After surviving the first two days of the 2023 Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) softball tournament, the seventh-seeded Stony Brook softball team extended its season with a thrilling comeback victory.
With their season on the line again, the Seawolves (28-26, 10-13 CAA) were back in action on Thursday night to take on the second-seeded University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW) Seahawks. The lights of Bill Edwards Stadium never got too bright for Stony Brook, as it came all the way back to knock out UNCW with an 11-9 upset win to advance to the final four.
Stony Brook pounced on UNCW starting pitcher Janel Gamache right out of the gate. In the top of the first inning, left fielder Alyssa Costello blasted a solo home run over the right-field fence to give the Seawolves an early lead. Later in the inning, UNCW second baseman Tayler Vitola booted a hard-hit ground ball from catcher Corinne Badger to give the Seawolves extra life. They capitalized on their opportunity when shortstop Naiah Ackerman ripped an RBI single through the middle to make it 2-0.
In the bottom of the third inning, the Seahawks returned the favor and then some. With two outs and the bases empty, Vitola laid down a bunt that second baseman Sofia Chambers bobbled and threw away to prolong the inning. After that, UNCW left fielder Arial Pearce hit a single off of starting pitcher Mia Haynes to put the tying run on base.
With two on and two out, Gamache lined a single into right field to score Vitola. The next at-bat saw UNCW designated player Jada Santiago rip a two-RBI double into the left-center field gap to make it 3-2 Seahawks. Haynes walked the ensuing batter, bringing UNCW shortstop Mary Sobataka up to the plate.
Sobataka delivered a single into center field to score Santiago and then got herself caught in a rundown between first and second base. However, first baseman Ashley Jacobson executed the rundown poorly, allowing a second run to score to give UNCW a 5-2 lead.
The Seahawks padded their lead in the bottom of the fourth inning when Pearce smoked an RBI double into right-center field. Gamache followed with an infield single that Pearce scored on from second base to extend the Seahawks’ lead to 7-2.
Stony Brook began to crawl back in the top of the fifth inning. With UNCW relief pitcher Carrigan Ewers in the circle, Chambers led off the inning with a triple. Center fielder Alicia Orosco jumped on the next pitch and singled to bring her home. A pair of singles loaded the bases for Stony Brook and Ewers hit Badger to force in another run.
Following the hit by pitch, Ewers was replaced by UNCW relief pitcher Emily Winstead, who failed to fully clean up the mess she was left with.
With the bases still loaded and two outs in the inning, Winstead hit designated player Julianna Sanzone with a pitch before walking third baseman Brooke Dye to bring Stony Brook within one run. She escaped further damage by getting Chambers to foul out to the catcher.
The Seahawks answered in the bottom of the fifth inning after yet another defensive mishap by Stony Brook. Following a two-out triple, UNCW center fielder Skylar Stockton bunted a safety squeeze that Haynes threw wide of first base to make it 8-6.
In the top of the sixth inning, Stony Brook finally knotted the game up. With a runner on first base, right fielder Catherine Anne Kupinski crushed a pitch over the left-field wall for a two-run home run to tie the game at eight apiece.
UNCW came storming back once again. In the bottom of the sixth inning, the Seahawks retook the lead with a two-out RBI single by Santiago.
UNCW relief pitcher Kara Hammock took the circle in the top of the seventh, and the Seawolves were able to regain the lead for good. After back-to-back walks and a sacrifice bunt by Chambers, Orosco grounded out to drive in the game-tying run.
Now with two outs and the go-ahead run on third base, Costello swung at the first pitch and bounced it off the glove of Hammock. The ball trickled slowly over to second base, allowing Costello to leg out an infield single and bring home the lead run. Kupinski added an insurance run with an RBI double up the right-center field gap to make it 11-9.
Following a leadoff double to start the bottom of the seventh inning, Haynes responded with three straight strikeouts to close out the game.
After the win, head coach Megan Bryant emphasized the never-say-die attitude that the Seawolves possess.
“Resilience,” Bryant said in a postgame interview with Stony Brook Athletics. “We can take some punches and we can come out and deliver some punches. We had a number of players step up and do the job … a real team win.”
After throwing 12 ⅓ innings on Wednesday, Haynes delivered another gritty performance on Thursday. She pitched a complete game and allowed nine runs, but only three were earned. She scattered nine hits while striking out six batters and walking four in her seven innings of work.
Costello’s strong postseason continued on Thursday. She was perfect at the plate, going 4-for-4 with a home run, two RBIs, four runs scored and a walk. Kupinski had a great day at the dish as well, going 2-for-4 with a double, a homer, three RBIs and a run scored.
Despite going just 1-for-5, Orosco collected a pair of RBIs out of the leadoff spot. Badger, Ackerman, Sanzone and Dye all drove in one run each.
The Seawolves will be back in the same spot for another elimination game on Friday at 2:30 p.m. The team will play the top-seeded Delaware Blue Hens with its season on the line. The Blue Hens are 29-19 this season, but were upset by the fifth-seeded Towson Tigers with a 4-2 loss in extra innings on Thursday. Delaware swept Stony Brook in a three-game series back in April.
If the Seawolves win, they will go on to face the loser of the Hofstra-Towson game later that day at 5 p.m.