Matthews' Walk-off Homer Helps Softball Split Opening Day NECC Doubleheader with Wheelock: L 18-6 (5 inn.), W 16-15

Matthews' Walk-off Homer Helps Softball Split Opening Day NECC Doubleheader with Wheelock: L 18-6 (5 inn.), W 16-15

BENNINGTON, Vt. — Scoring was abundant Saturday afternoon at Willow Park as Southern Vermont College split a New England Collegiate Conference (NECC) softball doubleheader with Wheelock College to open up the Mountaineers' home schedule, the hosts falling 18-6 in five innings during the opener before bouncing back to grab a triumphant 16-15 victory in the day-cap.

The visiting Wildcats pounced out to an 8-0 lead after the top of the first in game one, but SVC came back to get within three through its next two at bats. WC would extend it to a 17-5 advantage after the away half of the fourth, however, to go up by enough to end the game early.

Neither team could sustain a sizable cushion in the backend of the twin bill as Southern Vermont led just 12-9 after the third and 14-11 following the home half of the sixth. Wheelock kept battling, putting up four runs in the top of the seventh to extend the game and go in front by a lone run. SVC got a runner aboard in the bottom of the box with a one-out walk, and sophomore Nicole Matthews (Pittstown, N.Y.) then came through big with the game-winning homer to left for the Mountaineers to celebrate the walk-off win.

Both sides are back in action on Sunday with league doubleheaders, SVC (1-11, 1-3 NECC) visiting Daniel Webster College for a 1 p.m. start while Wheelock (2-8, 1-1 NECC) plays host to Newbury College for a 12 p.m. first pitch.

Saturday's Opening Day also served as the Mountaineers' pediatric cancer awareness game, the team wearing gold cleat laces to support the G04theGoal Foundation.

GAME 1: Wheelock 18 – Southern Vermont 6 (5 inn.)
After the Wildcats put up a crooked eight-spot in the first half inning of the day, Southern Vermont responded with four runs in the bottom of the box and another in the second to make it a three-run ballgame.

Wheelock then gained some separation, however, chalking up six runs in the third and three more in the fourth for a comfortable cushion. Southern Vermont could only push one run across through the next two innings as WC's lead was large enough to invoke the run rule following the end of the fifth.

Matthews was 3-for-3 at the plate with two RBIs and another run scored, adding a double to her line in the effort. Sophomore left fielder Chloe Longe (Enosburg Falls, Vt.) went 2-for-3 while knocking in a pair of runs, and senior captain Rachel Robtoy (Baltic, Conn.) was 1-for-3 with a walk, a stolen base, a run scored and another run batted in.

Wheelock sophomore Emma Spencer (Thomaston, Maine) turned in a 3-for-4 showing out of the leadoff spot, scoring four times and knocking in three other runs. Freshman Shannon Creedon (Woodstock, Conn.) was 3-for-3, all of her hits being doubles, and she tallied three RBIs and three runs scored while working a walk. Sophomore Lacey Allen (Gloucester, Mass.) went 3-for-4 with three runs batted in and a run scored, and freshman Samantha Leahon (Castleton, N.Y.) was 2-for-4 with a pair of RBIs and a run scored.

Spencer picked up the win from the circle, improving to 2-2 on the year while striking out two Mountaineer batters. Bennington College sophomore Caroline Adams (Lakeville, Mass.) took the loss for SVC (0-3).

Wheelock was aided by a pair of Southern Vermont fielding miscues in the top of the first while using four singles to go up 8-0 quickly. Freshman Dominque DelBene (Peabody, Mass.) knocked in Spencer with a one-out single to left for the first run of the day, and Allen followed with a run-scoring base hit to right to make it a 2-0 game. Once the Wildcats batted around the order, Spencer registered a two-run single to left, and she was able to motor all the way around the diamond on an SVC throwing error to the outfield for the eighth WC run.

The Mountaineers got four back in the bottom of the first, loading the bases with no outs before a Matthews double to left cleared the bases for three runs to cross. Longe fired an ensuing single through the left side to plate her classmate and trim it down to an 8-4 Wildcat lead.

After SVC got out of the second with a double play turned by the middle infield, freshman Molly Madore (Higganum, Conn.) legged out a grounder to short for a lead-off hit. She moved up to second on a walk, and Robtoy then pulled one through the left side of the infield to plate Madore and cut it to an 8-5 contest.

Wheelock answered in a big way, however, with six runs on five hits in the third. Creedon's first double of the day brought in a pair of Wildcats, and she then scored on a fielding mishap by SVC. Leahon singled to center for Spencer to cross the dish, and Allen then poked a two-out, two-run base hit the same way to put her team on top 14-5.

That score stood through the bottom of the third before the visitors added another three in the fourth, the first run of the frame being batted in by Creedon's second double. A Leahon base knock to center then brought around two Wildcats for the sizable 16-5 upper hand.

