Faith Miller walks it off in game one, Colonials split weekend with UIC

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Softball embraces Faith Miller after her walk-off single against UIC. Moon Township, PA 4/10/2021 (Ally Yovetich)

By Tyler Gallo, Sports Editor

MOON TOWNSHIP– Entering Saturday winning 10 of their last 13 games, Robert Morris softball looked to keep the good times rolling against UIC following a split during their Friday action.

While the Colonials (18-12, 13-9 Horizon) blew late leads in both games, Faith Miller walked off game one with a single to win it 6-5, and the Flames (18-14, 15-7) had an offensive surge in game two, winning it 12-6.

Head coach Jexx Varner was happy with the split but was not as happy with the result of the second game.

“If you had told me before the series we would have split it with these guys, I would have taken it,” Varner said. “However, what I won’t take is the result of the second game. We gave up ten runs in the span of four outs and gave the game away to them.”

GAME 1: Colonials 6, Flames 5

Rachael Rhinehart (5-2, 3.38 ERA) took to the pitching circle for the first game of the doubleheader after playing left field in both games yesterday. The Washington native was opposed by Miranda Gomez (4-5, 4.45).

Rhinehart pitched a scoreless first and the Colonials rewarded her with an early three-run cushion on the strength of back-to-back home runs by Natalie Higgins and Erika Bell. Higgins laced a wall-scraper to left on an 0-1 pitch, and on the very next batter, Bell hit a high, arcing shot to left-center and the Colonials were up 3-0.

In the bottom half of the third, Higgins roped a double into the right-field corner, her 41st career double, tying the RMU career record set by Lauren Dickinson in 2002.

While Rhinehart allowed just a single through four, she started to unravel in the fifth, loading the bases and walking in a run with one out. She was pulled in favor of Jane Garver who was brought in to hold the lead in a tough spot. Kayla Wedl hit a sacrifice fly to bring the score within one run, but Garver escaped with the score stuck at 3-2.

Gomez started off the bottom half but was quickly relieved by Marley Hanlon. Faith Miller reached after she hit a soft liner to short that was thrown wide of first base, scoring a run. Higgins hit a dribbler a few feet in front of home plate, driving in Miller and reaching on an infield hit, bringing the Colonials’ lead back to three.

The water became choppy for Garver in the top of the seventh, allowing a triple and a double to make the score 5-3. Varner called on Dana Vatakis to close the game out, looking for the team’s first save of the season.

The save did not come easy for Vatakis, who allowed the fourth run to score after a wild pitch and a single, and another wild pitch brought the runner to third. A groundout tied the game at five.

The Colonials got clutch hitting in the seventh from Alaina York and Faith Miller. York hit an infield single, and after getting to second on a groundout, came around to score on a walk-off single to right by Faith Miller as the Colonials snatched a victory from UIC 6-5.

Varner praised Miller for how great she has been as a freshman on the team.

“She’s been big. She started to come into her own against Green Bay, and you’re seeing the result of how good she is now in these series.”

GAME 2: Flames 12, Colonials 6

Vatakis (8-4, 3.37) stepped to the circle in the second game looking to rectify her shaky outing in the first game and she faced off against Christina Toniolo (9-4, 4.52), the starter of the first game yesterday.

Robert Morris once again got the ball rolling early. Higgins hit a single and Bell hit a sun-ball double. Madison Riggle charged a single into right to score both, giving the Colonials a two-run lead in the first.

Small ball was the name of the game in the second inning. Brittney Seibert showed bunt but swung, grounding it to Wedl at shortstop, who threw wide, getting Avery Winchell to third. Seibert stole second and Winchell stole home on the ensuing throw, putting the Colonials up 3-0.

RMU added more insurance in the third when Bell singled through the right side, scoring Miller. Subpar defense in the top of the fourth led to two runs for UIC, bringing the score to 4-2.

The wheels came off in the fifth for Vatakis as a suicide squeeze brought in a run and Caskey catching the defense napping gave the Flames their first lead of the afternoon at 5-4. Another run came in on a throwing error by Bell, doubling the lead as the Flames continued to run wild in the fifth.

Maddie Spinks extended the lead with a single, bringing the score to 8-4 and making it a tough hill for RMU to climb. Micah Ingles chased Vatakis out of the game, plating two more runs with a single.

Kayla Wedl put the icing on the cake by smashing a two-run home run to left in the seventh, the first home run UIC hit all weekend and her eighth long ball of the year.

Higgins continued her strong weekend at the plate, mashing her third home run of the series and second of the doubleheader to bring RMU a bit closer at 12-6, but they ultimately fell by the same score.

The Colonials will be back in action in Indianapolis next weekend, traveling to take on the IUPUI Jaguars.