Moon Township, Pa. - Behind a strong effort from freshman Nicole Sleith (Smithton, Pa. / Yough), the Robert Morris University softball team won its Northeast Conference (NEC) Tournament opener as the Colonials posted an 8-2 victory over Monmouth Thursday afternoon at a breezy North Athletic Complex.
With the win, RMU broke its program record for wins as it tallied its 35th of the 2012 season.
The victory moves Robert Morris into a winner's bracket game Friday morning against LIU Brooklyn as the Blackbirds took down Quinnipiac, 5-0, in the tournament opener.
Sleith, who was fresh off being named both NEC pitcher of the year and rookie of the year, earned the complete-game victory to break RMU's single-season record for wins as she notched her 25th of the year. She gave up seven hits and two runs, one of which was earned, and collected nine strikeouts without walking or hitting a single batter. Sleith, who now has 135 strikeouts against just 14 walks in her past 18 starts, moved into third in single-season school history with 236 strikeouts.
Sophomore Cassie Show (Connellsville, Pa. / Connellsville) led Robert Morris offensively by posting the game's lone three-hit performance. She went 3-for-4 with two RBI and a run scored to notch her fourth three-hit game of the season, all of which have come against league opponents. Show registered her seventh multi-hit effort of the season and her fifth multi-RBI outing and is now hitting .388 against NEC opponents this season (26-for-67).
Freshman Tess Apke (Mt. Lebanon, Pa. / Mt. Lebanon) went 2-for-4 with two runs scored to post her eighth multi-hit game of the season. Apke extended her team season-high hitting streak to 11 games, a stretch in which she is batting .395.
Although Robert Morris struck first in the bottom half of the first, the Colonials had a strong defensive play in the top half of the frame.
With a Monmouth runner on first and one out, the Hawks lined a single to left toward the line. Senior Katrina Gallagher (Canonsburg, Pa. / Canon McMillan) made a diving stop of the ball and then rifled to third to get the lead runner. Sleith then got out of the inning with a swinging strikeout.
Apke got the first-inning rally started by lining the first pitch into center. After a lineout, senior Sarah Capp (McKees Rocks, Pa. / Montour) sent a single through the right side and classmate Jaci Timko (Houston, Pa. / Chartiers Houston) worked a full-count walk. With two down and the bases loaded, Show came through by lining a hard single into right center to plate a pair of runs. Show then took off for second on the next pitch. She would proceed to get caught in a rundown long enough to allow Timko to come racing home and touch the plate before the sophomore was tagged out.
Monmouth bounced right back in the second with a pair of runs, but Sleith would do well to minimize the damage. A single, an error and a double gave the Hawks two runs. After two singles on the infield loaded the bases with one out, Sleith came up big by getting a swinging strikeout and a foulout to cease the threat.
RMU responded right back in the home half of the second as sophomore Chelsea Siar (Glenshaw, Pa. / Shaler Area) banged the first pitch to the fence in right for a double. Junior Britta Grafton (Jamestown, Pa. / Jamestown) followed with a full-count walk, and Gallagher then put down a sacrifice. The Colonials would get a pair of runs on consecutive errors by the Hawks, making the score 5-2 in favor of the hosts.
The end of the top of the second inning began a stretch in which Sleith sent down 16 consecutive batters as she retired the side in order in the third, fourth, fifth and sixth frames.
Siar and Grafton both walked on full counts in the third, but a groundout ended the chance.
The Colonials added another in the fourth as Apke started the frame by shooting a ball down the left field line. Redshirt senior Jessica Calderone (Wilmington, Del. / St. Mark's) moved Apke along with a sacrifice, and Timko came through with a two-out single into center to plate the rookie.
RMU increased its lead in the fifth as Show started it by bouncing a single through the left side. Siar was then hit by a pitch, and the duo then executed a double steal. Grafton picked up a RBI on a groundout, and Siar would later score on an error.
Show and Grafton both tallied singles in the sixth, but RMU left a pair of runners on base.
Sleith's run of retiring 16 consecutive batters ended with two outs in the seventh on a bloop single to left, but the rookie rebounded by getting a swinging strikeout to close it out.
Sleith's performances Thursday helped continue RMU's recent run prevention against league opponents. The Colonials have now given up just 10 earned runs in their past 12 games against NEC foes, conceding just 54 hits in 83 innings.
Timko finished 1-for-3 with a walk, a RBI and a run scored. She moved into sole possession of fourth place in career RBI (92) while increasing her program-record run total to 129. Timko, who collected her 197th career hit, has now tallied 21 runs scored in 21 games against NEC opponents this season.
Capp became the sixth Colonial in school history to notch at least 60 hits in a single season.
Robert Morris will resume tournament play at the North Athletic Complex Friday, May 11. The Colonials will take on third-seeded LIU Brooklyn at 10:00 a.m.
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