Softball opens home season with topsy-turvy split

After a hot start to the season down in Clermont, Fla., the Gannon University softball team cooled off as it played its way back north.

The Knights went 1-4 while competing in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference-West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Challenge in Salem, Va., over the weekend.

Gannon started the three-day event off well, opening with a 2-1 victory over West Liberty State College Friday. Down 1-0 in the bottom of the seventh inning after a four-hit, 12 strikeout performance by sophomore pitcher Megan Dragon, junior first baseman Kelly Trace singled home the tying run.

With two outs and base runners on first and third, freshman catcher Katie Dunn drove in freshman designated player Rachel Meyer for the walk off victory.

The Knights carried that momentum into the first frame of their second game that day, scoring five runs early on against West Virginia State University with the help of junior outfielder Katie Killian’s three-run home run.

The second inning, however, took a bad turn for Gannon as the Yellow Jackets offense plated eight runs, enough to put West Virginia State up for good. The Knights would only score one more as they fell 14-6.

After the offensive showcase, Saturday’s match against Seton Hill University showed off yet another pitcher’s duel featuring Dragon, although this game would not go in the sophomore’s favor.

The two teams battled through 6 1/2 shutout innings until Seton Hill blasted a two-run walkoff shot with one out left to sink the Knights 2-0.

Dragon, the benefactor of Gannon’s seventh inning blast against West Liberty, took the tough-luck loss after the game-winning home run, one of just four hits she allowed.

Coach Tom Jakubowski said that with some more timely performances, the Knights could have emerged from the PSAC-WVIAC Challenge with a few more wins.

“We could have done better if we had gotten a couple of clutch hits,” Jakubowski said. “When we pitched, we couldn’t hit and when we hit, we couldn’t pitch.”

With Dragon back on the mound for Sunday’s opener against Wheeling Jesuit University, Gannon looked to buck the unfortunate trend. After junior outfielder Jaleesa Sledge led the game off with a solo shot, Gannon exploded for five runs in the third to take a 6-2 lead.

Even Dragon wasn’t immune to the Knights unfortunate timing, as she couldn’t hold on to the lead, allowing six combined runs in the third and fourth innings as the Gannon lost 8-6.

“If we get six runs when Megan is pitching, it usually ends up as a ‘W,’” Jakubowski said. “This time, we couldn’t get it done.”

The offense completely disappeared in the following game against Ohio Valley University.

The Knights could only muster two hits in five innings, as Gannon lost 8-0 after the mercy rule came into effect.

The loss dropped the Knight’s record to 9-7 on the year. After the success early in the year, Jakubowski said that the attitude in the locker room has dimmed, but is still positive.

“I think it’s starting to sink in,” Jakubowski said. “They’re disappointed; they know they had a couple games. The difference in Florida was that we’d fall behind and win. This trip, not so much. When you have that many young kids, it’s going to be a tough year, but I know we’re heading in the right direction.”

After returning from Virginia, the Knights played at home for the first time this season, kicking off the team’s PSAC schedule with a doubleheader against rival Mercyhurst College Tuesday, a game that Sledge said she was happy to see.

“It’s colder here [than down south], but it feels so good to be home,” Sledge said. “I’m tired of being on a bus all the time.”

Sledge quickly showed how happy she was to be back in Erie, as she homered in the fourth to lead Gannon to a quick 5-0 lead in the first game.

The Lakers hit back-to-back doubles against Dragon in the fifth to draw the deficit to three, but the Knights scored three big insurance runs in the seventh, as Gannon closed out the first game 8-5.

The offense had little success in the second half of the doubleheader, managing only two hits, as the Lakers shut down the Knights, winning 8-0 in five innings after the mercy rule came into effect.

After splitting the doubleheader, the Knights now sit at 10-8 on the season. Jakubowski said that  even with the slide the team hit during the trip to Virginia, all it takes to hit another hot streak is a statement.

“Winning solves everything,” Jakubowski said. “Nobody gets tired, nobody struggles, but when you lose, the wheels fall off. We just need a couple of big wins.”

Gannon travels to Slippery Rock University looking for that statement game during the team’s doubleheader Friday.

ALEX BIELER

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