By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio
When the St. Bonaventure softball team found itself in a 4-2 deficit and down to its final out on Sunday afternoon against UMass, many fans started gathering their things and getting ready to leave Joyce Field.
The Bonnies weren’t ready to pack up just yet.
Senior Emily Belfield’s double to right gave them life, and she was rewarded when classmate Katie Sinclair drove her in on a single to left. A wild pitch advanced freshman pinch runner Brittany Fair, who scored on classmate Alissa Karjel’s single up the middle.
Senior driving in senior, freshman driving in freshman. Tie game.
For a team that stranded 10 baserunners over the first six innings, this clutch display of hitting was a welcome sight. UMass ended up prevailing 5-4 two innings later and taking the series two games to one, but the comeback sent a message to the rest of the Atlantic 10: the brown and white aren’t finished until you get all 21 outs.
It’s easy to look at SBU’s 9-24 overall record and 4-9 conference record and dismiss their chances of making the Atlantic 10 Tournament for a second straight year. The tournament takes the top six teams in the conference, and at this moment Bona is in eighth, two games behind George Mason for the final slot.
With nine conference games to go, however, coach Mike Threehouse’s team cannot be counted out.
Six of Bona’s nine A-10 losses are by two runs or fewer. Three of those six defeats were on walkoff hits, including both halves of a doubleheader at defending champion and league leader Fordham. With the exception of two lopsided contests, the team has not been overmatched; it has often outplayed its opponent.
The remaining league games are against second place Dayton, 3-9 Rhode Island and 4-7-1 St. Joseph’s, with nonconference contests against Robert Morris, Canisius and Detroit sprinkled in.
To have a winning record in those 14 games, the pitching staff and hitting with runners in scoring position must improve. The Bonnies are second to last in the A-10 in team ERA in conference games with a 5.04 mark. They have allowed a league-high 136 hits as well. The lineup has left just under seven runners on base a game, about one per inning.
Two batters who have had strong performances lately are Karjel and sophomore Hailey Blencowe. Karjel was 5-for-9 in the UMass series, with a home run, three runs batted in and three runs scored. Blencowe was 4-for-12 with a homer, two runs batted in and a run scored.
In non-conference play, Karjel hit .194 and Blencowe hit .212. In conference play, Karjel is batting .273 and Blencowe is batting .250. Blencowe hit one non-league homer, while Blencowe was homerless. In A-10 play, they’ve knocked out three each. That improvement hasn’t been lost on Threehouse; Blencowe is the team’s everyday second baseman and second hitter in the lineup, while Karjel is at third base and provides much-needed production in the eight-spot.
The improvement and toughness the Bonnies have shown is reason for optimism heading into the home stretch of the season. They are right in the hunt for a conference tournament spot, with a winnable schedule going forward.
After the three non-A-10 games this week, Dayton visits Joyce Field for the weekend. After Bona’s 5-2 win on Saturday and extra-inning thriller on Sunday, it’s going to be a series to watch.