Pitt softball gets back on track with 8-3 win at Saint Francis


McKayla Taylor hit a home run in Pitt’s 8-3 extra inning win at St. Francis. Kyleen Considine | Staff Photographer

Returning from a humbling three-game sweep at the hands of the No. 1 Florida State Seminoles, the Pitt softball team got back on track Wednesday night.

The Panthers (18-16) defeated the Saint Francis Red Flash (27-9) 8-3 in an extra-innings nonconference clash in Loretto, Pennsylvania. Pitt snapped Saint Francis’ 15-game winning streak thanks to a five-run outburst in the top of the ninth inning, but the win didn’t come easy for the Panthers, who left 15 runners on base over the course of the game.

Pitt put runners on first and second in the top of the first inning and loaded the bases in the top of the second, but came away empty both times — setting a troubling trend for the team.

The Panthers got the scoring started in the top of the third inning with an RBI double from first-year right fielder Alexee Haynes. First-year catcher Valerie Ortega got held up at third base, and Pitt stranded two more runners after a pop out by sophomore second baseman Alexis Solak.

Sophomore third baseman Olivia Gray added onto the Panthers’ lead with a solo home run in the top of the fourth, her fourth homer of the season. Red Flash first baseman Madison Cabell responded with a solo homer of her own in the bottom of the fourth to make it a 2-1 game.

First-year pitcher Brittany Knight tossed four solid innings for Pitt, giving up just one run on three hits and three walks while striking out three. The Panthers left two more runners on base in the top of the fifth, and head coach Holly Aprile turned to junior Kayla Harris to relieve Knight for the bottom of the fifth.

Things got off to a bumpy start for Harris as she loaded the bases after a pair of walks and a throwing error by Gray. But Harris induced a pop out from designated hitter Taylor Hoover to escape the jam.

After a 1-2-3 bottom of the sixth for Harris, Pitt shortstop McKayla Taylor led off the top of the seventh with a solo home run to give the Panthers a two-run cushion.

Harris came back out to try to finish the job in the bottom of the seventh, but she issued a leadoff walk to second baseman Cheyenne McKee. That brought Saint Francis’ best player, Jordan Seneca, to the plate representing the tying run.

Seneca, a junior shortstop from nearby Plum, Pennsylvania, has established herself as one of the very best players in the country this season. She ranked second in the NCAA with 15 home runs entering the game and third in the nation with 46 RBIs.

None of those home runs were as clutch as the one she hit Wednesday, though. Seneca drove a two-run homer over the wall in right field to tie the game at three and give the Red Flash new life.

Saint Francis then put runners on first and second with one out, but Pitt turned a double play to send the game to extra innings.

The Panthers left a pair of runners on base in the top of the eighth, failing to bring home the go-ahead run. Harris then retired the side in order in the bottom half of the inning to keep Pitt’s hopes alive, and the Panthers’ bats erupted in the top of the ninth.

After a pop out by Taylor, Pitt got back-to-back walks from junior center fielder Erin Hershman and Ortega. Hershman advanced to third on a wild pitch, then scored the go-ahead run on a fielder’s choice by sophomore right fielder Taylor Myers. But the Panthers weren’t done.

Gray got hit by a pitch with the bases loaded to bring another run home, then senior first baseman Kaitlin Manuel delivered an RBI single to keep the line moving. Junior cleanup hitter Giorgiana Zeremenko reached on an error to score another, then Taylor absorbed a hit-by-pitch to make it an 8-3 game.

Hershman struck out looking with the bases still loaded to end the inning, but the damage was done. Harris sat the Red Flash down in the bottom of the ninth to seal Pitt’s 8-3 win.

The Panthers will return to Vartabedian Field this weekend to host the Virginia Tech Hokies for a three-game ACC series. Game one is scheduled for 5 p.m. Friday, April 7.