Softball's veterans push Bears in another home-opening win
By SCOTT WARD
GREELEY -- Northern Colorado Softball has featured a lineup most games this season that includes four or five freshman and also a sophomore. On any given day the Bears have taken the field in 2012 with a vastly inexperienced but undoubtedly talented crew.
That was never more evident than under the lights Wednesday night at Butler-Hancock Softball Field, where the Bears came from behind to win 7-4 in their 2012 home opener against UC-Colorado Springs.
The Bears (12-14) came into the game having already played 25 times this season away from home, and early on they looked like team distracted by the thought of where it was playing the game instead of how it was playing the game.
Northern Colorado committed three errors before the fifth inning was complete, had a couple other plays that were of the "mental-error category" and trailed the NCAA Division II Mountain Lions 4-1 heading into the final three innings.
The Bears put six on the board in the fifth, though—keyed by a deep blast to right-center field from junior-transfer Lindsey Smith—and freshmen Mikayla Duffy (5-6) and Kelci Cheney held UCCS (10-13) off the board thereafter to push the Bears to a win in their home opener for the fourth straight season.
It wasn't easy, though.
At least not as easy as Northern Colorado coach Mark Montgomery said he would have liked.
"I think we were amped up at the beginning of the game," Montgomery said. "The anxiety level was high. Not in a bad way; in a good way—just being home, being in front of family and friends and all that. I just don't think we were settled into the game. I think it took a couple, three innings to calm down.
"I think we can come out a little sharper. This was the first game at home, and while we're excited to be at home and we're glad to be at home, we won't have the anxiety level at the heightened state it was at [tonight.]."
UCCS quickly tied it in the fourth and then scored three times in the fifth after sending seven to the plate and getting a pair of errors in the rally. Northern Colorado fueled both Mountain Lion rallies, in fact, with miscues and allowed all the runs scored against it in the game to cross the plate unearned.
Wilkinson, however, is one of just three Northern Colorado seniors (Geddis, Alex Neely), and she showed that maturity in the fifth with a rally-starting stroke to center.
She quickly moved to second when freshman Kaitlin Flynn singled up the middle on a 0-0 count, and both runners moved up a base when freshman Morgan Yuhas took the first pitch she saw and bunted them over on a sacrifice.
Freshman Melissa Marcovecchio then reached on a bunt-single to the pitcher, loading the bases, and Geddis picked up her ninth RBI of the season when she reached on a fielder's choice, scoring Wilkinson.
Junior Jamie Pollak followed with a sharp single through the right side, scoring Flynn and Marchovecchio, and Smith added to the rally with her deep blast over the right-center fence that blew the game open.
Wilkinson added an insurance run later in the inning with a hard-to-handle RBI single to short.
That ended the Bears rally and restored some order to the perceived "mismatch."
"Most of the RMAC (Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference) schools are good schools—they are good teams," Montgomery said. "And when you're that team, you get to come in and play with the sense of, 'It doesn't matter.' Well that's a nice way to play isn't it? I mean, when you get to play, 'Hey, we're supposed to lose this game, so let's just go let it all hang out and do what we can,' I think it's easy to play that game.
"I think it's harder to play the game, especially when you're down, when you're backed in the corner and you know you're supposed to be the team that wins this. At least I'm proud of them for coming out and doing that."
Cheney started the game and ended the game. She pitched 2 1/3 inning at the outset but was taken out in favor of sophomore Megan Wilkinson in the third inning only to return to the game in the seventh to close out the victory for her first career save.
"I knew I still had some left in me, so when Coach Montgomery told me to warm up, I knew I could handle it," Cheney said. "I was happy with the way our team fought back and gave me a chance to finish it off."
Now, with a first home game under their belts, the Bears will turn their attention toward this Friday and Saturday, when they will host South Dakota State for a three-game series.
A doubleheader is planned for Friday and a single game will wrap the series on Saturday..
"We've been looking forward to this moment [in our schedule,]" Montgomery said. "We're home for basically two weeks. We've got that one away game at CSU (March 28), but that will feel like a home game because we'll have so many fans there, too.
"It's nice. It's nice to sleep in your own bed. It's nice to go about your own routine. The girls will respond. I think you'll see us get better and better as the home stand goes on."
POSTGAME NOTES: The win was the Bears' fourth straight in a home opener (2012, 2011, 2010, 2009) … Northern Colorado put six in the board in the fifth to climb out of a 4-1 deficit and lead 7-4 … Junior-transfer (Centenary) Lindsey Smith provided the exclamation point with a two-run homer to right-center, her fifth home run of the season … Freshman Kelci Cheney started the game (2 1/3 innings) and then finished the game (ninth inning) to earn the first save of her career.