Keuka Storm gives top seed Cortland a major challenge, but falls, 4-3

Staff Writer
The Chronicle Express

When seventh-year Keuka softball coach Jamie Burke schedules top-flight competition such as Ithaca College, St. John Fisher College and SUNY Geneseo among her non-conference games, she does it to challenge her team during the regular season.

But she also takes on these talented schools to better prepare her Storm for the postseason, when all of the schools will be among the best in the country.

That strategy nearly led to an upset of top-seeded SUNY Cortland, the No. 1 team in the NCAA’s Amherst (Mass.) regional tournament, Thursday afternoon at Amherst.

The No. 8 Keuka College Storm, the six-time North Eastern Athletic Conference (NEAC) champions, gave Cortland (39-8) all it could handle in its first-round NCAA regional game, but the Storm (22-12) suffered a 4-3 loss to the Red Dragons.

Keuka jumped out to a 3-0 lead after three innings, but the Red Dragons rallied and won in walk-off fashion after a single through the left side of the infield in the bottom of the seventh.

The Green and Gold is now faced with an elimination game at 1 p.m. Friday afternoon between the loser of No. 4 Keene State (NH), with a 25-10-1 record, and No. 5 St. Joseph’s College (Maine), with a 33-7 record.

Sophomore Jill Hart (Cowlesville, NY/Iroquois), junior Brittany Smyder (Avon, NY/Avon) and sophomore Danielle Gravel (Sidney, NY/Sidney) each had a base hit and an RBI for Keuka, which was out-hit 8-5 by the Red Dragons.

After both teams were retired in order in the first inning, the Storm scraped across a run in the top of the second. Hart coaxed a leadoff walk, advanced to second on freshman Kelly Proper's (Silver Springs, NY/Letchworth) sacrifice bunt and scored a run on Smyder’s RBI single through the right side of the infield. Gravel made it 2-0 when she singled into center field, plating Smyder as the Storm pushed across two runs on two hits.

Cortland, the No. 1 team in the latest NCAA Northeast regional rankings, got runners at second and third with only one out in the second, but Gravel buckled down and induced a pop up to junior Terin Brown (Wayland, NY/Wayland-Cohocton) at second for the second out of the inning. With runners still at second and third, Gravel induced a groundout to shortstop Jessica Bandrowski (Center Moriches, NY/Center Moriches) to end the threat.

The Storm’s lead grew to 3-0 in the third. Bandrowski singled and advanced to second on a well-placed sacrifice bunt from senior Elly Disbrow (Penn Yan, NY/Penn Yan). Sophomore Brooke Lovell's (Arkport, NY/Arkport) groundout allowed Bandrowski to move to third with two outs, and Hart gave Keuka a 3-0 lead by dropping a single into left field, scoring Bandrowski.

Cortland, which was held hitless over the first 2 1/3 innings, got on the board in the third. Abby Martin ripped an RBI double and reached third on an error, but Martin tried scoring on the play and was thrown out at home to end the inning.

The Red Dragons tied the game with a pair of runs in the bottom of the fourth, on an RBI double into right center field and an RBI single down the right field line. With runners at first and second and two outs, Gravel got leadoff hitter Lucia Meola to ground out to Brown at second base to end the inning.

In the seventh, Nicole Gallo led off with a single into right field before Gravel got Meola to pop out for the first out. Jessica Harmon laced a double down the right field line to give the Red Dragons runners at second and third with one out, and following an intentional walk, Meaghan Kohler sent a single through a drawn-in infield to lift Cortland to the 4-3 win.

Gravel fell to 17-5 on the year, allowing four runs on eight hits in 6 1/3 innings pitched.

Bandrowski, Lovell, Hart, Smyder and Gravel each had singles for the Storm.