EWING – The Kean University softball team captured the school’s first-ever New Jersey Athletic Conference Championship, defeating Richard Stockton College, 3-0, on Sunday afternoon.
The Cougars (29-15) avenged a 1-0 loss to the Ospreys (25-15) earlier in the day, as sixth-seeded Richard Stockton forced the winner-take-all game.
For only the second time in NJAC history, both the softball and baseball titles were won by the same institution, as the Kean baseball team defeated The College of New Jersey, 14-1, to win their third NJAC tournament title.
Kean, who also earn the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Division III softball tournament, now awaits the announcement of bracket on Monday morning and will make their second trip to the tournament in the last three years after earning an at-large bid in 2008.
The 29 wins this season are also tied for the fourth most.wins in single season history, as the Cougars will be making their sixth trip to the NCAA tournament.
After being a part of two NJAC title teams an a player for then Trenton State College in 1991 and 1992, Head Coach Margie Acker captures her first title as a coach.
Junior Courtney Smyth tossed the complete game shutout and rookie left fielder Katie Schuh went 2-of-3 and drove in two of Kean’s runs to lead the way in the championship game.
The Cougars quickly rebounded from the 1-0 defeat earlier in the day, as they plated two runs in the bottom of the second inning to take the early lead.
Freshman catcher Gabi Ciacciarelli was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning and advanced to second base on the sacrifice bunt by rookie Katie Zolli. Schuh followed with a run-scoring single to drive in Ciaciarelli with the only run the Cougars would need. Senior designated player Allison Thibault then reached on an error that also allowed Schuh to score from first base for the 2-0 lead.
Kean tacked on the insurance run in the bottom of the sixth inning, again started by Ciacarelli being hit by a pitch. After rookie Sam Gniazdowski pinch-ran for Ciacarelli on first base, Zolli singled to put runners on first and second and Schuh followed with her second RBI single of the afternoon, scoring Gniazdowski from second base.
The Cougars received several great defensive plays in the game, including a inning-ending catches by third baseman Courtney Melchionna in foul territory in the fifth, centerfielder Lindsay Kennedy in the sixth with runners on first and second and right-fielder Allison Lizzi to seal the Kean win to end the game.
Smyth (13-8), who last pitched on May 1 while senior right-hander Cassie Shotwell earned the complete-game wins in the first three tournament wins before suffering the tough loss earlier on Sunday, scattered five hits, three strikeouts and issued just one walk
At the plate, Zolli and Ciacarelli were both 1-of-1
The Ospreys were able to force the winner-take-all game after scoring the game’s only run in the bottom of the seventh inning for the walk-off win when Richard Stockton sophomore Jaime Gasko threw a complete-game shutout and scored the game’s only run.
After getting out of the bases-loaded jam in the top of the seventh inning, Gasko led off the bottom with a triple to deep left field. The Cougars recorded the first out with a groundout to first baseman Katie Yard, before Gasko scored the game-winner on an infield error to force the final game.
The game remained scoreless through the first six innings, as Gasko and Kean senior Cassie Shotwell were locked in a pitcher’s duel. Shotwell (16-7) kept the ball down all day, inducing 12 groundballs compared to just one putout in the air.
In the fifth inning, the Cougars were able to string together three hits, however Gasko worked her way out of the bases loaded jam with a strikeout.
The Ospreys threatened in the sixth inning with a walk and stolen base, however Shotwell recorded the strike out and forced the lineout to shortstop Alicia Banz to get out of the inning.
Kean again loaded the bases in the top of the seventh inning, as Shotwell helped herself out by singling up the middle to lead off the inning. Rookie pinch runner Sam Gniazdowski advanced to second when rookie third baseman Courtney Melchionna followed with a single up the middle.
Freshman second baseman Katie Zolli looked to move the runners up into scoring position with the bunt, however she was able to bunt the ball past the Osprey defense to load the bases with nobody out.
The Ospreys got a pair of force outs at home plate before Gasko recorded the strikeout to keep the game scoreless and set up the game-winning efforts in the bottom of the inning.
Shotwell, who won the first three tournament games for the Cougars, suffered the tough loss, despite allowing only two hits.
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