Softball clinches No. 2 seed in MAAC Tournament
By: Vinnie Christiano III, Sports Reporter
With a split against Niagara on Wednesday evening, the Golden Griffins softball team (22–11) has clinched the No. 2 seed in the MAAC softball playoffs. The Griffs were propelled into the #2 position thanks in large part to a 3–1 weekend against Rider to close out the 2021 regular season.
The series against Rider began on Saturday morning, when Canisius shut out the Broncs 4–0 to extend its win streak. In the day’s second contest, the Griffs had given themselves a 6–1 lead going into the seventh inning of the game. However, Rider stormed back in the top of the seventh, scoring six runs and taking a 7–6 lead. Despite a valiant effort in the bottom of the inning, the Canisius offense came up just short and the team’s winning streak came to an end.
Game one on Sunday started mellow enough, with Canisius holding a 1–0 lead heading into the bottom of the fourth inning. At the beginning of the inning, the Griffs offense shellacked the Rider pitching, taking control of the game with an onslaught of 10 runs. Freshman Gianna Fazzolari recorded another home run, and junior pitcher Alexis Churchill continued her outstanding season. Churchill extended her streak of zero allowed runs to 28.2 innings.
In game two, Canisius again dominated offensively, winning 6–1 and sweeping the day.
Between the two games on Sunday, the team took some time to honor its seniors, and due to the extended eligibility granted by the NCAA due to the coronavirus, there were quite a few seniors to be celebrated, all of whom played an important role to the program over the past several years.
“I think they’re just really leading by example, and performing and trusting themselves, and I think that has trickled down to the upperclassmen and even the freshman,” head coach Kim Griffin said. “And the senior class has a ton of game experience, and they are locked in.”
One of those seniors experienced a career day of her own, as second baseman Kara Paradowski reached the milestone of 100 career stolen bases at the collegiate level during the explosive fourth inning of game one. By the end of the series against Rider, Paradowski had grown her total to 104 career stolen bases. As of Tuesday, she leads the entire NCAA in stolen bases per game, with 1.26.
“She puts so much pressure on the defense, that they almost take their attention away from the hitter, to focus on the runner, and she pulls so much attention away that the defense tends to make mistakes,” Griffin said.
“Happy we came away with a win on the weekend, good all around team wins,” Paradowski said. “The fifth years, everyone looks up to them, they’ve been through so much, and my fellow seniors, the bond we have is unbreakable, and I’m glad I got to spend my four years with them.”
With only one more regular season series remaining on the schedule before the MAAC playoffs, the Griffs took the short trip to Niagara Falls to face the Purple Eagles on Wednesday. In game one, Niagara took an early lead, but the Griffs battled back late in the game. Morgan Altman’s two home runs on the day led the team, one of which started the game’s scoring and the other began the Canisius comeback in the fifth inning. Another home run from Fazzolari was the winning score, putting the Griffs up 5–4. However, the powerful hitting wasn’t done yet as freshman Destiny Falquez notched a homer late in the game, making the final score 6–4 Canisius.
The offense was stifled in game two, as the Griffs were shut out in the regular season finale. Niagara’s Kelsey Harrigan hit a home run in the third inning that proved to be the difference, and an insurance run in the fourth off the bat of Samantha Hare was enough to keep the Griffs at bay in game two and the game ended 2–0.
Despite the loss, Canisius still clinched the No. 2 seed in the MAAC, cementing a home playoff series for the first time since 2015. At the conclusion of the regular season, the team finishes the top ranked team in the MAAC in RPI. The 22-win season was the most for the Griffs since 2016.
All three of the team’s starting pitchers finish the season with a winning record, one of the many reasons for this season’s success. With the schedule being so compact, it was possible that pitchers especially felt increasingly fatigued, but Griffin complimented the resilience of the Canisius pitchers and attributed their dedication to the sport as a large reason for their ability to persevere through a grueling schedule.
“Our pitchers are in really great shape, they take good care of their bodies,” Griffin said. “Between Emily, Alexis and Megan, they have the bulk of the starts and they’ve done a really good job of balancing innings. Most MAAC teams are pretty heavily reliant on one pitcher, and we have three starters plus Shea (Ollison) who can come in to close a game. So we’re feeling pretty good.”
The playoff run begins on Saturday when the Griffs welcome Rider to town for the second week in a row. The opening round is a best-of-three series, with the possible game three scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday.