GU walks off to defeat No. 19 Cal

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Key defense plays and timely hitting lifted the Gannon University softball team past the No. 19 California University of Pennsylvania Vulcans for the first time at home in PSAC history Wednesday afternoon.

Gannon won the first game of its doubleheader, 5-4, in the ninth inning on senior Meghan Cunha’s walk-off single. The win marked the first Knights victory over Cal since Gannon defeated the Vulcans, 9-4, on March 23, 2012, at Cal.

Cunha said it meant a lot to help her team to victory during her final season in a Knights uniform.

“It’s been a long time coming,” she said. “I think they are a great team, but today we showed that we can play with anybody.”

Cunha’s heroics wouldn’t have been possible without junior leftfielder Alexa Archambeault and sophomore pitcher Olivia Gumbita making strong defensive plays to extend the game to nine innings.

Gumbita came into the game in relief in the sixth inning after junior Alison Benz exited with the score tied 3-3. She found herself in trouble in her first inning of work with two outs and runners on the corners. Cal’s Emily Price lined a ball to left field, and Archambeault charged in to make a play.

Archambeault bobbled the ball before securing the diving catch to keep the game tied going into the bottom of the sixth inning.

Coach Tom Jakubowski said he recruited Archambeault as an infielder, but when an outfield position opened during her freshman season the coaching staff decided to put her in because of her great speed and awareness.

“It’s been a second home to her,” he said. “I think she’s the best left fielder in the conference because she continually makes plays like that.”

In the eighth inning, Gumbita found herself in a similar situation. She had misplayed a line drive back to the mound, allowing runners to advance to first and third. But she was able to make up for it during the next at-bat.

Cal’s Price was back at the plate and hit a blooper at Gumbita. The sophomore pitcher caught the ball and fired it to first base to complete a double play because the runner had strayed too far off the bag.

Gumbita said it was a relief when she looked over to first and saw the runner so far off the base.

“My heart was racing,” she said. “Especially with a tied game in extra innings, but you just have to focus and rely on the fundamentals from practice.”

Jakubowski said working on defensive situations is a staple of the Knights practice regimen. “We’ve always told our players that they need to think outside of the box,” he said. “You check the most dangerous runner, but you look at every base because every once in a while someone is too far off. And then all of the sudden you have a double play.”

Gannon fell behind in the top of the ninth when Cal’s Lindsay Reicoff blasted a home run over the left-center wall to give the Vulcans a 4-3 lead.

Senior catcher Katie Dunn helped Gannon respond by tying the game, 4-4, when she produced an RBI single in the bottom of the ninth and advanced Alyssa Bates to third base.

With two outs, Cunha stepped into the box. She took a strike and choked up on her bat. Cunha made contact with the next pitch and knocked in the winning run with a single through the left side of the infield.

Cunha was mobbed by teammates in celebration.

“It felt great,” Cunha said. “It was time step up and show my teammates that I had their backs, especially Olivia and Allie, who pitched a great game.”

Gumbita said she was proud of seniors Dunn and Cunha who were able to help the Knights come from behind with the game on the line.

“It’s always good to have clutch hitting,” she said, “and that came at the perfect time.”

 CONNOR SONDEL

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