by Santino Torres / Staff Reporter
The Roosevelt Lakers softball team is off to their best start in school history, winning seven of their first eight games of the season. The team had not been off to such a hot start since 2015 when they started the season 5-1.
In 2019, it took the Lakers 27 games to pick up their seventh win. Last year, the fifth win of the season came 19 games in. This time around, Roosevelt has quickly reached both milestones after the opening eight-game stretch.
Entering into his fifth season at the helm for the Lakers, Roosevelt softball head coach Aaron Moore said, “This is the first time at the collegiate level where we’ve been able to start with such a great pace.”
“It’s our best start in school history, so no one really at Roosevelt’s experienced some early success like this,” Moore added.
Roosevelt opened their season playing all eight of their February games at The Dome in Rosemont, taking place over a three-day timespan with a doubleheader against Bethel and tripleheaders on back-to-back days against Cleary and Concordia (MI).
The Lakers showcased offensive firepower, clutch hitting, rock-solid pitching and resiliency during this stretch. While Roosevelt looked strong at all positions up and down the lineup, no Laker had the kind of February that sophomore pitcher Kate Sisson had to start off this season.
Sisson filled the scoreboard up with goose egg after goose egg, sitting batters down one after another and only allowing three hits and a walk while plucking Bethel catcher Mattie Reese twice. Reese failed to register an official at-bat as she also drew Sisson’s lone walk. Sisson pitched a complete seven-inning game and threw a whopping 17 strikeouts as Bethel failed to get a hit until the fourth inning.
“Even the hits she gave up weren’t hit hard. She was just really in control that whole game,” Moore said. “To see somebody mow people down like that is pretty impressive, no matter what level you’re on.”
Sisson turned in one of the best outings by a Roosevelt pitcher ever in its entire history, dedicating the match in memory of her grandmother who had passed away before the season opener. “In The Dome, there’s this light far up above,” said the biology major. “When I would look up, I would just think of her and it kind of kept me motivated to have a great game for her.”
Junior psychology major Kassie Kawka broke the scoreless tie in the fifth inning when her one-out double brought home Samantha Norman, who was pinch-running for Rebecca Bluder. Aisley Njissang and Mia Signore would collect RBI triples in the next inning, with Signore later scoring on a wild pitch to give Roosevelt a 4-0 victory to open the season.
The second game of the doubleheader was won in more than decisive fashion by the Roosevelt Lakers. They started this game the way they have started this season – with dominance. Roosevelt burst onto the scene with 10 runs in the first inning, starting off with Destini Nolan bringing home Anaisa Lozada and Jessica Schneider with a two-RBI single to center. Nolan capped off the scoring when she brought Schneider home again later in the inning, followed by Emily Berni’s two-out double that brought Nolan home as well for the tenth Roosevelt run of the game.
Nolan and catcher Eliza Belter both went two for three, with each collecting a double, two runs and three RBI’s apiece. Christina Snee hit a two-out, pinch-hit triple for Berni in the third inning that brought two more runs home. The final score was 20-2, with the game being called in the fifth inning.
The Lakers swept the Feb. 5 tripleheader against Cleary, once again soundly defeating their opponents in the first game as Roosevelt put up eight runs in five innings. Berni started the scoring with a two-out triple in the first inning. The two runs driven in from that triple were all Roosevelt needed as Sisson once again pitched another gem. She only allowed two hits – both to Cleary’s Ale Andrews – and had Cleary batters swinging out their cleats with 12 punchouts. After Amber Green came home in the fifth inning, the umpires called the game in favor of the Lakers, 8-0.
“Our hitters really stepped up and they were really energized from the day before,” Sisson said. “My pitching coach, we kind of got the rhythm going from day one. On day two, we just kept it going, because she knew exactly what to call.”
In the second game, the Lakers hit their first home run of the season in the third inning, with Schneider hitting a two-out, two-run blast into left field over the wall, putting the Lakers up 2-0. Norman came in and got herself out of a fifth inning jam that started off with two runners on and nobody out. She ended the game picking up the save in three innings of work in Roosevelt’s 3-1 victory.
The third game saw Cleary jump to a 1-0 lead after three innings. However, Njissang’s one-out RBI-triple tied the game in the fourth inning. She was later brought home in the sixth inning when Signore’s one-out double broke the tie, also scoring Reyann Kruger in the process. Sisson came on for Hailey Getz during the sixth inning to seal the deal and pick up the 4-1 win to bring Roosevelt’s record to 5-0.
