RMU Wins Regular-Season Softball Crown, Claims No. 1 Seed
Monday, April 30, 2012
With its doubleheader sweep of Central Connecticut State and results elsewhere in the league, the Robert Morris University softball team clinched the outright Northeast Conference (NEC) regular-season title for the second straight season Sunday afternoon under sunny skies at the North Athletic Complex.
The Colonials won the opener, 4-0, before claiming a similar nightcap, 4-1, to earn their sixth regular-season championship since the conference began conducting a full round-robin in the 1995 season.
The victory also guaranteed the Colonials the top seed and the right to host the upcoming NEC Tournament. RMU will host the fourth seed at a time to be announced Thursday, May 10, on the opening day of the four-team, double-elimination tournament.
Robert Morris claimed its 30th and 31st wins of the season, moving into third place in single-season victories at RMU. The win total is also the highest for the Colonials since 1997.
Redshirt senior Jessica Calderone (Wilmington, Del. / St. Mark's) led Robert Morris with three hits on the day and also broke a noteworthy school record. With her appearance in Game One of Sunday’s twinbill, Calderone broke the Colonials’ all-time record for career games played, previously held by Kali Byers, and finished the day with 192 appearances in a RMU uniform. She actually went a perfect 3-for-3 with two runs scored in the nightcap to notch the 49th multi-hit game of her career and the 15th three-hit effort. Calderone moved into sole possession of third place in career hits with 189 and also became just the sixth Colonial ever to score 100 runs in a career.
Freshman Nicole Sleith (Smithton, Pa. / Yough) was brilliant in the circle for RMU and contributed significantly to the sweep of the Blue Devils. She threw all 14 innings and allowed just a lone run on eight hits, seven singles and a double. She racked up 14 strikeouts against just one walk and no hit batters on the day. With the two victories, Sleith moved into third place in single-season wins at RMU with 22, the most by a Colonial since her current assistant coach, Lauren Dickinson, tallied 24 in 2001. Sleith, who now has 116 strikeouts against just 13 walks in her past 15 starts, also moved into a tie for fifth in single-season strikeouts (217) and into seventh place in single-season complete games with 23.
A pair of Colonial seniors aided the hosts’ offensive effort with home runs on Senior Day, but one was from a familiar source and one from a rather unlikely one.
Senior Jaci Timko (Houston, Pa. / Chartiers Houston) blasted a pair of homers and had four RBI as her career hit total (196) inched closer to 200. Timko’s sixth and seventh homers of 2012 were her 26th and 27th career long balls as she moved her program-record runs total to 128. Timko also slid up into a tie for fourth in career RBI with 91 as she pulled even with a pair of her assistant coaches, Dickinson and Annie Dubovec. Timko has now homered in at least three straight games for the second time in her career as she blasted round-trippers in both ends of a doubleheader for the third time in collegiate competition.
Senior Allie Patton (Poland, Ohio / Poland) had a memorable day as she led off the bottom of the fifth inning of Game One by blasting a 1-2 pitch slightly right of center for her first-career home run.
Sophomore Cassie Show (Connellsville, Pa. / Connellsville) knocked a pair of hits on the day, including a homer, to help RMU. The long ball was the fourth of her season and the seventh of her career.
The four home runs for RMU Sunday moved the 2012 squad into third place in single-season RMU history with 33 homers thus far this season.
A Central Connecticut State walk with one away in the second accounted for Game One’s only baserunner in the first five half-innings.
RMU took the lead in the bottom half of the third as senior Katrina Gallagher (Canonsburg, Pa. / Canon McMillan) got it started with a one-out lined single into left. After she stole second base with two down, Show knocked a hard grounder into center to plate the veteran.
Sleith sent the Blue Devils down in order in the fourth before RMU added insurance. Senior Sarah Capp (McKees Rocks, Pa. / Montour) bounced the first pitch of the bottom half into left before Timko sent a screaming liner over the fence in right to make it 3-0.
Sleith again retired the Blue Devils 1-2-3 in the fifth, part of a stretch in which she sent down 12 straight, and then Patton struck with a blast to right center in the home half to add on another run.
Central Connecticut State had its best chance in the sixth when it loaded the bases with one out on a single to right, a bloop single into shallow center and an infield single. However, Sleith escaped unscathed as Gallagher made a nice play in shallow left for the second out before Sleith got a swinging strikeout to leave three runners stranded.
Freshmen Tess Apke (Mt. Lebanon, Pa. / Mt. Lebanon) and Samantha Santillo (Ellwood City, Pa. / Lincoln) both singled with two down in the sixth, but RMU would not add to its lead.
Sleith worked around a one-hit in the seventh by closing the door with a swinging strikeout. She collected her fourth shutout of the season with the effort and now has shutouts against each of RMU’s past two opponents.
Santillo claimed her 11th multi-hit game of the season in the opener.
Central Connecticut State would grab an early lead in Game Two, but it would prove to be short-lived. A leadoff single, a groundout that advanced the runner and a two-out single to center brought home the Blue Devils’ lone run of the day.
RMU answered right away as Show led off the bottom half of the first with a bomb to left center on an 0-2 pitch, evening the game, 1-1.
The Blue Devils got a runner to second with one out in the second, but Sleith got a flyout and a swinging strikeout to end the threat.
Apke singled to right center to start the bottom half and went to second on a sacrifice by Gallagher, but the inning ended on a lined shot off the bat of Patton that turned into a double play.
After Sleith sent the Blue Devils down in order in the third, the Colonials took the lead for good.
Calderone singled to left center with one out and Capp followed with another single to put two runners on base. After a fielder’s choice left runners on the corners with two outs, Timko took off for second. The Blue Devils’ throw down to the base was wide of its target, sailing into center field, which allowed Calderone to score with ease.
Sleith got the Blue Devils 1-2-3 in both the fourth and fifth, part of a string in which she retired 16 consecutive batters.
RMU added insurance in the fifth when Calderone singled up the middle with one out and Timko blasted a homer to center with two down to make it 4-1.
Central Connecticut State had a one-out single in the seventh, but Sleith got a foulout to right before Calderone squeezed the game’s final out in shallow right to clinch the regular-season crown.
Sleith’s performances Sunday helped continue RMU’s recent run prevention in league play. The Colonials have now given up just nine earned runs in their past 11 league games, conceding just 47 hits in 76 innings.
The two wins also gave RMU at least 15 conference wins in five of the last eight seasons.
In addition to nailing her first-ever homer, Patton moved into a tie for sixth in career games played with 179.
Robert Morris completed NEC play Sunday, but it will continue its regular season with non-conference action this Wednesday, May 2. The Colonials will travel down the road to take on local BIG EAST rival Pittsburgh with the first pitch of the doubleheader scheduled for 4:00 p.m.ABOUT ROBERT MORRIS UNIVERSITY
Robert Morris University, founded in 1921, is a private, four-year institution with an enrollment of approximately 5,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The university offers 60 undergraduate and 20 graduate programs. An estimated 22,000 alumni live and work in western Pennsylvania.