Melissa Rahrich pitching against UMass Lowell in the spring 2019 season. The fifth-year pitcher hit three home runs at the Winthrop Kickoff Tournament this season. SARA RUBERG/STATESMAN FILE

After an offseason filled with uncertainty, the Stony Brook softball team began 2021 with a familiar sight: a winning record. The Seawolves won in every way possible this weekend — a pitching duel, a blowout, seventh-inning heroics and extra innings — to kick off their season with a 4-0 sweep at the Winthrop Kickoff Tournament.

Though the team got help from some unlikely sources, the weekend was all about fifth-year pitcher Melissa Rahrich, who began her campaign for a potentially record-tying third America East Player of the Year Award with three home runs in the final two games of the team’s trip to South Carolina.

The weekend began in thrilling fashion with a 2-0 victory over the Bowling Green Falcons Saturday afternoon, after sophomore second baseman Brooke Dye drove in the only runs with a two-out double in the seventh inning. Senior pitcher Dawn Bodrug continued her dominance from last year, allowing just two hits and striking out 13.

Bowling Green was only in position to score once during the game, after two batters reached base with no outs in the bottom of the sixth inning. Bodrug stranded those runners with three strikeouts to end the inning, showing the fortitude that has characterized her Seawolves career thus far.

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Stony Brook’s bats were quiet as well, but were bailed out by Bowling Green freshman pitcher Payton Gottshall’s failure to put the game away. Fifth-year third baseman Riley Craig drew a walk to open the seventh inning, with the score still tied 0-0. Freshman outfielder Alicia Orosco replaced her as a pinch runner, and stole second base on the next pitch. After fifth-year catcher Jordyn Nowakowski was hit by a pitch, Dye came up to bat with runners on first and second.

Dye, who had just two hits last season, began this year as a late-game hero. Her line drive double allowed Orosco and Nowakowski to reach home for the Seawolves’ first runs of 2021. After an extended offseason, those scores felt extra sweet.

“That was the kind of excitement we’ve been waiting for, for a long time,” Dye said in a postgame press release.

When Stony Brook took the field again at 5 p.m., their batters seemed determined to not be silenced for two straight games. Their 9-4 win over the Furman Paladins was a true team effort, with eight players recording hits. Sophomore center Corinne Badger and fifth-year shortstop Nicole McCarvill both hit two-run homers in the seventh inning for another exciting finish.

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The Seawolves struck first and controlled the entire game, taking a 3-0 lead in the second inning off RBIs from Dye, Badger and sophomore outfielder Shauna Nuss. Furman sophomore left fielder Mariah Bohl tied the game with a three-run homer in the bottom of the fourth.

Sophomore infielder Lindsey Osmer quickly broke that tie, nailing a 2-RBI single in the top of the fifth. Entering the seventh inning with a 5-3 lead, the Seawolves put the game out of reach and then some. Badger hit an early home run to right field, allowing Dye to reach home and continue her hot start to the season. A McCarvill home run to center field drove in fifth-year outfielder Jourdin Hering for Stony Brook’s ninth run of the game. Furman managed to build some momentum in the bottom of the seventh with three players reaching base, but ended the inning with just one run to show for it.

The fourth inning aside, Rahrich looked just as comfortable on the mound as always, striking out 10 Furman batters in her first pitching appearance of 2021.

If there were any doubts, Rahrich put them to rest Sunday morning. She smashed two home runs in consecutive at-bats to carry Stony Brook to another victory over Furman, this one a 5-4 nailbiter. Meanwhile, Bodrug continued to stake a claim as the best pitcher in the conference, relieving junior Shelbi Denman and escaping an inning with two runners on and no outs.

Rahrich’s two-run shot in the third inning and solo homer in the fourth, combined with Osmer’s early 2-RBI single, proved to be too much for Furman to handle. They mounted a small comeback down 5-2 in the seventh inning, but Bodrug did just enough to close out the game.

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After only a few minutes to rest, the Seawolves came back onto the field to complete their opening weekend sweep, besting the Radford Highlanders 3-2 in extra innings. Rahrich drove in all three runs, with a home run in the sixth inning and a walk-off sacrifice fly in the ninth. She also pitched four scoreless innings in relief of Bodrug, allowing only one hit. 

Stony Brook fell behind midway through the game, after Radford sophomore infielder Madison Canady hit a solo home run in the fourth inning. Bodrug gave up another run in the fifth, and though those were the only two hits she allowed, Rahrich replaced her in the sixth inning. 

That change provided the energy the Seawolves needed. They tied the score in the bottom of the sixth off a Rahrich home run that drove in Nuss and sent the game into extra innings tied at 2-2.

It all culminated in a tense ninth inning, where the top three batters in the Seawolves’ lineup put the game away. Hering, placed on second base automatically in accordance with NCAA extra innings rules, advanced twice off sac flies from McCarvill and Rahrich to reach home with time to spare.

Despite one of the best weekends of her already legendary career, Rahrich was humble and reserved after the game. 

“Today I went out looking for two more wins so we could come back 4-0,” she said in a postgame press release. “At the plate I just wanted to build off of Saturday, and some days just feel better than others. Second game we were running out of time, so I went up taking my hacks.”

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Rahrich’s three home runs on Sunday equaled her total from the entire 14-game 2020 season.

Now one step closer to matching last season’s 7-0 start, the Seawolves still have a long way to go before opening conference play on March 27 against Binghamton. They’ll look to build on their flawless opener next week in Baltimore against Coppin State.

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