By Aaron Esposito and Peter Harasyko
With a series victory over conference rival Memphis, the UConn softball team surpassed their win total for the entire 2014 season. The Huskies picked up two wins in a Sunday double-header after suffering a blowout loss on Saturday.
The series was played at the Mansfield Outdoor Athletic Complex, home of the Eastern Connecticut State University Warriors, due to poor field conditions at Burrill Family Field. UConn head coach Jen McIntyre was grateful for the support of ECSU.
“I can’t thank Eastern Connecticut enough for allowing us to come and play here,” she said. “Everybody from the grounds crew to the game day personnel helped us and were phenomenal.”
The first game of the series got away from the Huskies (14-23, 3-5 American) early on. Memphis (14-22, 2-7 American) jumped to a 5-0 lead with six hits in the first inning and chased UConn starting pitcher Chelsea Eckert from the game. Senior Lauren Duggan was unable to stop the bleeding in relief. Memphis added three runs in the 2nd inning before Memphis freshman Katie Brignac mashed a three run homer in the third to put them ahead 11-0. The mercy rule applied after five innings with a final score of 12-0.
UConn bounced back in a big way on Sunday. “I talked to the team last night and told them that whether you lose 1-0 or 12-0, it’s one loss,” McIntyre said.
Memphis pounced early and took a 6-0 lead in the top of the third on a three run homer from Sophomore Brittany Vaughn. This time UConn responded with seven runs of their own, highlighted by a grand slam from junior Alyssa Gardea to give her team the lead. A double in the fourth inning from Senior Emily O’Donnell gave the Huskies a much-needed insurance run. Duggan (8-9) kept the Tigers in check over the final four frames and pitched out of a jam in the 7th to grab her eighth win of the season.
Eckert got a shot at redemption in the final game of the series and came through for the Huskies. UConn was able to produce a run in the 1st after junior shortstop Lexi Gifford worked a leadoff walk. They added one run in the 2nd on a double from second baseman Taylor Townsend and one more in the 3rd on Gardea’s second home run of the day, a line drive into the trees in left field. Gardea shined defensively in the 3rd as well, hosing a Memphis runner at the plate to complete a double play.
“Alyssa’s seeing the ball really well right now,” McIntyre said. “When you can start to cover both parts of the plate like that you’re gonna be in pretty good shape.”
Memphis scored three in the 3rd to tie the game at 3-3, but Eckert recovered to pitch a perfect 7th and give the Husky offense a chance. Townsend singled to lead off the inning and advanced to second on a wild pitch. With one out, O’Donnell laced a single to right field that plated Townsend for the walk-off win, giving Eckert her fourth win of the season.
UConn’s next game comes against in-state opponent Hartford on Wednesday at 4 p.m. in West Hartford.