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NU softball earns thrilling sweep over Saint Peter's


NIAGARA UNIV. -- In their first home games against a conference opponent this season, the Niagara Purple Eagles softball team earned a pair of victories over the Saint Peter's Peacocks. Freshman Kendall Watkins gave Niagara an extra-innings victory to open the day with a walk-off, two-run homer to left center for a 4-2 victory. In the second game, Sierra Bertrand took a no-hitter bid into the sixth inning, ending a 6-1 Niagara win with 11 strikeouts and just two hits against.

Bridget Hogan had a team-high four hits on the day, picking up two doubles, one RBI, and one run scored. Watkins led the Purple Eagles (9-15, 2-4 MAAC) with three RBI in the two-game set, batting 2-for-6 with the home run and a double.

In the circle, Jennifer Szilagyi struck out a career-high five batters in 5.1 innings starting the first game of the doubleheader, and Emily Johnston earned her first career win, fanning four in 2.2 innings to close the game. Bertrand also set a career-high with her 11 strikeouts in the second-game victory, giving her 20 in 11 innings over her last two starts.

Game #1: Niagara 4, Saint Peter's 2

Both teams started slow offensively, adjusting to the windy conditions at Niagara Softball Field. The Purple Eagles and Peacocks combined for just five hits through five innings, with Niagara starting pitcher Jennifer Szilagyi picking up five strikeouts in that time. In the top of the sixth, Brianna Hutchinson singled for Saint Peter's before Emily Johnston relieved Szilagyi in the circle for Niagara. The Peacocks' Samantha Storms picked up a two-run home run off of Johnston to give Saint Peter's the 2-0 lead. Niagara would respond in the bottom of the sixth, however, tying the game at 2-2. With Maria Gabriele on first and two outs on the board, Kendall Watkins drove a double down the left field line to put runners on second and third. The next batter was Taylor Moody, and she sent another double into the left field hole, bringing two runs home to even the score. Saint Peter's picked up a leadoff single and a walk in the top of the seventh, but could not get a go-ahead run across. The Purple Eagles were held without a hit in the bottom of the seventh, sending the two teams to extra innings. Storms led off the top of the eighth with a single for Saint Peter's before a Niagara error put runners on second and third with no outs. With the Peacocks looking to drive ahead, Johnston struck out one batter and forced a fly out to center field before striking out another Saint Peter's player to escape the inning still tied at 2-2. Gabriele led off the bottom of the eighth for Niagara and reached first on an error by the Peacocks' shortstop, advancing to second on a passed ball with Watkins at the plate. The freshman infielder closed out the game with a deep home run to left center, her second homer of the season, to give the Purple Eagles the 4-2 win.

Game #2: Niagara 6, Saint Peter's 1

Niagara opened the doubleheader's second game with a 2-0 lead in the first inning. After singles from Chanelle Ward and Bridget Hogan, a third straight single from Jerri Ann Orfano brought Ward home for the game's opening run. Hogan scored on a sacrifice fly from Kendall Watkins to double the lead.
The Purple Eagles extended their lead to 4-0 in the bottom of the second. Sarah Trifoso singled and made it to second on a passed ball, scoring on a Sarah March double deep to center field. After Ward picked up her second single in as many innings, Hogan drove a double to right center and brought March home. Saint Peter's went three up, three down in each of the first three innings, with pitcher Sierra Bertrand striking out six batters in that time. Bertrand fanned two more batters in the top of the fourth before a pair of Saint Peter's fielding errors in the bottom of the inning gave Niagara two more runs to push the lead to 6-0. The no-hitter bid for Bertrand made it through five innings as Trifoso caught a fly ball in center field to start the top of the fifth before Hogan and Ward picked up groundouts defensively to go three up, three down. Saint Peter's broke the no-hitter and the shutout bid in the top of the sixth. After a single by Sydney Ramsey, Candice Koch got Saint Peter's on the board as Ramsey came home on a double to right center field. Niagara picked up three straight outs in the top of the seventh to close out the 6-1 win, with Bertrand earning her 11th strikeout of the game to close the day.

The Purple Eagles travel to Olean on Wednesday for their second doubleheader of the season against the St. Bonaventure Bonnies. Niagara defeated St. Bonaventure by scores of 9-3 and 4-2 in Daytona, Fl. back on March 9. Niagara's doubleheader with Manhattan, which was postponed from Sunday, has been rescheduled for 10 a.m. on Friday.