BOSTON, Mass.—Junior pitcher Michelle Zullo (Everett, Mass.) propelled UMass Boston softball (5-10) to a doubleheader split with Suffolk University (5-13) Wednesday afternoon to help head coach Natalia Ardagna reach 100 career victories at the helm of the Beacons.
The Beacons' seventh-year head coach improved to 100-140 at UMass Boston with the win, as she has helped build the Beacons into a contender in the Little East Conference. After inheriting a team that had failed to win more than 12 games in its 25-year existence, the program's winningest coach has led the program to four-straight 15+ win season, the first two winning seasons in program history and three consecutive Little East Conference Tournament appearances.
Zullo ensured it would be a historic day for her coach and the program by almost making some history of her own. The junior right-hander no-hit the Rams through five innings and was one out away from setting a new program-record with her seventh-career shutout.
Game One: Suffolk University 2, UMass Boston 1
Sarah Chasse outdueled Beacons sophomore Emily Gray (New Bedford, Mass.) in game one in a classic pitcher's duel.
Chasse allowed five hits and one earned run over seven innings to improve to 2-8. The junior lead-off hitter walked four and struck out one, to help her team snap a four-game losing streak.
Gray was nearly as good; allowing seven hits, one walk and two runs, one earned, over seven frames.
Senior All-Conference catcher Erin McAndrews was the difference maker at the plate for the Rams, as she finished 2-4 with the lone RBI of the contest.
Suffolk grabbed a 1-0 lead in the top of the third thanks to three Beacons errors. Nicole Rosa led off with a single, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt and took third on a Beacons throwing error. With one out and runners on the corners, the Beacons catcher threw the ball into left field on an attempted pick-off, to let Rosa scamper home with the first run of the game.
The Beacons answered in the bottom of the fourth inning on another odd sequence. UMass Boston loaded the bases with one out thanks to a walk, a Gia Raczkowski (Stoneham, Mass.) single and another walk. Erika Vecchiet (Pequannock, N.J.) came home to score two pitches later on a wild pitch. The Beacons couldn't add another run though, as they ran into the first of two double plays on the base paths, after pinch-hitter Jillian Shepherd (Norwood, Mass.) earned a walk.
Suffolk went ahead in the top of the seventh thanks to a two-out clutch hit from their senior captain. After Gray retired the first two batters of the inning, Kristen Young worked a walk and came home all the way from first base on an RBI single from McAndrews into right-center field.
Haley Dutton (Milton, Mass.) singled to give the Beacons life in the bottom of the seventh, but Chasse retired the next two batters with a fielder's choice groundout and a pop-up.
Game Two: UMass Boston 3, Suffolk University 1
After going 0-2 in their first two tries at getting Ardagna win number 100, the Beacons came through with one of their best performances at home this season.
Zullo scattered six softly hit singles and two walks over seven innings, while allowing one unearned run. She also added a season-high five strikeouts to improve to 3-4 on the year.
At the dish, Kristina Bove (Medford, Mass.) belted the first two extra-base hits of her junior season, with a pair of doubles, a run scored and an RBI. Freshman Kaitlyn Morse (Arlington, Mass.) added a single and a run scored, while Vecchiet and Gray each picked up a single RBI.
McAndrews accounted for the Rams lone RBI in game two, while freshman pitcher Kim Crucioli gave up three earned runs over 2.2 innings before being pulled. Freshman right-hander Paige Stanley did a terrific job in relief, allowing just one walk and no hits over 3.1 innings pitched.
Zullo was in command from the opening pitch in Wednesday's second game, as she faced the minimum through the first three innings and allowed just two walks through four. After cruising through the first four innings, Zullo came up huge in the final three frames, stranding two runners in the fifth and the bases loaded in the sixth and seventh innings.
The Beacons provided all the run support she would need in the third inning when they struck for five straight hits and all three runs against Cruciolo.
Lyndsey Capra (Lowell, Mass.) started the rally with a one out single and moved to second on Morse' slap-single to put two runners on. Three pitchers later, Bove gave the Beacons their first lead in 17 innings, as she slammed a double down the right-field line to plate Capra. Vecchiet made it 2-0 as she crushed the next pitch just over Crucioli's head to knock in Morse. After the Beacons loaded up the bases with one out, Gray pushed the lead to 3-0 by hitting a deep sacrifice fly to plate Bove.
UMass Boston shut down Suffolk from their, as the Rams didn't pick up their first hit until Chasse laid down a bunt single to lead off the sixth. The Rams collected two more singles in the inning, but Zullo shut the door with her fourth strikeout of the game to keep it 3-0.
Suffolk loaded the bases once again in the seventh, with McAndrews making it 3-1 on an infield single to the shortstop. With the tying run on second base, Zullo got Anna Grace Maggs swinging to end the game.
UMass Boston will be back in action Saturday at 1 p.m. as they travel to UMass Dartmouth for a crucial Little East Conference doubleheader.