The Purple Eagles softball team enters the final weekend of conference play in the running for a postseason berth in the 2017 MAAC Softball Championships. Currently seeded seventh in the MAAC, Niagara (17-24, 8-8 MAAC) is tied for the sixth and final playoff spot with the Fairfield Stags (19-25, 8-8 MAAC), but Fairfield holds the head-to-head tiebreaker. Niagara is chasing its first appearance in the MAAC Championships since 2013.
Niagara's regular-season finale is slated for 10 a.m. on Monday, May 8 at Niagara Softball Field against the Siena Saints (20-27, 13-5 MAAC). Prior to the game, the Purple Eagles will honor their five graduating players for Senior Day: Erin Bohan, Bridget Hogan, Sarah March, Alexandra Moore, and Chanelle Ward.
The Purple Eagles wrapped up their non-conference schedule on Wednesday afternoon, dropping a close game to the University at Buffalo Bulls by a score of 2-1 at Nan Harvey Field. Buffalo took a 1-0 lead with a solo home run in the bottom of the second. In the top of the fifth with two outs, Niagara's Sarah Trifoso scored the tying run after an error by the Bulls to make it a 1-1 game.
The Bulls found the game-winning run in the bottom of the fifth on an inside-the-park home run on a drive down the left field line. Trifoso, Brianna Clark, Jerri Ann Orfano, and Chanelle Ward all had hits for the Purple Eagles at Buffalo. Jennifer Szilagyi started the game with four innings in the circle for Niagara, striking out two batters while allowing one run on three hits. Sierra Bertrand closed the game and took the loss to go to 10-9 on the season, allowing one run on two hits in two innings, picking up one strikeout.
Niagara's five seniors enter the final regular-season weekend looking to advance to the MAAC Championships for their first time as a class. Erin Bohan, who joined the Purple Eagles in the 2016 season, has played 38 games and made 23 starts at catcher for Niagara. She is 10-for-62 at the plate with two doubles and one RBI. Bridget Hogan has made 137 starts for Niagara at pitcher and third base. In her redshirt-junior season, she has set the single-season program record with 18 doubles and ranks third at Niagara with 35 career doubles. She also has career-highs in batting average (.396), hits (55), on-base percentage (.430) and slugging percentage (.540). Hogan was a MAAC All-Rookie Team selection in 2014. Sarah March has a .258 batting average in 147 games (124 starts) in her four years on Monteagle Ridge. Playing primarily in right field, March set career-highs with a .345 batting average, 48 hits, nine doubles, and five home runs as a junior in 2016. Alexandra Moore has played in 59 games for Niagara as an outfielder and pinch runner, making three starts in her career. She has 16 runs scored in her four seasons with the Purple Eagles, including a career-high eight this season. Chanelle Ward leads the senior class with 157 games played and 155 starts in four years for Niagara. The shortstop batted a career-high .350 in 2016 (43-for-123) to lead the Purple Eagles at the plate en route to Second Team All-MAAC accolades.
Niagara enters the last weekend of the regular season looking to advance in the standings and land a spot in the MAAC Softball Championships for the first time since 2013. Bridget Hogan leads the Purple Eagles and ranks second in the MAAC with a .396 batting average. Her program-record 18 doubles this season rank FIFTH in the NCAA and second in the MAAC. Hogan's 55 hits also put her at fourth in Niagara history for a single season. A redshirt-junior from Boston, N.Y., Hogan is third on the Purple Eagles with 17 RBI and second with 22 runs scored. Jerri Ann Orfano (.325), Kendall Watkins (.321), and Sarah Trifoso (.310) join Hogan as Purple Eagles batting .300 or better this season. Orfano leads Niagara with 23 RBI and is second to Hogan with 11 extra-base hits (seven doubles, four home runs). Watkins leads the team with six home runs and 23 runs scored and is second with 22 RBI. Niagara is led in the circle by sophomores Sierra Bertrand (10-9, 3.03 ERA, 114 strikeouts) and Jennifer Szilagyi (6-10, 3.04 ERA, 37 strikeouts).
Canisius sits one spot behind Niagara in the MAAC standings, with Saturday's doubleheader the last two games of the season for the Golden Griffins. Niagara is 3-7 in its last 10 games against Canisius. In last year's doubleheader at Niagara Softball Field, the Golden Griffins won the first game 7-1 before Sierra Bertrand pitched a 1-0 shutout to help the Purple Eagles pick up the split. Lauren Castro leads Canisius at the plate with a .352 batting average (58-for-165), a .402 on-base percentage, and a .661 slugging percentage. She has 47 RBI to lead the Golden Griffins along with a team-high 19 doubles and 10 home runs. Samantha Sharkey is second to Castro with a .336 batting average this season, and she leads Canisius with 28 runs scored. Lindsey Silfer (.321) and Denver Keller (.316) give Canisius four batters averaging .300 or better. Canisius is led in the circle by Erika Mackie (32 appearances, 8-13, 4.10 ERA, 78 strikeouts) and Madi Weathers (31 appearances, 8-11, 2.58 ERA, 64 strikeouts). Castro has also pitched in 22 games for Canisius, going 4-7 with a 3.72 ERA and 34 strikeouts.
Siena is currently second in the MAAC and is within reach of gaining the first-overall seed and the chance to host the MAAC Softball Championships. Siena holds the 8-2 edge in the last 10 games against Niagara. Last season, the Saint hosted the Purple Eagles and picked up wins of 5-3 and 9-5. Sophomore Madysen Cossack leads the Saints with a .389 average (51-for-131) at the plate, adding a team-high .464 on-base percentage and .702 slugging percentage. Cossack also leads Siena with 41 RBI, 23 extra-base hits (14 doubles, nine home runs) and 26 runs scored. The Saints have three more batters averaging .300 or better this season: Chelsey Drew (.353), Loryn DeFalco (.313), and Jess Vollmer (.306). In the circle, Lauren Butts leads Siena with a 3.50 ERA, going 10-11 in 26 games (20 starts) with 75 strikeouts. Maddie McMahon is 8-9 in 26 games (18 starts) with a 5.22 ERA and a team-high 96 strikeouts.