Manhattan had to like its chances of moving on in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference softball tournament.
There were the Jaspers, sitting with a two-run lead against defending champion Marist and just three outs away from eliminating the Red Foxes and moving on in the tourney. Oh, and Manhattan was going to battle with Nicole Williams, the MAAC Rookie of the Year, on the mound.
It was all lining up quite nicely for the Jaspers until Marist spoiled the feel-good scenario.
Marist scored three times in the last of the seventh inning with Gabrielle Kelliher’s sacrifice fly plating Brandi Coon with the winning run as the Jaspers saw their season come to an end in agonizing fashion with a 5-4 loss.
“It all unfolded quickly, and it got chaotic quickly,” Manhattan senior catcher Jenn Vazquez said.
“But at the end of the day, you have to get out number one, and it just didn’t go our way. Nicole threw a great inning. There was nothing that she could have done different. She got ahead on every batter but one thing doesn’t go your way and things start to go a little chaotic.
“It is what it is.”
The Jaspers (34-21) came into the tournament as the No. 4 seed, promptly dropping their opening game to Monmouth, 4-0. That was nothing new for Vazquez and the rest of the senior class, however.
“We lost that first game to Monmouth and we were talking in the huddle after the game about how we needed to bounce back,” said Vazquez, who had a hit and RBI in the loss to Marist.
“Then I got to thinking that I’ve never won on the first day of any MAAC Tournament. And that sucks because you want to go into a tournament with the mindset that you just have to win four games, win them one at a time. Then you lose that first game and you lose sight of that goal a little bit.”
Manhattan did bounce back from that loss and promptly eliminated Siena, 4-3, on the tournament’s second day to set up the matchup with Marist. And from the start, the outcome appeared promising.
Manhattan jumped out to a 2-0 lead with single runs in the third and fourth innings courtesy of a Vazquez RBI single and a Marist fielding error on Dominique Palagruto’s popup to second.
Marist tied the game at 2 in the bottom of the fourth on a two-run double by Brittany Colombo. It remained that way until the seventh inning when Manhattan tacked on a pair of runs with one coming on another Marist error, and the second coming in on Shannon Puthe’s single to deep shortstop for a 4-2 Jaspers lead.
But with Manhattan sitting just three outs away from advancing, Marist torpedoed Manhattan’s dreams with three runs in the bottom of the seventh.
“You can’t count anyone out until the game is over, so we needed to make sure that we finished the game and shut the door,” Manhattan assistant coach Cat Clifford said. “We didn’t, and it sucks. It hurts. But you learn from it and move on.”
It was a difficult ending to a season, which was one for the books for the Jaspers. The team tied the school record for most wins in a season with 34 victories, previously set in 1993. Williams earned rookie of the year honors, Lauren Pitney and Briana Matazinsky each were named to the All-MAAC First Team, Puthe was named All-MAAC Second Team, and freshman first baseman Christine Gebhardt was selected to the conference’s All-Rookie Team.
“It was a great year,” Clifford said.
“It didn’t end the way we wanted, but we can’t discount the things we accomplished. Shannon Puthe tied the single-season steals record, we tied the school’s wins record, Nicole getting rookie of the year, and we also had a lot of all-conference players.
“So we move onto next year, and we take those things with us, and we’ll look to do better than we did this year.”
For Vazquez, one of only three seniors on the team along with shortstop Stephanie Reinhardt and pitcher Danielle Gabriel, it was somber end to a stellar career.
“We talked about all the time that we came into a program that didn’t even make the MAACs the year before we got here,” Vazquez said. “So for me and the other seniors to go four-for-four in making the MAAC Tournament and to make noise every year, have back-to-back 30-win seasons, Nicole got a major award, yeah, there are a lot of good things happening at Manhattan College.
“This program is headed in a really good direction, and it’s only going to go up from here.”