Resilient Keuka softball team gets walk-off ninth-inning win at NCAA’s

Staff Writer
The Chronicle Express
2012 Keuka Softball Team, NEAC Champions

Resiliency is a hard trait to define, but for seventh-year Keuka College softball coach Jamie Burke, she knows resiliency when she sees it, and Friday’s elimination game in the NCAA regional tournament epitomized the Storm’s tremendous sense of resiliency.

Keuka, the No. 8 seed, twice enjoyed two-run leads over No. 5 St. Joseph’s College (Maine), only to see the leads evaporate at Amherst (Mass.) College.

To compound matters, sophomore Danielle Gravel (Sidney, NY/Sidney), the North Eastern Athletic Conference’s Pitcher of the Year in the North Division, suffered a wrist injury when a batted ball struck her flush in the wrist in the top of the seventh.

The blown leads and the potential injury to its ace didn't matter to the Storm. Keuka simply found a different way to win, as Gravel plated junior Brittany Smyder (Avon, NY/Avon) with the winning run on a walk-off RBI single in the bottom of the ninth to keep Keuka’s NCAA hopes alive with a 5-4 win over St. Joseph’s.

The Storm (23-12) will play the loser of No. 3 Amherst and No. 2 SUNY Plattsburgh in an elimination game, at 1 p.m. Saturday back at Amherst while the season ends for St. Joseph’s (33-9).

“We’re a resilient group and these kids don’t get down, it’s been that way all year long,” Burke said after the Storm evened its regional record at 1-1.

“It’s a win and the bottom line is to come away with those wins, which we did.”

Epitomizing the team mentality, seven different players recorded base hits in the win: Gravel, Smyder, senior Elly Disbrow (Penn Yan, NY/Penn Yan) and sophomores Jessica Bandrowski (Center Moriches, NY/Center Moriches), Katie Evangelista (Geneva, NY/Geneva), Jill Hart (Cowlesville, NY/Iroquois) and Brooke Lovell (Arkport, NY/Arkport).

Gravel ran her record to 18-5 with a 3.29 earned run average after allowing four runs on 15 hits over nine innings. It was her 23rd complete game in 25 appearances.

The Storm, the six-time NEAC postseason champions, took 2-0 and 4-2 leads before the Monks tied the game in the top of the seventh on a pair of RBI infield singles.

After neither team scored in the eighth, St. Joe’s threatened to take the lead in the top of the ninth. Danyelle Shufelt reached on an infield single and Connie Grovo reached on a bunt single, but like she has all year long, Gravel battled and induced Emily Leverone into a pop up to junior Terin Brown (Wayland, NY/Wayland-Cohocton) for the first out.

Then Heather Tripp hit a grounder to Lovell, who stepped on third for one out and threw Tripp out at first to complete the rally-killing double play, the Storm’s 24th twin-killing this year.

That clutch double play set the stage for Keuka’s walk-off win. After a leadoff fly out, Smyder reached on a single up the middle, bringing up Gravel, hurt wrist and all. Gravel swung at the first pitch from Rae-Marie Copan and sent a double into the gap in right-center field. Smyder, running from the crack of the bat, crossed home plate a second before the ball arrived to propel the Storm into the next round.

“I was really nervous, just because my hand was really sore, but I was excited after I hit the ball and we won the game,” Gravel said afterwards. “I’ve never hit the first pitch, but I just felt like I had to swing at the first pitch. Coach always yells at me for not hitting the first pitch, but I finally did and I guess it was a good thing.”

After she was hit on the wrist, Gravel was checked out by Keuka’s athletic training staff and was allowed to remain in the game. When she stepped into the batter’s box in the ninth, Gravel said her wrist was sore, but she was solely focused on helping her team advance.

Keuka took a 1-0 lead in the second without the benefit of a hit. After a pair of groundouts to open the inning, Brown walked and scored all the way from first base when Smyder reached on an error by the centerfielder as the Storm took an early lead in an NCAA regional game for the second straight day.

St. Joseph’s threatened against Gravel in the third, getting a leadoff single from Kim Jordan, and pinch-hitter Kirin Schrum reached on a fielder’s choice, but Bandrowski threw out Kluna at third base for the first out of the inning. The Monks still had runners at first and second with one out, but a groundout by Grovo and a pop out from Leverone ended the inning with Keuka still ahead 1-0.

Another hustle play led to an unearned Storm run in the bottom of the inning. The Storm’s first two batters were retired before Disbrow reached on a single, Keuka’s first hit off of St. Joe’s starter Theresa Hendrix. Disbrow then stole second and scored when Lovell reached on an error by the second baseman.

“Sometimes just putting runners in motion does a lot for a team,” Burke said of her opportunistic squad, which capitalized on five errors by St. Joseph’s.

“All postseason we’ve been out-hit, but we’re scoring runs any way we can. All of our stolen bases, the hit-and-runs, the sacrifice bunts with runners on base, just putting runners in motion and putting the ball in play, you have to make the other team think and react. You have to make plays happen; you can’t just go station to station.”

The Monks finally got on the scoreboard in the fifth. Kluna dropped a single into right field before Jordan launched a two-run home run over the left field fence to knot the score at 2-all. It was her third home run of the season.

But just as quickly as St. Joe’s tied the game, the Green and Gold reclaimed the advantage in the fifth. Evangelista ripped a double down the left field line, and sophomore Sami Clingerman (Dundee, NY/Dundee) entered the game as a pinch-runner for Evangelista. Bandrowski helped the Storm re-take the lead on her RBI single into center field, as Clingerman scampered home just ahead of the throw to the plate.

Bandrowski moved to second on a throwing error by the Monks’ catcher and scored on Disbrow’s well-placed sacrifice bunt down the third-base line. An eager Bandrowski appeared to be caught in a rundown when she took a wide turn off third base, but she was able to use her speed to out-run the St. Joseph’s throws and crossed the plate to put Keuka ahead 4-2.

Working quickly and effectively, Gravel retired the side on just six pitches in the sixth, getting three groundouts to maintain the 4-2 lead. St. Joe’s pulled even in the seventh, which set the stage for Keuka’s ninth-inning, walk-off win.

“I’m really excited about this, especially because we have a really young team and we’re not the team that we were last year, but we’re playing some good softball now,” Gravel said. “I’m nervous but it’s cool that we get to keep playing. Plus, we were seeded eighth so no one thought we were going to win any of these games. We will never give up, doesn’t matter how far we’re down or who is hurt, we just don’t give up and we always want to win.”

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