In its first NCAA Tournament game under second-year coach Kathryn Gleason, the Boston University softball team fell to the University of Arizona by a score of 9-6.
“We came out ready for a battle and we are battle tested from the Patriot League Tournament,” Gleason said. “We felt ready and prepared to play the game. We just didn’t play great defense. “
The high-scoring game ramped up in the bottom of the second, as the Wildcats (42-13) struck first and were able to get four runs on the board against sophomore pitcher Melanie Russell, putting BU (35-20, 13-5 Patriot League) in an early hole.
After a bunt single from redshirt junior Chelsea Suitos plated the first run, the Wildcats loaded up the bases for senior Kelsey Rodriguez, who laced a double out to right field, scoring all three runners. The only reason that Rodriguez was able to get to the plate was due to an error by senior shortstop Brittany Clendenny earlier in the inning.
Even though Russell allowed nine earned runs over five innings, only two were earned due to two key errors by the BU defense.
“We had at least four opportunities to end the inning but the ball dropped and we didn’t make those plays,” Gleason said. “That’s what resulted in the run differential.”
The Terriers struck back quickly in the top of the third thanks to major contributions from their seniors. Senior catcher Amy Ekart started the inning off with a single out to left field. After freshman center fielder Moriah Connolly struck out, senior outfielder Jayme Mask got on base wirh a single of her own before Clendenny walked.
With the bases loaded and two outs in the inning, senior first baseman and Patriot League Tournament MVP Chelsea Kehr stepped up to the plate and belted a grand slam out to left field against pitcher Shelby Babcock, knotting the game at four apiece.
It was Kehr’s third-straight game with a home run. The Florence, N.J., native finished the day with a game-high five RBI after a sacrifice fly in the seventh inning.
“[Arizona] scored four runs in the previous inning and we hadn’t made the plays defensively, so for Chelsea to come through was tremendous,” Gleason said. “Like she said in the press conference, she couldn’t have hit it without her teammates getting on base so that was huge for us.”
The game would not remain locked in a 4-4 tie for long, as Arizona grabbed the lead on a sacrifice fly from second baseman Mo Mercado and an RBI single from sophomore Lauren Young in the bottom of the third.
Arizona would add three more runs in the fifth inning, giving the Wildcats a commanding 9-4 lead.
“They lead the country in batting average and home runs so we knew they had a prolific offense, Gleason said.” “You can’t give a team like that extra outs.”
The Terriers attempted one more rally in the top of the seventh, as Mask drew a walk and Clendenny doubled to put runners at second and third with one out. Kehr would drive in Mask with the sacrifice fly, while junior left fielder Mandy Fernandez plated Clendenny with an RBI single, cutting the deficit to just three runs.
Two runs would be all that the Terriers would be able to muster in the inning, as pitcher Estela Pinon struck out junior second baseman Emily Felbaum to end the game and secure the 9-6 victory for the Wildcats.
This was BU’s first time playing on national television this year, something Gleason looked at as a positive.
“They’re excited at the opportunity to represent BU and be on national television,” Gleason said.” “Once you get out there between the lines you’re still playing the game and TV is an afterthought. You want to play on the biggest stage and Arizona has a tremendous fanbase and it was a perfect night to play.”
Even though the Terriers lost the contest, Gleason still looks at the game as a way to introduce the program to the rest of the softball community across the country.
“That’s what these kids dream about and that’s who you want to play, the best of the best,” Gleason said. “And I think we’re creating a new standard for our program.”
The Terriers will next face the University of Louisville Saturday at 7 p.m. If BU wins, they will face the winner of Arizona and Louisiana State University later that night at 9:30 p.m. If the Terriers fall to the Cardinals (37-21), BU will be eliminated from the tournament.