By Brian T. Chan, Sports Editor
George Mason University softball Head Coach Joe Verbanic made a gutsy move in the fifth inning as he waved in freshman first baseman Emily Lafferty to give the Patriots an insurance run.
That run proved to be the eventual game-winning run as Mason held off the James Madison Dukes 6-5 on Saturday afternoon at the George Mason Softball Complex, after losing the matinee game 5-0 in the conference opener.
Despite losing three straight, the Dukes still came into the game as the favored team. After the Saturday split, Mason moved to 8-10 on the season while the Dukes went to 14-17.
Dukes freshman starting pitcher Cara Stecher threw the second complete game shutout of her career, striking out three batters.
Sophomore designated hitter Casey Mansfield had a perfect 3-for-3 day with three RBIs, putting the game away with a two-run single in the sixth inning.
The Patriots, on the other hand, struggled to bring in a run, having a runner reach third base in each of the first six innings. Mason loaded the bases with two outs and came up empty-handed.
“We were a little anxious at the plate, swinging a little bit early and a little bit out of control, but we hung tough in the ballgame and gave ourselves chances to win that [game],” said Verbanic.
Freshman pitcher Amanda Buffington took the hill in the second game and received early run support from the offense. Junior catcher Kara Weiner hit an RBI groundout to bring in Alyssa See from third base, and sophomore third baseman Rachael Davies came in to score after Dukes junior starting pitcher Olivia McPherson threw a wild pitch past junior catcher Katie Spitzer.
Spitzer answered for the Dukes with a solo blast in the second inning, hitting her fifth homerun of the season.
In a pitcher’s duel, McPherson limited the Patriots’ offense to just two hits, but worked into trouble as junior left fielder Stephanie Strother doubled to put runners on second and third base.
Dukes relief pitcher Heather Widener got a ground out to record a forceout at home plate, but sophomore second baseman Tori Dudley drew a walk to give Mason a 3-1 lead. See followed with a walk, extending the lead to 4-1.
The Dukes, entering as the favorites, tallied three runs in the top frame of the fifth inning. Dyson and freshman pinch hitter Haley Johnson got on with back-to-back singles. Sophomore shortstop Ashley Burnham drew the Dukes within two runs with an RBI single, and senior first baseman Shannon Moxey tied the game with a double.
Mason responded in the fifth inning as freshman third baseman Megan Blank scored from first base on Lafferty’s go-ahead double. Lafferty, who only had one official at-bat to go along with her three walks, managed to find a pitch she could hit and drove a pitch from the Dukes freshman relief pitcher Heather Dindinger to left-center field.
“I’ve been seeing the ball well all day, but I got walks out of it and I was due for a hit,” said Lafferty. “[Dindinger] gave me a pretty good pitch in the pitch before [the double] and she brought it to me again, and I was ready.”
Mason added another run on a single from Strother as Lafferty slid home safely to give Mason the 6-4 lead.
“The shortstop was very deep into the outfield,” said Verbanic. “Emily got to third base with some time, and I just felt that they would need to make a real good throw to get her at the plate.”
The Dukes did not go away easily as Dyson double scored freshman center fielder Jasmine Butler to make it a one-run game. In the top of the seventh inning, Burnham got on board with a one-out walk, and on Moxey’s single, Burnham tried to reach third base as See had difficulty picking up the ball.
See still managed to get the ball to Blank, who tagged Burnham out while Moxey advanced to second. Buffington, who kept with the Dukes the whole game, induced a pop-up from Mansfield to end Mason’s four-year drought against the Dukes.
Buffington allowed 10 hits in her complete game win, but while she yielded the five runs, she efficiently threw 80 pitches in the game.
The Patriots recorded only four hits in the latter game, but with the nine walks, the team found a way to score runs.
“We played with so much intensity in the first game; to come back and bring that same fire in the second game, that was really important,” said Lafferty.
In the first game, the Patriots had a runner on third base in each of the first six innings; in the second game, Mason took advantage of the bases loaded situation in the fourth inning with two walks that led to runs.
See walked in all three of her plate appearances, and Dudley and Lafferty each walked twice in the second game.
Strother, who entered the day with just three hits in 24 at-bats, had a multi-hit performance in both games, racking up two hits in each game.
Last year, it took the team 16 attmepts to win its first conference game, but the Patriots defeated a talented Dukes team in the team’s second conference game this year.
Mason ends their 21-game homestand on Wednesday when the team takes on the Georgetown Hoyas with the first pitch at 4 p.m.