BUFFALO, NY – The University at Buffalo softball team found themselves coming back all afternoon long and a ninth inning walk-off home run from senior Heather Ryder turned out to be the deciding blow, giving the Bulls a 6-4 victory over Eastern Michigan, Sunday afternoon at Nan Harvey Field. The win was UB's 20th of the season and it improves to 4-2 in conference play.
"It feels great to see different people step up and make big plays for us," said head coach Trena Peel. "Our offense took some of the load of Sammi's [Gallardo} shoulders and heather got a few big hits and JT had the big home run and Holly had the hit off the bench. These are the games where you learn a lot about yourself and I am proud of the fight we showed all afternoon."
Both teams remained off the board through three innings as Eastern Michigan struck first, scoring in the top of the fourth on a UB throwing error. The Bulls answered in the bottom of the fifth as senior Holly Luciano came on as a pinch hitter and singled through the left side to score sophomore Ryleigh Fitzgerald with the tying run.
The Bulls went on to take the lead in the bottom of the sixth as some more two-out magic saw freshman Jessica Taylor hit her second home run in as many games, giving the Bulls a 2-1 lead. However, the Bulls were unable to hold on to the advantage in the seventh, allowing three runs. UB went into the bottom of the seventh trailing, 4-2 and with the first two batters being retired, things look bleak.
But more two-out magic was in store for the Bulls and Ryder. Luciano drew a two-out walk and advanced to third on a single by Norcio. She was replaced on the bases by junior Alexis Curtiss and the Bulls ultimately loaded the bases following a walk to junior Hayley Barrow. On a 3-2 count, Ryder singled through the right side, scoring Luciano and Curtiss to tie the ball game up and send it into extra innings.
UB immediately ran into danger in the top of the eighth, but a defensive gem in left field by freshman Ashton Earnhardt ended the inning as she caught a line drive and then threw out a runner at second for the double play. The Bulls put runners at the corners in the eighth, but could not capitalize.
The Eagles again loaded the bases in the top of the ninth, but sophomore Nicole Aviles, who came on in relief, got the huge strike out to keep the game tied and send it to the bottom of the ninth.
Norcio continued to swing a hot bat as she opened the bottom of the ninth with a double to right center. Norcio advanced to third with one out on a wild pitch as Ryder stepped to the plate. She drew another full count, nearly missing a homer earlier in the at bat. However, on the sixth pitch, she didn't miss anything, drilling a two-run shot to left field and sending the Bulls to victory.
"I haven't been hitting as well as I would have liked at the plate, but I just wanted to stay consistent with my approach," said Ryder. "I have been working with Coach Peel in the cage and I was feeding off our team energy today and I am just happy that I was able to help us get the win."
Aviles picked up her third victory of the season as she pitched three innings in relief. Aviles allowed five hits, but got one big strike out in the ninth. She replaced senior Tori Speckman, who went six innings and allowed two runs, just one earned, while striking out three.
Norcio and Ryder both had 3-for-5 days at the plate to lead the UB offense. Gallardo went 1-for-3 with a double, but she was intentionally walked twice in the ball game. In addition to Ryder's game-winning home run and game-tying single, she also hit a double down the left field line, finishing the day with four runs batted in.
The Bulls will remain home next weekend, beginning with a doubleheader on Friday afternoon against Bowling Green.