Niagara 1 (9)
Niagara 1 (9)
Chilly, drizzling rain and a lengthy delay did not prevent these two teams from playing an outstanding game as the MAAC Championship opened Thursday at the Demske Sports Complex on the Canisius Campus in Buffalo, NY.
The tournament opened with a very intense game, and even though the weather was not ideal, it did not affect the play at all. Iona's Sarah Jackson and Niagara's Julie DiMatteo both did great jobs holding off strong offenses and requiring a couple of extra innings to decide the game.
Niagara did strike first in the third inning when freshman catcher Becky Zill drove a ball over the left field fence to give the Purple Eagles a 1-0 lead, which they would hold until the fifth inning. The Gaels had a chance in the fourth inning when they loaded the bases with singles by Allyssa Maiese and Tessa Earley, plus a walk to Chelsea Sheehan. But Niagara shortstop Maggie McDonald ended that threat by forcing Chelsea at third.
Iona would manufacture a run in the fifth inning and tie the game when Jodi Petersen singled, was sent to third on an Eileen McCann ground rule double, and then scored on an Erin Kyle sacrifice fly. That tying run brought the Gaels' bench to life. It seemed to me that they were a bit nervous playing their first MAAC game---that run relieved the tension.
Most of this game was played in a steady drizzle. It felt more like early April out there. After the sixth inning was completed, play was halted because the rain turned into a steady shower. After about 25 minutes, the teams took the field and resumed play.
Niagara had a good chance in the eighth inning when after singles by Maggie McDonald and Teresa Healy Gaels third baseman Chelsea Sheehan made a bad throw that went out of play. The umpire ruled that Teresa Healy (after Maggie was forced out at third) was not entitled to go all the way home, bringing upon himself a boisterous objection from Niagara Head Coach Al Dirschberger. He could be heard quite plainly describing the umpire's call as a "game changer".
Freshman Jodi Petersen (pictured) became the "game changer" herself when she ended the contest in Iona's favor in the bottom of the ninth inning with a powerful drive over the left field fence. Julie DiMatteo had just walked Marisa Newman with two outs, causing yours truly to mutter under her breath "uh oh" as the MAAC Rookie Of The Year candidate stepped to the plate. Sure enough, Jodi hit the ball long...Niagara left fielder Kristin Sito made a valiant effort to get the ball, crashing through the fence to no avail. Iona advances to the winner's bracket Friday.
It was a great game! Both teams did the MAAC proud, and you never know...they may be playing each other again. Iona will play Canisius in the winner's bracket game Friday. Niagara will face off against Manhattan following that. More great softball to come!