Roosevelt’s last three games were against Concordia (MI), with Sisson taking the mound for the opening match. She threw another complete game, giving up six hits and three earned runs and plucking one batter while striking out eight.
“That was like my fourth game of the weekend, so I was pretty tired,” Sisson said. “I was just trying to keep going, but the more you pitch, you get tired.”
This type of performance would usually net a win for the Lakers. However, Njissang’s two-RBI ground rule double in the first inning were the only runs scored for Roosevelt in the opening game. Jada Stephenson’s score in the third inning set the stage for a Concordia (MI) rally in the fifth inning with Cardinals’ center fielder Sarah Tyrrell driving in two runs to give Concordia (MI) a 3-2 lead. Catcher Karley Kent led off the seventh inning with a solo shot into left field on the inning’s first pitch that finished off the scoring. Pitcher Lau Reichel struck out ten batters and gave up one earned run on four hits in the Cardinals’ 4-2 victory, giving Roosevelt its first loss of the season.
“Coming off the previous two days, winning five in a row, to jump out 2-0, you’re kind of riding high, but we didn’t capitalize on that,” Moore said. “You have to give a lot of credit to their pitcher. She was super talented. We had a hard time making adjustments to what she was throwing. Because of that, we had more strikeouts in that game.”
Roosevelt was on the verge of losing back-to-back games when Kawka led off a seventh inning Lakers rally with a single to left field. After Belter struck out, Bluder then collected a base hit. An error in left field advanced Bluder to third base and brought Kawka home.
“I had a lot of energy during that game,” Kawka said. “When I stepped to the box, I just knew that I needed to get on base to start something off and get something going. I was pretty confident in the people behind me to get me in to score.”
With Schneider pinch-hitting for Ashlyn Kitter and Sabrina Treccani filling back in for Bluder, Schneider got on base with a one-out single to shortstop. Concordia (MI) pitcher Kate Elias would come into the game in relief before throwing a wild pitch that advanced Schneider to third and sent Treccani home to bring Roosevelt within one. After a Lozada strikeout, Elias threw another wild pitch that Kent lost in the dirt, allowing Schneider a free pass home to tie the game. Signore’s strikeout immediately after the score sent the game to extras.
In the ninth inning, Kawka once again got things going for the Lakers, leading off with a leftfield single. Hannah Mestan pinch-hit for Belter and made the ultimate sacrifice, bunting to advance Kawka to third base after the left fielder had moved up to second base the pitch before when Kent dropped the pitch, allowing her a free pass once again. The stage was then set for Treccani to deliver the game-winning at-bat.
“I saw my coach give the sign to her to lay down that bunt,” Kawka said. “I took my leadoff, and I knew when she got that bunt down, I was just going straight for home.”
Treccani got the call to attempt a squeeze bunt, called as such when a runner is on third and attempting to score. With a count of one ball and two strikes, a foul ball in this instance would give the Cardinals their second out, as a foul ball on a two-strike bunt is called a third strike.
“They had called a defensive meeting that batter. I knew that going in I was going to give Sabrina a chance to swing at least once,” Moore said. “They kind of moved all their infielders in and it makes it a little bit harder to bunt in that situation. I think I shocked everybody calling the squeeze with two strikes. Most importantly, we shocked the other team.”
Despite the pressure, Treccani delivered. She placed the bunt down in the perfect spot between the pitcher, catcher and first base. With Elias unable to get to the ball in time and Kent unable to place the tag, Kawka was safe at home, and the Lakers won the game in walk-off fashion, 5-4 after nine innings.
Roosevelt’s latest game also saw them come from behind once again, with Tyrrell scoring in the third inning off an Abbi Begley one-out triple. However, Kawka would bring her heroics back onto the scene once again in the sixth inning. Her clutch one-out triple brought Kruger home to tie the game after Kruger subbed in as a pinch-runner for Njissang, who led off the inning with a base hit. Nolan’s single to left brought Kawka home, giving the Lakers a 2-1 lead. Getz then came on in the seventh inning and quickly forced the Cardinals to go three up, three down to shut the door for the save, giving Roosevelt its seventh win in eight games.
“We just kept our energy going and we tried to keep a positive mindset and we didn’t let ourselves drop. We just tried to stay up and on each other the whole game,” Kawka said. “We just kept a strong mindset and picked each other up through all three games. It was pretty amazing how we pulled through and won those last two.”
The Roosevelt Lakers softball team will soon take the field after a month of hibernation for their next match against Goshen College, with the doubleheader taking place 10 a.m., March 8 at The Dome in Rosemont.