Engineers undo Union in playoff opener

Finishing the season atop the standings, Rensselaer earned the right to host the double-elimination Liberty League Softball Championship. The Engineers’ first opponent was decided by a play-in game with the fourth-seed Union Dutchwomen defeating the fifth-seeded Clarkson Golden Knights.

Erika Holowka started in the circle for the Engineers, quickly ending the top of the first after facing four batters. RPI’s Erin Askins started the bottom half of the inning by reaching first on a bunt and then advancing to second base on a passed ball. Catherine Worthington followed suit, dropping a bunt perfectly on the left-field line that advanced Askins to third. After Worthington stole second, Gabby Comeau bounced a hit that the shortstop’s reaching glove could not grab, bringing Askins in to score and advancing Worthington to third. After an Engineer popped up to the infield, Alex Ledger cracked a fly ball to center field allowing Worthington to tag up from third base and trot home. The Engineers established a 2‒0 lead at the end of the first inning.

CATHERINE WORTHINGTON SCORES on a sacrifice fly from Alex Ledger. Andrew Days/The Polytechnic

The top of the second inning finished as soon as it started, with the first batter flying out to center field and Holowka striking out the next two to complete a three up, three down inning. The bottom of the second, unlike the top, lasted an eternity.

Evann McDowell started RPI’s half of the inning with a leadoff single, followed up by an infield single on a bunt from Sydney Speanburg. When Askins stepped up to bat again, she lifted a single over the jumping shortstop to drive in McDowell and put Speanburg in scoring position. During the next at-bat, Worthington drilled a grounder up the middle past a diving Dutchwomen to score Speanburg and advance Askins to third. Worthington stole second again, setting up Comeau to clear the bases with a double to left field and extend the Engineers’ lead to six runs. After a pitching change, RPI tacked on another run after Comeau scored on a wild pitch. The Engineers led 7‒0 after just two innings.

GABBY COMEAU DOUBLES to left field to drive in two runs. Andrew Days/The Polytechnic

Holowka continued her dominance in the third inning, yet again facing only four batters before retiring the side. In the bottom of the third, Union loaded the bases with two outs after a hit-by-pitch and two walks. The opportunity fizzled out, however, after Worthington hit a ground ball to third base, setting up a fielder’s choice to end the inning.

The Dutchwomen began the fourth inning with a leadoff single. The next batter flied out, preventing Union from building any momentum. Dutchwoman Ellie Wintringer then grounded to Worthington at shortstop, setting up a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning. The Engineers continued to struggle at the plate after the second inning by going three up, three down in the fourth.

Brooke Sroczinski replaced Holowka in the circle for the Engineers, striking out the first two batters she faced. Union’s half of the fifth inning finished when the next batter grounded out to shortstop. In the bottom of the fifth, McDowell walked and Speanburg was hit by a pitch, putting runners on first and second with one out. Maddy Brooks stepped up to the plate for the Engineers, blasting a ground ball straight up the middle to score McDowell from second base. The RBI single from Brooks increased the Engineers’ lead to eight runs, triggering the NCAA’s mercy rule to end the game in just five innings.

With the Engineers’ offensive production and solid pitching, their future opponents will find it difficult to take them down. An extra-innings win by the third-seed Ithaca Bombers over the second-seed Rochester Yellowjackets makes the Bombers RPI’s next opponent. That game is scheduled for tomorrow, May 12, at 10 am. Click here for the box score and here to watch RPI Athletics’ live streams of the Liberty League Softball Championship.