The Manhattan College softball team knew it had one task against the Iona Gaels: win and you’re in.
With one win, the Jaspers would secure a berth in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament. But two victories would allow the Jaspers to keep their hopes alive and host the MAAC Tournament.
Manhattan also would still need the Siena Saints — who the Jaspers were tied with in second place — to lose at least once in order to finish in first.
But Manhattan’s hopes of hosting the tournament came to an end after the Jaspers split their series against the Gaels. The Jaspers won the first game 7-1, but were shut out in the second, 1-0.
“It would’ve been nice. It would’ve been nice for them not to leave,” Manhattan assistant coach Cat Clifford said about possibly hosting the MAAC tournament. “But at the end of the day it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter where we play, it doesn’t matter who’s hosting. It matters what we do and that’s what we’re focused on.”
The doubleheader against the Gaels had a playoff intensity to it, and Manhattan head coach Tom Pardalis managed the contests as such. In the first game, Pardalis sent out freshman Nicole Williams as his starting pitcher instead of his No.1 starter, Brianna Matazinsky.
“Just to mix things up,” Clifford said. “She’s been throwing really well. Iona’s seen (Matazinsky) a lot, so we thought that we should start off with (Williams). Got to go with who’s hot.”
And Williams stayed hot against the Gaels, winning her fourth game in her last five starts. The freshman threw a complete game, striking out 10 while giving up just three hits and one earned run.
The game was close throughout, but the Jaspers tacked on some insurance runs in the top of the seventh. Leading 3-1, the Jaspers picked up a run on an RBI single from Shannon Puthe. Then, with two runners on base, Lauren Pitney — who had homered earlier in the game — hit a three-run shot to give the Jaspers a 7-1 lead.
Pitney, who had reached base in seven consecutive plate appearances prior to the at-bat, seemed to have made an out. But Iona’s third baseman dropped a foul pop-up, and Pitney made sure to deliver on her second chance.
“My biggest thing is that when a pitcher makes a mistake, I want to take advantage of it,” Pitney said. “But I didn’t get those home runs because of myself, it was because of my teammates. They were on base for me to get them in.”
While the Jaspers thrived getting on base for Pitney in the first game, they didn’t fare as well in the second. Manhattan collected just one hit and recorded two walks.
“I don’t think it was anything crazy, I think it was just we didn’t make the adjustments we needed to,” Clifford said. “We were making contact all day, and you know what? It wasn’t in our luck. They had hits fall in. That was luck. We didn’t have hits fall in.”
Iona scored its lone run in the third after a bloop single to right field from Kristen Turner. The Gaels threatened on several occasions, but behind Matazinsky’s four innings and Kayla McDermott’s two frames in relief, the Jaspers were able to limit the damage.
Manhattan’s best chance came in the fourth with runners on first and second with one out and the Jaspers hottest hitter up at the plate. Pitney had a lengthy at-bat, but was only able to move the runners over with a ground ball to second base. Then, Jenn Vasquez failed to drive in the runners by grounding out to second to end the inning.
“She was working the zone,” Pitney said about Iona’s starter, Marnie Skinner, who threw a complete game one-hitter. “She moved the ball a lot better than the first pitcher.”
With the loss, the Jaspers can no longer host the MAAC Tournament, but despite blowing an opportunity, the Jaspers are satisfied with the results.
“It was a good day,” Clifford said. “We played hard, we fought until the end, and that’s all that we can ask. I really don’t care if we host. I care what we do the last games of the season. That’s what really matters.”