by Pat Ralph
After losing last Wednesday at home against the Bulls of the University of South Florida by a score of 8-2, the Villanova softball team dropped a pair of close, low-scoring games to USF last Thursday at home and was swept by their Big East foes to fall to 11-15 overall and 0-6 in conference play.
In the first game of the doubleheader, the Wildcats and Bulls were locked in a scoreless pitchers’ duel through 11 innings before USF put up a number other than zero on the board to take a 1-0 lead and hold on for the victory.
Despite not giving up an earned run, freshman pitcher Kate Poppe took the loss. Poppe, who dropped to 11-8 on the season, had an impressive outing over 11 innings, giving up seven hits, four walks and striking out nine.
Poppe started the game by retiring the first six batters she faced, with three of them by strikeout, before allowing the first hit in the top of the third to lead off the inning. She escaped any trouble by striking out two more to give her five K’s through three innings of play.
Poppe encountered a threat in the fifth with two runners on for the Bulls, but was able to induce a fielder’s choice to end the inning and get out of trouble.
It took the ’Cats until the bottom of the fifth inning to get their first hit, as sophomore third baseman Briana Fujii collected a one-out single.
Both teams went scoreless in the seventh to send the game to extra innings. The Wildcats had their best chance of the day in the bottom of the eighth with the bases loaded and two outs, only to leave them loaded to end the bottom half of the inning.
After both sides went down in order in the ninth, the Bulls loaded the bases with two outs in the tenth, but Poppe again eluded trouble and kept USF off the scoreboard with a popout to end the threat. The Bulls got their run in the top of the eleventh on a sacrifice fly.
In the second game of the afternoon, the Wildcats lost to the Bulls by a score of 3-0, a game in which both teams battled into extras in another pitchers’ duel.
Villanova junior starting pitcher Kaity Sitzman threw seven shutout innings, surrendering only three hits and one walk while striking out four to take a no decision.
For Villanova, junior shortstop Ali Lowe collected three hits to lead the ’Cats.
Villanova got a two-out single from sophomore designated player Beth Smetana in the first and another two-out single from Fujii in the second, but neither advanced any further as the next hitter was retired each time.
Sitzman got off to a great start, surrendering a second inning walk as her only base runner early on.
For the third inning in a row, the Wildcats had a two-out single, this one from Lowe, but she was stranded to end the inning.
Sitzman didn’t allow her first hit until two outs in the top of the fourth when USF got a single, but a groundout ended the inning with the game still deadlocked at 0-0.
Villanova got their first runner into scoring position in the last of the fourth when senior first baseman Valerie Ortega laced a lead-off double down the left field line. A groundout moved Ortega to third base, but she was stranded after the ’Cats struck out and a grounded out to end the inning.
The Wildcats threatened again with two outs in the fifth when Lowe had her second hit of the day with a triple to the right field wall, but Smetana went down on strikes as the game remained scoreless.
Sitzman continued to throw well as she set down the side in order in the fifth and sixth innings as she had retired seven in a row at that point, having allowed just one hit.
Poppe replaced her in the seventh after a lead-off single and Poppe escaped unscathed.
For the fifth time in seven innings, Villanova got a two-out single, this time from freshman outfielder Shea Palmer before senior catcher Amanda Marquez was hit by a pitch and Lowe walked to load the bases.
Smetana had a chance to win the game, but she grounded into a fielder’s choice to go to extra innings for the second straight game.
In the eighth, after Poppe had kept the Bulls scoreless, the Wildcats loaded the bases again on the strength of a single by Ortega and two walks, but a popout sent the game to the final frame with the score still scoreless.
In the ninth, Poppe gave up the go-ahead three-run homer to deal her the second loss of the day to drop to 11-9.
The ’Cats will travel west to South Bend, Ind. this Saturday afternoon to face the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in a three game series.