By Andrew Smolar
RIDER softball’s early season struggles have now stretched into the month of April, dropping seven straight games in a 13-day span.
The Broncs began their week with a pair of difficult losses at the hands of their neighbors from Princeton on March 29, the Tigers taking the first game of the day 3-2 and the second game 3-1.
Rider’s slide continued with two more losses to Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) rival Iona on March 2. The Gaels won the first game 1-0 and the second game 5-3.
Rider wrapped up their week with two more losses to Fairfield on March 3, dropping both games by just one run: 8-7 and 3-2.
“I am pleased with our ability to fight back when we’re down,” Head Coach Davon Ortega said in an email interview. “However, something that has been frustrating for us is that we aren’t rising to the challenge until the last two innings of a game when it’s a little too late to fully catch up.”
Despite losing all six games this past week, some performances from the Broncs stood out from the dismal stretch. There were three outings that stood out from the rest for softball, coming from junior outfielder Laneya Wright, sophomore pitcher Kathryn Schmierer and freshman pitcher Jadeyn Merrill.
Wright had herself a quality performance in the first game on March 29, with a pair of hits in three plate appearances and the only RBI for the Broncs.
Schmierer pitched a great game against Iona, allowing only four hits over six innings of one run ball. She also went on to allow no runs or hits in her inning of work in the second game.
Merrill had a productive game one against Fairfield at the plate, getting two hits in three plate appearances with a pair of RBIs.
What went right
Late inning rallies have been a mainstay in Rider’s games. Despite falling behind 3-0 in the first game of the day on March 29, the Broncs did not falter. Rider scored a run in both the fifth and sixth innings to cut the lead to one before eventually falling short in seven innings.
The Broncs again showed their late inning resolve in game two on April 2 against Iona, getting three hits and three runs in the sixth inning before eventually falling 5-3. Their late-inning magic was on display against Fairfield as well, with two runs in the sixth inning of game one and a run in the sixth inning of game two.
Another major part of Rider’s games has been the success of the relief pitching.
Over the two games on March 29, the bullpen was perfect. In game one, freshman Fallyn Stoeckel pitched 3.2 innings of only allowing one hit and no earned runs.
In game two, freshman Jadeyn Merrill pitched a clean one inning of work with no hits allowed or runs given up. Their work against Iona on April 2 was also clean as Schmierer and Stoeckel combined for 2 2/3 innings of no runs allowed.
“All four of my pitchers are the reason we have stayed in so many games this season,” Ortega said. “I always tell the pitching staff that my job is easy in terms of changing pitchers, when I know what to expect from the person behind them.”
What needs work
The biggest factor that faulted the Broncs over this tough stretch has been falling behind early.
Rider fell behind 3-0 in the first game on March 29, which ultimately proved too much to overcome.
They allowed Princeton to score the first run in the second game of the day. Despite Rider immediately responding to tie the game, the Tigers scored runs in the two innings after to put the game away for good.
They also went on to allow Iona to get the first and only run in game one on April 2 and fell behind 5-0 in game two.
The Stags scored the first two runs of game two on April 3.
Consistently playing catch-up has been a problem the Broncs have not been able to overcome as of late.
After getting a small taste of conference competition, the Broncs will make the trip down to South Orange, New Jersey, for a pair of games against in-state rival Seton Hall on April 5 before welcoming Morgan State to campus for a pair of games on April 11.
Rider currently has a record of 6-20 on the season, and sits 10th place in the MAAC standings at 0-4 in conference play.