April 20, 2012
VILLANOVA, Pa. - Villanova (28-18, 2-10) raced out to an early five-run lead and held on for a 6-4 BIG EAST victory over conference foe St. John's (15-30, 3-9) in the first game of a three-game weekend series. In the win, senior pitcher Caitlyn Delahaba (15-11) moved into 3rd place on Villanova's all-time strikeout list with 631 during her outstanding tenure at Villanova. Sophomore shortstop Ali Lowe (2-3, 3 RBIs, 3B) and freshman right fielder Beth Smetana (2-3, 2 RBIs) led the Villanova offense which had two consecutive big innings to build up a comfortable lead.
In the first, Delahaba nearly worked around a lead-off walk, but a 2-out RBI single by Kaycee Cox gave the Red Storm an early 1-0 lead through a half inning of play. In the bottom of the first, Ashley Beza protected her early advantage despite a one-out walk from senior center fielder Jamie O'Hara.
In the top of the second, Delahaba found her groove by striking out the side after allowing a lead-off single. The Wildcats then erased the deficit in the second when senior designated player Molly Manning singled up the middle to lead off the inning, but she was still at first after back-to-back fly outs to the warning track in left field. After senior second baseman Tessa Braga walked, sophomore shortstop Ali Lowe struck a 2-run triple into the left-center gap that scored Manning and Braga to give Villanova a 2-1 lead through two innings and chase starting pitcher Ashley Beza from the game.
Delahaba went out and pitched an effective shutdown inning in the third despite the lead-off hitter reaching for the third straight time to maintain the Villanova advantage.
In the bottom of the third, the Wildcats broke the game open by batting around and scoring three runs to build up a four run lead. New Red Storm pitcher Aleshia Link struggled as she surrendered two walks and an error on the first baseman to load the bases with nobody out, which brought on a third St. John's pitcher on the day in Fran Carrullo. After Manning popped out, freshman right fielder Beth Smetana hit a blooper off the end of her bat that hit the right field line for an RBI single and a 3-1 Villanova lead with the bases still loaded. Following a fly out, Braga and Lowe hit back-to-back RBI singles through the left side to score two more runs and build up a 5-1 lead through three innings of play.
The Red Storm cut into the lead in the top of the fourth when Julia Sanchez reached third base to lead off the inning on a fielding error by Smetana. Following Delahaba's fifth strikeout of the day, Michelle Tilson hit an RBI single up the middle to narrow the Wildcat lead to 5-2. A fielder's choice and fly out ended the top of the fourth with Villanova still holding a three run edge.
The Wildcats kept showing why they are the second best hitting team in the BIG EAST in the bottom of the fourth when O'Hara singled and junior first baseman Valerie Ortega moved her to third base with a double down the left field line with nobody out. After senior third baseman Kristi Burlin walked to load the bases, Carrullo was replaced with the game's starter, Ashley Beza. Following a strikeout, Smetana hit a long single off the left field wall that scored O'Hara to give the Wildcats a 6-2 lead. Villanova was unable o push across any more runs after a fielder's choice forced out Ortega at the plate and a pop out by Braga ended the inning.
In the top of the fifth, the Red Storm had their lead-off runner reach for the fifth straight time with a single and Erin Burner followed that up with a single of their own to put two runners on with nobody out as they attempted to trim the Wildcat lead. Kacee Cox then hit a bullet right back up the middle, but Delahaba made a great play and got her glove on it to knock it down then calmly picked up the ball and threw it to third for the first out of the inning. After a fielder's choice for the second out, third baseman Julia Sanchez hit a line drive that got down in the left-center gap to bring home two runs to cut Villanova's lead in half at 6-4. Then with two outs and the tying run at the plate, Delahaba moved into 3rd place all-time with her 631st career strikeout, passing Tina Sabunas' 630 punch outs.
After the Wildcats went down in order for the first time all day in the bottom of the fifth, Delahaba worked around a lead-off base runner for the sixth time. The runner reached on an error, but a fielder's choice followed by two outs through the air kept the Wildcats in front 6-4 heading to the 7th inning after Villanova was retired in order.
With just three outs to go before a second BIG EAST win, Delahaba went to the mound looking for her school record 70th complete game. For the first time in the game, the senior hurler got the leadoff hitter on a fly ball to Braga in left for the first out of the inning. Following a hit batter, O'Hara made a great sliding catch in center field for the second out of the inning and nearly doubled off the runner at first as the Wildcats were just one out away from their 28th win of the season. Delahaba induced the final out with a foul pop out to Burlin at third base and the Wildcats started off the weekend on the right foot with a 6-4 victory.
The series will continue tomorrow with a doubleheader beginning at noon. Between games, there will be a ceremony honoring Head Coach Maria DiBernardi for achieving her 700th career win.