By Nick Hawks
It’s been a tough stretch for the Cleveland State University softball team. Going into the doubleheader against Robert Morris University on March 27, the Vikings had dropped six of their past seven games, being outscored by an average of over six runs per game during the stretch. However, the Vikings showed up at Robert Morris ready to play in two games that would both go back and forth like a heavyweight slugfest all afternoon.
In the first game, the Vikings took the lead in the first inning thanks to a single by senior Riley Ries which allowed junior Kelly Hysong to score. The Vikings extended their lead in the top of the third inning where freshman Lindsay Ward singled, allowing Hysong to cross home plate again. Ries then doubled to right, which allowed for freshman Aly Packish and Ward to score, making the score 3-0. Robert Morris struck back and took a 5-4 lead after the fifth inning.
In the sixth, the Vikings tied the game at five. Sophomore Paige Hartley hit the ball to shortstop, and it seemed like it would be an out. But a throwing error allowed for not only Hartley to score, but also for sophomore Sydney Bajusz to score and tie the game. However, in heartbreaking fashion, the Vikings would ultimately fall 6-5 on a Robert Morris walk-off hit in the seventh inning. They were not deterred and headed into the second game of the double header.
After a scoreless three innings to start the second game, Ries put Cleveland State on the scoreboard, smacking her first home run of the year and putting the Vikings ahead 1-0. The lead wouldn’t last long, as Robert Morris answered in the bottom half of the inning, going up 2-1. Once again, the Vikings found themselves needing to rally in the game’s final innings. With one out in the sixth, the Viking’s bats came to life.
Once again, Ries walked up to the plate with a chance to tie the game while Packish was on second base and Ward was on first. She delivered with a single up the middle, collecting her second of three runs batted in (RBI) on the game when Packish crossed the plate, evening the score at two a piece.
Freshman Alyssa Rose put the Vikings ahead with a groundout that allowed Ward to score and give the Vikings a 4-2 lead. Robert Morris had a home run in the bottom of the sixth, but the Vikings answered in the top of the seventh.
The Vikings put up four runs, including Ries doubling to left field and scoring Ward. Robert Morris would rally to bring the score to 8-5 in the seventh, but pitcher Hysong slammed the door shut and put Cleveland State back in the win column. Hysong pitched the full seven innings and gave up only three earned runs, earning her third win of the season. The win improved the Vikings to 7-21 on the season and snapped a four game losing skid.
The doubleheader was another fantastic day for Ries, who went a combined 5-8 with a home run and six RBIs. The 2018 Second Team All-Horizon League catcher improved her batting average to .338 on the season. Ries said one of the keys is approaching each game with a positive state of mind.
“Each game is its own game, and we try and approach each game with a positive mindset,” Ries said. “I think yesterday (the Robert Morris doubleheader) was a big day for us. We competed and had two quality games. Yesterday was just a good day for us all around by competing and playing how we know we should play.”
The win was the team’s first since March 17 against the Universtiy of Connecticut, in a 1-0 pitcher’s duel.
Freshman Hanna Griffin pitched eight innings and gave up no runs in the complete game. She had six strikeouts on the afternoon en route to the lone shutout win of the Vikings season so far.
As the game went into extra innings, runners begin the inning on second base with no outs, via the tie-breaker rule. The away team, Connecticut, was up first. With runners in scoring position, Griffin buckled down with the game on the line. Griffin was able to get the next three batters out, keeping the shutout and tied game in-tact.
The Vikings were then up with Packish being the runner on second base. Ward successfully moved Packish to third via sacrifice bunt. Once again, Ries was the player to get the job done. Her sacrifice fly was enough to get Packish across home plate to win, in walk-off fashion. The Vikings were out hit on the day, 8-1, with Rose getting the lone hit on the day which was a double in the second inning.
This was Ries’ second walk-off on the year with the other being against Wagner University. She believes the best part of a walk-off is seeing the reaction of her teammates.
“It feels awesome,” Ries said. “It’s great to see the dugouts reaction, and I think those situations are more for the rest of the team than they are for the player who got the hit. It was for the team, and to be a part of that excitement and to be the reason why we were that excited, is a great feeling.”
While Ries is in the middle of having a big year, Hysong is also having a big year. Hysong only played two games due to injury last year. At the plate, she has a .320 batting average, with six home runs and 16 RBIs. She also has pitched her way to three wins. The junior is thankful to be back on the field after a tough injury last season.
“It feels really good, and it’s definitely better than sitting,” Hysong said. “Last year was tough. It was the most significant injury that I’ve had in my career, but the girls really helped me out last year and picked me up and kept my spirits up. It’s great to be back in the lineup.”
The Vikings still have 24 games remaining on their regular season schedule, so there is still plenty of time for them to turn it around after their slow start.