By Brian T. Chan, Sports Editor

Sophomore second baseman Tori Dudley did not fear falling behind two strikes early in the count. Instead, she found an opportunity to put some good wood on the ball, hitting her first home run as the George Mason University softball team topped the George Washington Colonials 9-0 to sweep the season series on Wednesday at the George Mason Softball Complex.

The Patriots moved to 17-22 on the season while the Colonials dropped to 5-36 overall, losing their 11th straight game. Mason had a sluggish 1-5 start, but after going through ups and downs, the team concluded its non-conference schedule with an even 12-12 record. Mason wrapped up with a 14-16 home record.

“We knew going into this [season] that we were a young ball club, and there were going to be some growing pains early,” said Head Coach Joe Verbanic. “What I really love is the way that they have learned and embraced working hard and learning the game; they’re really starting to put it together.”

After starting slowly, the Patriots tallied their first hit in the third inning as Dudley sent a 1-2 pitch to straightaway center field and over the 225-feet sign, scoring junior right fielder Kara Weiner for a two-run home run. Dudley, who registered three home runs last season, recorded her first of the season in the team’s final home game.

“I’m actually more comfortable being deeper in the count than early in the count, so it was a way to make myself shorten up,” said Dudley. “When you swing well and you don’t get the hits you want, you shorten up; results happen when you want them to.”

In the recent weeks, Dudley has raised her batting average, finding ways for hits to drop in. She has been a vital part to Verbanic’s offense and the team’s success.

Along with the game-changing hit, Dudley also flashed the leather in the field in the fifth inning. Ranging to her right, Dudley made a solid snag on a line drive from Colonials sophomore right fielder Lauren Wilson to end the inning.

The Patriots had been relatively quiet for the first five innings, managing just three hits. But the bats suddenly erupted in the bottom of the sixth inning as the Patriots compiled a seven-run inning to pick up the team’s second straight win.

Junior pinch runner Stephanie Strother led off the inning with a stand-up double on the ninth pitch of the at-bat and moved over to third base on a single from freshman third baseman Megan Blank, who provided a multi-hit game for the Patriots, going 2-for-3 on the day. Threatening with runners in scoring position, sophomore pinch hitter India Adams walked to load the bases.

Colonials freshman starting pitcher Elaine Nescio, who gave up six runs on six hits and struck out five batters while walking four, was relieved by junior pitcher Ali Pardo. The Colonials could not get out of the inning unscathed as Weiner was hit by a pitch to score Strother. Senior left fielder Kate Bustin and freshman pinch hitter Samantha Barney walked back-to-back, prompting Pardo’s early exit.

After sophomore center fielder Alyssa See grounded into a fielder’s choice to score Weiner from third base and extend the lead to 6-0, sophomore shortstop Rachael Davies smashed a bases-clearing double into the gap in right-center field to close the game.

Davies had been quiet offensively in the last month; after going 2-for-10 in the weekend series against the Georgia State Panthers, Davies came out on Wednesday with a strong 2-for-4 line and three RBIs.

“I think she’s starting to now get relaxed a little bit, get her pitches to hit a little bit more, and she’s just as good of a hitter when she does that,” said Verbanic.

Verbanic utilized his three pitchers, each tossing two innings. Sophomore Miranda Cranford, freshman Amanda Buffington and senior Becky Anderson combined for a two-hit shutout and were economical with a total of 85 pitches.

On the flip side, Nescio threw a total of 122 pitches while Pardo gave up three runs in her 14-pitch appearance.

Entering the weekend, the Patriots sat in seventh place in the Colonial Athletic Association standings, two games behind the fourth-place Drexel Dragons and one game behind the Delaware Blue Hens and James Madison Dukes.

Mason took on the UNC-Wilmington Seahawks over the weekend.

Verbanic remains cautious about the team’s approach in Mason’s remaining games.

“You can’t take anyone for granted,” said Verbanic. “Softball at this level is very good and very competitive. The minute you start taking someone for granted, this game will humble you and they will humble you.”