UNION- Even in early rounds, NCAA tournaments are always capable of producing some of the most dramatic, back-and-forth action you’ll see in sports. Cougar Softball Field in Union was home to yet another example of that this Friday.
The Kean University softball team hosted Neumann University in the first round of the NCAA Regional tournament, and although the top-seeded Cougars (34-7) came in as the favorite, the Knights proved to be more than a worthy opponent. Two runs in the top of the seventh inning gave Neumann a 3-1 lead, but the Cougars managed to rally back when they most needed it. A walk-off bunt in the bottom of the final inning sealed a 4-3 Kean victory and kept their tournament hopes alive.
“ I give Neumann a lot of credit, they did a great job coming out; they played us tough the entire time,” said Margie Acker, the head coach of Kean, in a post-game press conference. “We were down in the seventh inning, and the guys pulled together and got it done.”
The game-winning play came at the hands of senior Emily Sabo. With two outs remaining in the final inning and the winning run on third, Sabo laid down a well placed bunt that allowed Sara Vocianso to make a scoring attempt. Neumann’s pitcher handled the ball and tried to tag Vocianso before she crossed home, but the senior outfielder’s speed got her across the plate to give her team the win.
Vocianso laid down an RBI single earlier in the inning to cut into Neumann’s lead. Amanda Berenzy scored the tying run after a fielding error at first base.
The Knights themselves had to put on a strong late rally to get the lead in the top of the last inning. A first inning home run from Cayleen Rizo gave the Cougars a 1-0 lead that held until the top of the sixth inning, where four single hits from the Knights culminated with Kendall Boardman driving in the game-tying run during a bases loaded two-out situation. A homer from Becky Guinto and an RBI double gave Neumann a 3-1 lead heading into bottom of the seventh.
“I think we showed a lot of character at the end of the game, and I think was a great win for us,” said Acker. “ I do think down the road it’s going to help us; that we had to battle back that way we did with one out in the bottom of the seventh inning.”
Former South Plainfield standout Shannon McMahon earned her 23rd win of the season in her start in the circle. McMahon held a shutout until the sixth inning, and struck out four while walking one and conceded ten hits. Fellow former Lady Tiger Caroline Ratti went 1-for-4 at the plate, picking up a single in the bottom of the sixth.
The Cougars will continue the tournament at home at 11 a.m. tomorrow in an elimination game against Christopher Newport University.