With seven conference games remaining on the regular season schedule, a contentious scene has been set for the Boston University softball team and the rest of the America East Conference.
Five teams in the eight-team conference ‘-‘- Stony Brook University, the University at Albany, BU, the University of Maryland-Baltimore County and BU’s opponent this afternoon, the University of Maine ‘-‘- all stand within three games of the No. 1 spot in the standings. In a conference where standings are tighter than the stitches of a softball, every game counts more than ever, especially from here on in.
With that said, BU (30-15, 8-5 AE) plays the first of those largely meaningful games at home today against Maine (28-19, 8-6). Maine stands only one game behind BU in the standings in a tie for fourth with UMBC.
If the Terriers are going to keep the Black Bears at bay in the standings, they will need to overcome recent struggles that have them riding a two-game losing streak. They fell twice to conference leader Stony Brook in the latter end of a three-game series over the weekend. Said streak is the Terriers’ longest since they dropped three straight at the beginning of the month. It’s only the team’s third multiple-game losing streak of the year.
The offense in particular will be called upon to pick it up. Its runs output has decreased every game for five straight games, dating back to a 12-run performance against the College of the Holy Cross a week ago.
Maine will bring its own offense in the form of junior outfielder Alexis Soulharis. Coming off a season in which she was named to the All-America East Second Team, Soulharis has picked up right where she left off last season.
The junior ranks in the top-five for most of the major hitting categories in the conference. In the Triple Crown categories against America East opponents, she ranks fourth in batting average (.385), first in home runs (11) and fourth in RBIs (27). She also ranks first in hits (50), first in runs (36), second in stolen bases (17) and third in slugging percentage (.715).
Quite the resume.
However, the same cannot be said for the Black Bears offense as a collective unit. At the plate, Maine ranks a modest fourth in America East in batting average with a .266 average on the season, leaving a large .024 gap between them and the third-best hitting team, BU.
A similar model can be seen in the Black Bears’ pitching, which is led by senior Jenna Balent. Balent has caught fire lately, throwing five consecutive complete-game shutouts for the Black Bears, including a no-hitter against Binghamton University on April 11.
Her recent play has even caught the eye of BU coach Shawn Rychcik.
‘Jenna Balent started throwing well for them a couple of weeks ago,’ Rychcik said. ‘We caught the front end of it [in a 6-0 loss on April 8]. Before that, she two-hit the Stony Brook team that just beat us and shut them out. From an offensive standpoint, we’re going to need to be sure we can swing the bats really well [if we’re going to beat her].’
If the Terriers can succeed in getting Balent out of the game early, they can look forward to one of the lowlier pitching staffs in America East. Entering today’s game, Maine’s pitching staff ranks sixth in conference.
The other time these two teams met, the Terriers came out on top in the front end of the April 8 doubleheader. Redshirt junior pitcher Cassidi Hardy got the win for BU after surrendering only three earned runs in a complete-game effort. Freshman Emily Roesch went a perfect 3-for-3 at the plate, including three RBIs.
The game was moved from Wednesday to Thursday due to inclement weather in the forecast.