The Buffalo Bulls went down to Georgia this past weekend. They won a few games and saw their pitching make some progress, but the offense for the most part struggled.
The Bulls opened play in the Georgia Softball Classic last Friday in good fashion with a hard fought extra innings win over Marshall. Buffalo got the early lead in this one, scoring four runs in the first three innings. Freshman Holly Luciano has found success as the Bulls' leadoff batter. In the first inning against Marshall she singled, was sacrificed to second base, and stole third base after a Kris Waldron walk. Jessica Griffin singled both runners home, and the Bulls had a quick 2-0 lead. Buffalo would strike again in the third inning when after two outs, Marshal committed an error allowing Jessica Griffin to reach base and Sammi Gallardo reached safely on a bunt.
Freshman Tori Pettine then drove them both home with a single to center field and the Bulls found themselves up 4-0. Haylee Land made the start for the Bulls, and shutout the Thundering Herd for the game's first three innings before getting into trouble in the third and the fourth. After allowing the game to be tied at four, she was relieved by freshman Tori Speckman. Speckman would go on to pitch four innings of one hit ball, striking out four along the way while walking none. The Bulls would walk off with the win in the bottom of the 8th inning.
In college softball, when teams are still in non-conference tournament play, the international tiebreaker rule is used. In extra innings, when at bat the teams are allowed a runner at second base to begin the inning, and this is the batter who made the last out in the previous inning. In the Bulls' case, it was the speedy Ashley Bertot who was placed on second to begin the bottom of the 8th inning. She stole third base, and when the Marshall catcher, attempting to throw her out, sent the ball into left field, easily went home to score the game winning run. It was Buffalo's first win of the 2011 season. After that run, the Bulls would score only twice more the rest of the tournament.
Later on that Friday the Bulls faced the host team, #2 Georgia. Buffalo lost this one 8-0 in a run rule game. No shame in it really---the Bulldogs are a true national title contender. I'm fairly certain that this was the highest ranked team the Bulls have ever played (they were scheduled to play #1 UCLA last season, but the game was rained out). The Bulldogs pounded out 12 hits, including a pair of home runs by Ashley Razey. For the Bulls, Ashley Bertot and Tori Pettine were each 2 for 2, accounting for all the UB hits in this game. In this week's poll, the Georgia Bulldogs are now the #1 team in the nation. The theory is that games against a power like this will help the Bulls toughen up for MAC play.
On Saturday, UB opened play against ACC member North Carolina State. The Bulls did not generate much offense in this game, although Jessica Griffin did drive home her third run of the tournament when she singled home Ashley Bertot in the 6th inning. But by then the game was out of reach and the Bulls lost 6-1.
The most encouraging game for Buffalo came later on Saturday when they faced off against Winthrop. Encouraging because junior transfer Holly Johnson (pictured) pitched a gem of a game. Johnson struggled her first weekend of action, but cut her ERA in half after this tournament. Against Winthrop she was in complete control, and she had to be because the Buffalo offense struggled again. In fact they would score only one run on one hit. This they accomplished through speed and "small ball', their strength. Holly Luciano led off the 4th inning with a bunt single. After Kris Waldron sacrificed her to second base, she stole third. After a Jessica Griffin walk, the Bulls once again executed a double steal with the speedy Holly Luciano sliding in safely for the game's only run. It would be all that Holly Johnson would need. She scattered four hits, allowing a runner to reach third base only once. She struck out 7, and walked only 2. It was her first win in a Buffalo uniform and no doubt a confidence builder. Come conference play, the Bulls will need this kind of performance from her.
Buffalo closed this tournament out on Sunday against North Dakota State, a team that reached the Super Regionals in '09. Tori Speckman started this game and went the distance. She gave up two early runs, but generally pitched very well, certainly well enough for her team to win. Unfortunately the Buffalo bats were still cold, producing only four hits. Holly Luciano reached again, and stole her 6th base of the season. Ashley Bertot, Jessica Griffin and Sammi Gallardo all hit singles, but in the end the Bulls lost 2-0.
The Bulls finished this tournament at 2-3; 2-8 for the season. Their pitching showed definite improvement, but after the Marshall game the offense went into hibernation. Still early in the season though---MAC play is still more than a month away. Buffalo is off this weekend; they will return to action on the weekend of March 5 when they take part in the Marshall University Tournament.
Buffalo Hitting Leaders:
Tori Pettine .292
Jessica Griffin .280
Holly Luciano .280
Tori Speckman 1-3; 5.40 ERA
Holly Johnson 1-2; 6.38 ERA