WASHINGTON, D.C. - For the first time in program history, the Saint Joseph's softball team has claimed the Atlantic 10 regular season title. Sweeping their doubleheader at George Washington, 5-2 and 2-1, Sunday afternoon, SJU finished with the best record in the A-10 and a first round bye at this week's conference tournament.
Picked to finish fourth in the A-10 preseason poll, Saint Joseph's finished the regular season with a 17-5 record in conference. The Hawks will open postseason play Thursday at noon versus either fourth seed George Washington or fifth seed Dayton at Sortino Field at the University of Massachusetts.
Needing at least win to secure a bye and two wins for the top seed in the conference postseason tournament, the Hawks fought back from down two runs in the seventh to earn a 5-2 victory in the first game on Sunday.
The Colonials (26-1, 13-7 A-10) scored unearned runs in the bottom of the first and bottom of the second to jump out to a 2-0 lead against SJU starter Taryn Ashway.
The Hawks' ace would keep George Washington off the board from there though, scattering five hits over the final five innings to allow her team the opportunity to come back.
Trailing by two heading to the top of the seventh, the Hawks would soon take advantage of the Colonials' fielding errors.
With one out, junior Maria Ficca reached on an error by the third baseman and would move to second on a successful bunt single by senior Dana Parks. Sophomore Melissa Ruf followed with a shot to second base that was mishandled, allowing her to reach safely, while Ficca scored and Parks advanced to third.
Sophomore Nicole Palase followed with the go-ahead hit, doubling to left field that allowed for the Parks and the speedy Ruf to score to give SJU its first lead of the day, 3-2.
Saint Joseph's junior Morgan Earling would add insurance runs for her team in the next at-bat, homering to center field to give the Hawks a 5-2 lead heading into the bottom of the seventh.
Despite giving up a two-out double, Ashway closed the door on George Washington, getting a ground out to third base to end the game and make sure the Hawks had a bye for the tournament.
Going the complete seven innings, Ashway improved to 26-3 as she struck out eight, while allowing one walk and eight hits and a pair of unearned runs.
At the plate, Parks went 3-for-4 in game one, while Palase was the only other Hawk with multiple hits, going 2-for-4.
Having secured the bye, Saint Joseph's set its eyes on the the top seed an regular season A-10 title in the second contest.
The Hawks would take a 1-0 lead in the top of the first as senior Rochelle Christman drew a bases loaded walk with two outs that scored Park from third.
In the circle, rookie Liz Mendez was solid for SJU, allowing just four hits over the first four innings while keeping the Colonials off the scoreboard.
George Washington would fight back to even the score in the fifth on a RBI double, but Saint Joseph's would again score late against the Colonials.
Again with the bases loaded and two outs, the Hawks' veterans came through in the clutch, this time in the top of the sixth. Keeping the ball in the infield, Parks hit a quick shot to second base and reached safely, allowing freshman Sarah Yoos to score the go-ahead run.
Mendez would give up a pair of hits in the bottom of the sixth, but get out of danger. And following a scoreless top of the seventh, faced the tops of the Colonials lineup for the final three outs.
Showing no signs of being a freshman, Mendez quickly mowed down the first GW batter. Despite an error that allowed the next batter to reach, Mendez got the next two Colonial batters to fly out, with the final out caught by Parks at the warning track to secure the game for SJU.
Mendez improved to 8-5 on the season with the complete game victory. She finished the game striking out three and walking none, while allowing one earned run on six hits.