percent of the batters McIntosh had faced going down by way of the K. For a little perspective, Nolan Ryan in his prime only (as if one can downplay the efforts of Major League Baseball’s all-time strikeout leader) struck out 39 percent of his foes.

The first inning of Saturday’s was indicative of how each pitcher had become so dominant and how the rest of the game would look.

Hardy set down the Great Danes on a pair of fly outs and a ground out on only eight pitches. McIntosh, on the other hand, punched out the first two batters she faced, including a three-pitch K of senior leftfielder Shayne Lotito to start the game.

The Terriers, however, had a plan to combat the strikeout machine that was McIntosh.

‘The way we prepared for it was that we thought there was going to be some strikeouts,’ BU coach Shawn Rychcik said. ‘We had to hang in there and be tough. If we did that, we would have a chance somewhere to win the game.’

By utilizing that strategy, the Terriers recorded the game’s first tally in the second inning when junior first basemen Rachel Herbert cracked a home run over the left field wall.

Despite the setback, McIntosh settled down in every sense of the phrase by striking out the next 11 BU batters. Not until a sixth inning pop out by freshman Erica Casacci did the ball enter fair territory for the Terriers.

Meanwhile, in the top of each inning, Hardy steadily guided the Terriers, retiring nine of the first 10 batters she faced to start the game. Her first misstep came after one of her own errors in the fourth allowed the tying run to score.

Although perhaps not in the brutally dominant fashion of her counterpart, the junior shook off the run and continued to follow her mantra this season of bending but not breaking.

The saying rang true in the sixth when Albany loaded the bases with one out. Hardy kept cool under the pressure, however, and retired the next two batters to keep the game deadlocked.

The score remained tied at one even past the regulation seven innings, sending the contest into extras. Both managers decided to keep their aces on the mound for the extra frames and for seemingly however long it took to decide a winner.

After a predictable scoreless eighth, the shot that ended this America East duel came in the bottom of the ninth. After McIntosh allowed a leadoff hit to Lotito, BU sophomore centerfielder April Setterlund smashed a walk-off home run to center for the win.

With that clutch hit, the duel had ended. A strikeout master met an unhittable hurler and when the dust cleared, it was the latter – and BU – that emerged victorious.

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