With the graduation of Sharon Barr and the early departure of Terese Diaz, the Buffalo Bulls opened their 2011 softball season with virtually a brand new pitching staff. The first weekend of tournament play showed that they need lots more work.
Head coach Jen Teague did bring in two transfers for this season, both of them juniors. Amherst native Holly Johnson arrived from Rutgers; Haylee Land from NJCAA Indian River Community College in Fort Pierce, FL. A promising freshman, Tori Speckman from Alvin, TX, has also joined the team this season. Senior Kate Kraus transferred to Buffalo last season, but saw limited action.
This past weekend the Bulls were in Florida to take part in the Jacksonville University Tournament. They left with a 0-5 record and a team ERA of 9.00. It did not go well for the Bulls right from the top of the first inning against Big 12 Kansas Friday morning. Holly Johnson made her first start in a UB uniform, and was relieved 7 runs later and without recording an out. She walked 3 batters, allowed 3 hits, and surrendered a grand slam home run. Haylee Land was not much more effective in relief, giving up 6 runs and throwing 3 wild pitches. The Jayhawks won 13-3 in a run rule game (in college softball, when a team leads by 8 or more runs after 5 or more innings the game is over). Not many highlights for the Bulls in this one. Freshman Tori Pettine did hit 2 for 3 in her debut; fellow frosh Sammi Gallardo did record her first hit and RBI.
The Bulls played host Jacksonville later on the same day and with better results, if not a win. Holly Johnson started this game also, and pitched much better. She shutout the Dolphins for the first 5 innings, allowing only 2 hits along the way, before running out of gas and getting into trouble in the 6th inning. A walk and hit batsman resulted in two runs and the ballgame. The Bulls did get back in the game in the bottom of the inning when speedy freshman Holly Luciano took 3 bases on a dropped fly ball and was sent home on a sacrifice fly by Sammi Gallardo. But another walk and a double by Jacksonville erased that run and the Dolphins won 3-1.
The second day of the tournament saw two very different UB performances. The Bulls opened play against Bethune-Cookman, the 2010 MEAC Champions. Buffalo simply did not show up for this one, once again being "mercy ruled" 12-1 in 5 innings. Coach Teague used 3 pitchers in the game, including Tori Speckman who made her debut with the bases loaded and no outs. None were effective.
So it was with great trepidation for those who follow the softball Bulls when the team took the field to play against #25 North Carolina. I don't know if Coach Teague gave her team a "pep talk", but the Bulls came out and played a great game. Tori Speckman started in the circle and showed herself well, allowing 3 runs while striking out 3 Tar Heels. The Bulls jumped to a quick 2-0 lead when in the bottom of the 1st inning they opened with consecutive singles by Holly Luciano and Ashley Bertot. The speedsters then executed a successful double steal. Kristin Waldron drove home Luciano; Jessica Griffin drove home Bertot and the Bulls had their first lead of the tournament. North Carolina scored a single run in the top of the 2nd, but the Bulls responded in their half of the inning. Holly Luciano and Ashley Bertot went right back at it, both hitting doubles this time. Luciano drove home Andi Saucier, who had walked and stolen a base, then was sent home herself by Bertot. Tori Speckman would pitch 2 shutout innings before getting in trouble with illegal pitches in the 5th inning. After allowing another run, she was relieved by Haylee Land who continued to have control issues and would surrender another run in the inning; the Tar Heels tied the game in the top of the 7th. In the bottom of the 7th, the Bulls almost won the game (college softball is a 7 inning game) when Kristin Waldron singled, was sacrificed to 2nd base by Sammi Gallardo, and was sent home when Alyssa Ward singled. She was thrown out at the plate. It would prove to be the Bulls' last chance as the wheels fell off in the extra inning with North Carolina scoring 5 times to win 9-4. A great effort by the Bulls against a nationally prominent team, but a loss nonetheless.
One more game was played on Sunday morning before heading back to the snow. Tori Speckman was rewarded for her fine performance against UNC with the start in the rematch against Kansas. The Bulls were much more competitive this time around with the Jayhawks, but still lost 5-1. Andi Saucier tied the game with a solo shot over the left field fence in the 2nd inning, the first of a pair of hits for her, but that was all the Bulls could muster. Speckman went the distance, and the game was still at 3-1 with 2 outs in the top of the 7th when she was called for a couple more illegal pitches leading to the final score. But she was definitely the most effective UB pitcher on opening weekend.
Rough start for the Bulls, but they seemed to be getting their heads into the season the final 2 games. It doesn't get any easier this weekend. They will be at Georgia University beginning Friday for the 8th Annual Georgia Softball Classic where besides playing the host Bulldogs the Bulls will face off against some good softball programs including Marshall; North Carolina State; Winthrop; and North Dakota State. I'll report back next week!