Bulls sweep Rutgers, split with Villanova

Junior pitcher Bree Spence delivered a clutch performance to split a double header with the Villanova Wildcats on Sunday.

Spence, who is battling an aching shoulder, threw six innings and improved her record to 6-4 for the season, striking out four and allowing only one run on three hits.

“Mentally, it was important to get off to a good start,” Spence said. “I’ve beenstruggling lately, but today I was reading the batters a little better, which made it easier to stay in the game mentally.”

The victory makes 50 for Spence’s career and had coach Ken Eriksen excited about what he saw from his veteran pitcher.

“That was the old Bree right there,” Eriksen said. “It was exciting watching her pitch today. She did a good job of changing speeds and hitting her spots. Overall, it was a strong performance and we’re hoping that’s how she’ll be the rest of the year.”

The Bulls were able to give Spence some run support with a three-run fourth inning that started with JoJo Medina being hit for the second time in the game. The Bulls pieced together four hits, the last of which was an RBI single from Britta Giddens, who also hit a game-ending grand slam against Rutgers on Friday night.

“I’m just trying to put the ball in play,” Giddens said. “I’m not trying to hit the ball out of the park; I’m just trying to make something happen.”

Spence was taken out in the seventh after allowing two runners to reach base. Cristi Ecks, who pitched the first game, came into relieve Spence and collected the save.

“It’s difficult for me to throw a full seven innings with the way my shoulder has been feeling,” Spence said. “Luckily I had Cristi to help me out today, and I got some good run support, so I didn’t feel like I had to blow it by everybody.”

Eriksen was happy with the effort from his veteran players in the second game, but remained upset over the result of the first game.

“Our veterans came through in the second game and that’s what we need,” Eriksen said. “We all know we let one go in the first game and we just can’t do that.”

The first game of the double header resulted in a difficult loss for the Bulls, who led for the first six innings until allowing an unearned run that tied the game. In the ninth, Villanova shortstop Sheri Donley hit a go-ahead home run that eventually gave the Wildcats their first conference win of the year.

“I think everybody here knows we should be 4-0,” Eriksen said. “I started the day at age 46 and I feel like I’m 60 now after the frustration of that first game.”

Errors prevented Bulls starter Cristi Ecks from escaping the sixth inning without allowing a run. In seven innings of work, Ecks allowed only one run off three hits while striking out six before handing the ball over to Kristen Gordon in extra innings.

Gordon allowed only one hit in her two innings of play, but it was the big one that resulted in the Bulls losing the game.”When you get a pitching performance like Cristi gave us today, you feel like you should win,” Eriksen said. “She deserved to win, and Kristen didn’t deserve the loss. We all know we gave one away.”

The Bulls now boast a record of 31-16 overall and are off to a 3-1 start in conference play. But despite having a winning record, the team is unsatisfied with the split.

“We’ve got to be more aggressive at the plate,” Giddens said. “If we can step it up at the plate and maintain our level of defense, we’ll be perfect.”

The Bulls put up a stronger performance against Rutgers on Friday, winning both games. The first game’s result was an 8-4 victory for the Bulls after Britta Giddens’ seventh-inning grand slam. The win is the Bulls’ first seventh-inning comeback victory of the season.

In the second game, the Bulls jumped out to a 4-0 lead and withstood a seventh-inning rally from Rutgers to record a 4-3 victory.

“It’s tough to say where we’re at right now,” Eriksen said. “We’ve been up and down all season and I’ve yet to see us play perfectly. I’d like to see us have a perfect practice, but we haven’t done that either. Until we do, I don’t think I’ll ever be comfortable.”