SALEM, Va. — In a classic battle certainly worthy of the NCAA Division III Softball Championships, the Plattsburgh State Cardinals dropped a 1-0 decision to the Montclair State Red Hawks on Friday afternoon.
That puts PSU into a 1:30 p.m loser's bracket game today in the double-elimination tournament. They'll play Tufts, who lost 1-0 to Roanoke College in Friday's fourth game.
"We didn't expect it to be as much of a pitcher's duel as it was," said third-year Plattsburgh State coach Stephanie Zweig.
No. 23 Plattsburgh State, which won the Amherst regional to earn a trip to the championships, faced off against 15th-ranked Montclair State, which captured the Union (NJ) region crown.
Starting Cardinals pitcher Ashley Marshall, the SUNY Athletic Conference Player of the Year, sported a gaudy ERA of 1.41 — but the Montclair State hurler, Alex Hill, was even better with a microscopic mark of 0.93.
The Cardinals managed just two hits off Hill.
The Red Hawks stranded runners at second base in the first two frames as Marshall (269 strikeouts in 184 innings) weathered the storm. With neither team yielding 100 runs on the season coming in to the Championship Series, it wasn't shocking that a scoreless pitcher's duel ensued.
Montclair State hit the first two balls that made it to the outfield in the home half of the fourth (fly out, single) but the contest remained scoreless. The Cardinals survived two more Red Hawks singles in the fifth, as Marshall put down the opponent's two best hitters (Dana Amato and Hill) on a strikeout and foul pop-up.
Plattsburgh State once again escaped trouble in the sixth after Alisha Cumberton singled for the Red Hawks and was sacrificed to second. Marshall struck out pinch-hitting specialist Melany Zeller to end the Montclair State threat.
Marshall (25-5) put runners on base in every inning and walked four Red Hawks.
"I've had a lot of long counts this whole season," she noted. "It's nothing new for me to be 3-and-2 in a count, with a lot of foul balls."
Meanwhile, Hill was cruising through the Cardinals lineup, allowing only a bunt single in the third inning before Allison Smiddy's line drive knock to center in the top of the seventh. Pinch runner Kayla Rabideau was then stranded after an inning-ending double play.
Hill struck out eight Cardinals batters, bringing her total to 311 for the season.
"I think it's just the fact that I'm able to hit my spots," said Hill, who raised her record to 31-4.
The only run of the day was scored without a base hit, when Marshall's 112th pitch resulted in a leadoff walk to Red Hawks rightfielder Stephanie Szeliga in the bottom of the seventh inning. Szeliga was sacrificed to second and then stole third base.
After walking Jamie Paulino, Marshall had to contend with Amato (nine homers, 42 RBI).
She hit a towering fly ball out to left field, allowing Szeliga to scamper home with the winning run.
Zweig said she did consider walking Amato, which would have brought up Hill (.351 BA), "But honestly she hadn't done anything against us the whole day. Ashley had shut her down."
Amato was 0-for-2 with a strikeout before hitting the sac fly.
Small ball won the day: "We knocked on the door a couple of times [but couldn't score], so I needed to manufacture [a run]," said Montclair State coach Anita Kubicka.
Plattsburgh State (35-10) managed just two hits on the day, while Montclair State (43-7) had six.
Despite the lack of offensive firepower and the inability to make adjustments at the plate as Hill mowed the Cardinals down, "We still were able to stay positive through the game," said Zweig, "and we're ready to come out (today)."
Montclair State 1, Plattsburgh State 0
Plattsburgh 000 000 0 — 0 2 0
Montclair 000 000 1 — 1 6 0
A. Marshall and Florkiewicz. Hill and Bergman. WP- Hill. LP- A. Marshall.