Southern Vermont touched the dish once in the bottom of the inning with a Longe RBI single through the left side that scored freshman Lizzy Bench (Saint Petersburg, Fla.) with two down. WC answered right away to get it back, however, notching a lone run in the fifth after putting runners at the corners with one out. A grounder to third saw the Mountaineer defense try to turn the double play, only getting the first out at second as DelBene came in to score.

SVC was unable to score and get WC's upper hand below eight runs in the home half of the fifth for the Wildcats to finish off the front-end victory.

GAME 2: Southern Vermont 16 – Wheelock 15
Wheelock jumped on top right away once again in game two, scoring four runs in the top of the first as the WC offense continued to connect. Southern Vermont responded with five scores in the bottom of the box, however, to take its first lead of the day.

The Wildcats regained the upper hand with three in the second, only to see the Mountaineers put up another five runs in the home half as the lead continued to trade hands. WC crossed twice in the third, but Southern Vermont had an answer as the hosts answered with two of their own to make it a 12-9 game.

That score stood until the fifth when the Mountaineers added to their lead with one in the bottom of the frame before Wheelock trimmed its deficit with two in the sixth. Southern Vermont responded with a lone run in the home half of the sixth, going up 14-11 heading into the final frame. Down to their last chance, the Wildcats tacked up four runs to regain the advantage and extend the game.

The first SVC batter in the bottom of the seventh flew out before Bench got aboard with a walk. Matthews then came to the plate and stepped into one, cranking it the opposite way with just enough power for the ball to clear the fence and allow the Mountaineers to mob their sophomore captain at home plate with the winning run.

Matthews went 4-for-4 at the dish in the day-cap, working two walks while adding a pair of runs to her two RBIs. Longe turned in a 3-for-4 showing with a walk, three runs scored and a run batted in, and bench was 2-for-4 with two walks, three runs scored and an RBI. Madore had a 3-for-5 performance in the batter's box with four runs knocked in and a run scored while freshman Christina Moore (Wilmington, Vt.) was also 3-for-5, batting in three runs and scoring another.

Matthews earned the win from the pitching rubber for her first collegiate victory (1-3) while striking out a pair of Wildcat batters. WC junior Maggie Doyle (Kingston, Mass.) suffered the loss from the circle (1-4), also striking out a pair of Mountaineers in 4.1 innings of relief work.

Wheelock scored their first two runs with the help of SVC wild pitches before Allen singled though the right side to plate senior Katie Fleming (West Boylston, Mass.). DelBene then came around to score on a single up the middle by senior Kierstan Cosgrove (Pequannock, N.J.).

The Mountaineers came back with five of their own in the home half of the first, Longe starting things on an RBI single to left. Two SVC runs crossed home on a Wheelock throwing error, and a Moore single to the hole at short brought Longe in to make it 4-4. Madore then ripped a single through the left side to score junior Amber Dow (Vergennes, Vt.) and put her team on top.

WC came back with three in the second, a fielder's choice off of DelBene's bat and an ensuing wild pitch bringing in the first two of the frame. A single to left by sophomore Rachael Simpson (Littleton, Mass.) then scored DelBene for the Wildcats to go up 7-5.

Once again, however, Southern Vermont touched the plate five times to regain the advantage. Bench scored the first run of the frame before a Moore single through the left side brought two more runs in. Madore beat out a grounder to third for an RBI single, and Robtoy then worked a walk with the bases loaded to push Moore across home and make it a 10-7 SVC lead.

The scoring would continue into the third, Fleming doubling down the line in left for Leahon to score from second. Allen then knocked Fleming in on a single to center for the Wildcats to get within one. Southern Vermont would get some separation in the home half of the third, Madore cranking a two-out single through the left side to score Dow and senior Michelle Flores (Pico Rivera, Calif.).

Neither side could score in the fourth, and the Mountaineers then got off the field in the fifth as a fly out to Flores in right turned into a double play as it was deemed that the Wheelock runner at first left the base before the catch was made. SVC then padded its cushion in the bottom of the inning, a two-out Bench single to right scoring Madore from second to make it 13-9 in favor of the hosts.

WC got two back in the sixth, both runs scoring when Allen fired a two-out single through the left side for Fleming and junior Ashley Penta (Medford, Mass.) to cross the dish. The Mountaineers would have an answer once again, Moore singling to short while and overthrow allowed Flores to score all the way from first.

Down to its final three outs, Wheelock stayed patient at the plate in trying to mount a comeback. Two walks and a hit batter loaded the pond with no outs, and another two walks then forced in the first pair of WC runs to make it a 14-13 ballgame. DelBene then tagged a bouncing double over the fence in left, a hit that allowed just Spencer and Leahon to score as the Wildcats went up by one. Matthews was able to end the visitors' momentum at that point, however, retiring the next three straight Wheelock batters to get her team back in the dugout.

Robtoy led-off the bottom of the seventh with solid contact to right, but the WC fielder put it away for the first out of the inning. Bench then worked a walk to get the tying run on base and bring Matthews up to bat. She fully extended her arms to reach a low pitch, slapping it high to left while the Wildcat fielder gave chase; the ball landed just beyond the wall, making way for Matthews to trot around the diamond and jump onto home in the arm of her celebrating teammates.