Rutgers comes from behind for walk-off win over Hofstra

<p>Senior shortstop Melanie Slowinski hits a walk-off single to left field in the bottom of the&nbsp;seventh inning of Rutgers 7-6 win over Hofstra in its home opener Tuesday.</p>

Senior shortstop Melanie Slowinski hits a walk-off single to left field in the bottom of the seventh inning of Rutgers 7-6 win over Hofstra in its home opener Tuesday.

The Rutgers softball team’s home opener against Hofstra was a tale of two games, sparked by pitching changes from both sides.

Through four-and-a-half innings of Tuesday afternoon’s matchup at the Rutgers Softball Complex, the Pride held a 6-2 advantage over the Scarlet Knights. 

The visitors had already chased the Knights’ starter in the circle, Shayla Sweeney, after the junior had surrendered 4 runs on seven hits in 2.1 innings of work. In the 1.2 innings that senior Dresden Maddox had come in relief of Sweeney, she had allowed 2 runs to cross the plate as well.

At the dish, Rutgers had managed to get eight runners on base, but Hofstra starting pitcher Jessica Peslak limited the Knights scoring in only allowing 2 runs.

But when the Knights came to bat in the second half of the fifth, Peslak wasn’t on the mound as Madison Grimm replaced her.

And from that point on, it was all Rutgers.

The Knights scored 4 runs on three hits and six walks in the next two innings, while Maddox shut the door on the Pride’s offense to even the score up at six to give the home team a chance to win it entering the bottom of the seventh.

Courtney Scarpato came into the game in relief of Grimm for Hofstra and retired the first two batters she faced. But then freshman outfielder Nicolette Anico reached on a single and sophomore infielder Rebecca Hall worked in a walk.

With runners on first and second, senior infielder Melanie Swolinski slapped a ball past the defenders on the left side of the infielder. The ball was hit directly to Hofstra leftfielder Alyssa Cuzzola, but head coach Jay Nelson sent Anico around from third to home.

Cuzzola’s throw was on target, but it went through the legs of kneeling catcher Brittney Alloca as Anico slid in to home safe to seal Rutgers (15-16) 7-6 win over Hofstra (13-11) in the Knights' home opener.

“The key was Nicki getting on cause that kind of started us off well. And then Becca and then all I was trying to do was get something in play. Like something in the gap was ideal,” Swolinski said of her game-winning hit.

With junior Shayla Sweeney getting the start in the circle, Hofstra’s struck first in the top half of the first frame. 

With runners on first and second, Brielle Pietrafesa hit a RBI double to the right gap. But Michaela Transue was thrown out at the plate trying to score from first, as the damage in the inning was limited to just one run.

In Hofstra’s next time up at-bat, it added to its advantage with a leadoff solo shot from Nikki Michalowski to right field.

Rutgers collected its first hit and run of the game in one swing from senior catcher Elizabeth Adams, who crushed a shot to left field to cut the deficit to 2-1.

But Hofstra’s lineup continued to give Sweeney trouble in the top of third as a leadoff double was followed by a two-run, line-drive home run to right center off the bat of Transue. 

Sweeney entered the game with the best ERA on the Knights pitching staff, but Hofstra chased her after allowing 4 runs on 7 hits, as Nelson brought in senior Dresden Maddox to replace her.

Maddox retired the first two batters she faced to close out the third, but ran into the same trouble that Sweeney did in the fourth.

Hofstra struck the Knights again with the longball, this time off the bat of Megan Patierno, who sent a towering solo home run over the left field wall. But Maddox didn’t allow the home run to rattler her, as she walked around to walks to finish the rest of the inning unscathed.

Trailing 4-1 entering the bottom of the fourth, Rutgers seemed to be in prime position to put a legitimate dent in its deficit. With one out, two consecutive Knights’ batters were hit by pitches in.

Then senior infielder Stephanie Huang, fresh off being named Big Ten Player of the Week, knocked an RBI single to left and advanced on the throw to the plate giving the home team runners on second and third.

But Rutgers couldn’t muster anything else in the inning as Pelsak retired the next two batters, leaving the score at 5-2.

Hofstra added to its lead in the top half of the fifth to extend its lead back to four, but the Knights offense was waiting to break open and Maddox was just getting settled in.

“I just wanted to go out there and hit my spots,” Maddox said. “Throw strikes and pitch to my defense so that we could go back in and hit so that the offense could take over.”

In the bottom of the fifth, Rutgers had runners on second and third with one out when Elizabeth Adams recorded two more RBI’s with a single through the right side. After Maddox worked through a single and walk in the top of the sixth, the Knights added two more runs in the bottom half of the inning. 

With the bases loaded and one out, Adams drove in her fourth run of the game with a single to left. Then junior Carly Todd worked a walk to tie the game at six.

The following batter, Sierra Maddox drilled a ball right back to the pitcher, but Scarpato was able to glove it and double off infielder Jordan Whitley at third to end the inning.

After Maddox worked another near-perfect inning, Swolinski was able to cap off the Knights two-out rally to secure their 13th win in the past 18 games.

“Well, I thought we would get going anyway, even against (Pelsak) I think that’s why (Hofstra) took her out,” Nelson said. “But on our side of it, we were giving up too many long balls … Dresden, when she came in, she wasn’t hitting her spots and then she moved on a little bit. She started hitting her spots and throwing better. We played on Sunday morning and we were off and flew and didn’t practice yesterday. So we’re always a little rusty when we come out after that.”

With an 0-8 start to the season well behind them, Rutgers will open Big Ten play on Friday with the chance to get to the .500 mark when it welcomes Penn State for a weekend three-game set.

“We’re excited, we’re looking forward to it and this is what we prepare for all season,” Maddox said. “So we’re ready.”

For updates on the Rutgers softball team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

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