By Drew Karpen
April 18, 2013 7:00 a.m. MEADVILLE —
More often than not a team that scores five combined runs in a doubleheader isn’t going to come away with a pair of wins. But when you factor in the pitching performance that Allegheny sophomore Caitlin Nealer delivered on Wednesday afternoon, that formula will be a success nearly every time.
Nealer picked up a pair of wins in the Gators 1-0 and 4-2 wins over Oberlin College at the Robertson Athletic Complex in North Coast Athletic Conference play on Wednesday.
“It was the same thing as every game,” Nealer said. “Just go pitch by pitch. I know I have a good defense behind me so just throw it in there and hopefully we get an out.”
Nealer had plenty of help during her seven innings of work in Game 1, but did most of it on her own. Nealer struck out nine Yeowomen in the game.
Both offenses struggled to get any kind of momentum on their side through the first three innings, with the teams combining for two hits and only one runner reached second base.
The Gators (14-13, 7-3 NCAC) posed the first threat of the game in the fourth inning. Still in search of their first hit, sophomore Sadie Stuart led off the inning with a line drive double to right center. But as quick as the Gators scoring threat began, it ended. The next three batters — Stephanie Fort, Halea Hayden and Nealer — were taken care of by Oberlin pitcher Sadie Oliver-Grey without advancing the runner.
“I think they were just having trouble sitting back on her because she was a little bit slower and the ball was kind of bottoming out a little bit,” Allegheny coach Beth Curtiss said. “It was just a matter of staying within yourself, get up in the box, let the ball travel and hit it.”
With Allegheny’s scoring opportunity squandered, it was time for the Yeowomen (4-20, 1-9) to put up a scare of their own. In the fifth, Oberlin had the first runner in the game reach third base. Sophomore Kantie Keislar led off the inning with a hit by pitch, advanced to second on a passed ball and wound up at third with one out after a sacrifice bunt by Cheryl Lindsly.
Even with the go-ahead run 60 feet away, Nealer didn’t flinch. With the infield drawn in, she was able to induce a soft ground ball to second for the second out before fielding a comebacker for the final out of the inning.
Allegheny finally cracked the scoreboard in the bottom of the sixth. With one out, Stuart delivered her second hit of the game, a base hit up the middle. Stuart advanced to second after Oberlin center fielder Jennifer Goldsmith mishandled the ball. After a Fort ground out for the second out of the inning, Hayden stepped to the plate in a pressure-filled situation. Hayden worked the count full before driving an opposite field RBI double to left field for the game-winning run.
“I didn’t have any questions that I was going to get it done,” Hayden said. “We are a solid team through and through. I know my abilities and this pitcher wasn’t anything special. We just needed to get in our groove and I got mine.”
Stuart’s two hits and Hayden’s double were the only hits Allegheny recorded in the game, something Hayden knew they would need to change in game two.
“I just think we need to be more aggressive,” Hayden said between games. “I know I let a lot of pitches go by that were low because I don’t really like them. But I know we need to be more aggressive, jump on them early and be the first to score in the first inning.”
Unfortunately for the Gators, they weren’t the first to cross home plate in game two. Freshman Hannah Olenik started the game for Allegheny, but was unable to get through the first two innings before being relieved for Nealer.
Oberlin’s Emily King led off the game with a single, stole second and eventually came around to score on a RBI double by Katie Pieplow.
The Yeowomen’s first lead of the day lasted a grand total of a half inning. In the bottom of the first, freshman Belle Mazurik quickly got into scoring position with a leadoff double. Mazurik advanced to third on a fielder’s choice by Stuart to the shortstop. Fort followed with a sacrifice fly to right field to tie the game.
Olenik ran into more trouble in the second, allowing four consecutive hits to the Oberlin 7-8-9 and leadoff batter. A single by Melanie Budney and double by Lindsly put runners on second and third with one out. Freshman Caroline Hamilton gave the lead back to Oberlin with a bloop RBI single into shallow left field.
With runners on first and second, King hit a double to the left field fence, but Lindsly was unable to score. After hesitating to see if it would drop, Lindsly was gunned down at the plate by Fort’s relay throw to Katrina George at the plate.
“Steph (Fort) did a really good job at shortstop,” Curtiss said. “A lot of big plays out there.”
Even with the big play, King’s hit chased Olenik from the game. Nealer returned to the mound and shut down the Yeowomen for the rest of the game, literally. King’s hit off Olenik in the second inning would be the last hit Oberlin would record in the game.
“I just did the best I could to get everybody back up because they were hitting a little bit off of Hannah,” Nealer said.
Still down 2-1, the Gators found their equalizer in the fourth inning. George reached on an error by third basemen Oliver-Grey and came around to score on a single by Leah Herlocker.
With the score tied at 2-2 heading into the fifth, the Gators big guns finally flexed their muscles.
Stuart belted her team-leading ninth home run of the season to straight away center field to give the Gators the lead. But Fort wasn’t satisfied with the lead. On the very next pitch, Fort launched one over the left field fence for some insurance.
“Steph (Fort) and Sadie (Stuart) came up big with home runs when we really needed them,” Curtiss said.”
The two run lead was plenty for Nealer, who shut the door on the Yeowomen in the seventh inning.
Fort led the offense in game two, collecting two hits and two RBIs.
In a day where offense was hard to come by, Nealer combined to pitch 12 1/3 scoreless innings and struck out 14 batters.
“Overall it wasn’t our best day because we have been hitting the ball really well but we did what we had to do to win,” Curtiss said. “Caitlin (Nealer) shut them down. She gave us one and a half games today. She did a really nice job.”