Softball pushes above .500 in home opener

By Dylan Manfre

Rider softball improved to 11-9 after playing the first two games of its homestand at Herb and Joan Young field in the rear outskirts of campus.

The start of the season has been no small feat for the Broncs, as they have played all their first 18 games on the road participating in the Spiro Classic, Hampton/Norfolk State Tournament, Purple-Gold Invitational and Penn State Invitational.

The nine road wins have been impressive, with the Broncs boasting an average victory margin of around seven runs per game. Perhaps the most dominant the bats have been was when Rider clobbered Morehead State 23-9 in five innings. It included a 13-run third frame as the Broncs scored the second-most runs in Head Coach Davon Ortega’s five-year tenure.

She never expected her team to produce that many runs in a game when they came out of the preseason.

Seven of the 10 players to step to the plate had a multi-hit game. Sophomore outfielder Laneya Wright led the Broncs with four hits.

“I think that’s been a product of what we had been doing,” sophomore infielder Jess Niegocki said. “Our bats are insanely hot … instead of most of the team [hitting the ball] it was the entire team.”

A different energy

Niegocki maintains there is a charisma to the Broncs when they step up to the plate. It is what has led them to a three-way tie for the best batting average in the nation with Oklahoma and Arizona as of March 22.

She ranks 19th in the nation sporting a .463 average with 31 hits in 67 plate appearances.

“Our approach to the plate has been completely different,” the sophomore said. “We get out on teams and we’re a run-ruling team. We get out on top early and fast and it’s hard to come back from that if you’re any other team.”

Niegocki has registered a hit in all but two games this year and has 10 multi-hit ball games too.

“We were rebuilding the program. We went into this [season] with a mindset of there’s no excuses,” Ortega said. “We changed our approach in the weight room. We changed that mindset, that’s all it was.”

Rider’s pitching has also been successful and led by sophomore hurler Anna-Marie Groskirtz who was named Pitcher of the Week. Groskirtz posted a 0.95 ERA striking out eight batters in 14.2 innings last week.

A class of her own

Ortega’s teams had miserable starts in her first three seasons at Rider. Starting the first 10 games, 2-8 in 2018 and 0-10 in 2019 and 2020.

The class of 2022 is Ortega’s first group of seniors that is truly her own after taking over the program in 2018. Although the five seniors have been through the despair of the early Ortega years, their strong 2022 campaign has been expected for a long time.

“They’ve grown, they’ve been coachable and they’ve developed,” Ortega said of her senior class. “They’re the ones who are consistently getting the job done because they have the experience behind them. Maybe they’re the best-kept secret because we finally have a lot of players to fill in around them.”

Rider has 12 more games in the homestand now that the Wagner series has concluded. Conference play begins on April 2 with a doubleheader against Fairfield.

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