Cat Thomas’ walk-off highlights Rowan Softball’s doubleheader sweep of TCNJ

Cat Thomas gets ready to swing her bat. Thomas recorded the game-winning hit in game two of Tuesday's doubleheader against TCNJ. Tuesday, April 4, 2023. - Multimedia Editor / Lee Kotzen

In a rematch of last year’s New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) championship game, another battle between the Rowan softball team and The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) resulted in a pair of exciting finishes. 

On Tuesday, April 12, Rowan took down TCNJ 4-3 in game one and 3-2 in game two by a walk-off, much like last May when the Profs walked it off to win the conference title.

Rowan faced trouble in the top of the second inning in game one after starter Rylee Lutz surrendered a leadoff triple. However, Lutz was able to close out the inning unphazed after striking out the next two batters and inducing a ground out to escape the jam. 

In the bottom frame, Breanna Bryant singled and advanced to second after Devyn DiPasquale walked. Both were brought home by a Grace Shukaitis double to deep center field. Shukaitis traded places with Payton MacNair, who hit a double down the left field line to give Rowan the 3-0 lead. 

The Lions scored a run in the top of the third, but Rowan added insurance in the bottom of the fifth as Cat Thomas brought home McKenzie Melvin with a double of her own. Thomas detailed the importance of adding that late insurance run.

“I thought it ended up being really important because they did end up scoring the next inning,” Thomas said. “But Coach [Kim Wilson] always says to us ‘once we score we can’t stop’ so I thought it was good just to keep adding on and do whatever I can to help my team.” 

In the top of the sixth, TCNJ plated another run to cut the deficit in half once again. However, Lutz escaped yet another jam with minimal damage thanks to an outfield assist from Abby Pawlowski in left field, who threw out a runner at the plate to end the inning. 

After saving a run with a great defensive play, Head Coach Kim Wilson explained the execution of defense.

“We work on defense a ton, so it’s important to us and I think we executed a couple of things where throws to the plate, getting a runner out there, those sorts of things where we’re able to knock baserunners off the bases, so that was a huge positive for us,” Coach Wilson said. “And I thought overall we did a good job of keeping their slap hitters in check.” 

Even though an error allowed a run to score in the top of the seventh, Lutz closed out the game and Rowan won 4-3. Her final line tallied seven innings of work, eight hits, one earned run and four strikeouts.

Emily McCutcheon got the nod for the Profs in game two. She let up a run in the first but settled in after that, throwing five innings.

From there, the two teams were trading zeros until the sixth inning when a bases loaded walk gave the Lions a 2-0 lead. Rowan’s offense had struggled up to that point, as they had tallied just two hits.

Liz McCaffery started the bottom of the sixth with a single and Thomas followed that up with a walk, bringing Korie Hague up to the plate with no outs. Hague was able to reach first base safely on a ground ball to shortstop which was dropped at first base. With the bases loaded and no outs, Bryant grounded out to the right side, but grabbed an RBI to cut the lead in half. 

Abby Pawlowski hit a sacrifice fly to bring home her sister Sam Pawlowski, who pinch ran for Thomas and tied the game at two. Even after struggling for the first few innings of the game you couldn’t tell that the team was down based on the energy in the dugout, and they knew it would only be a matter of time until they cracked the run column.

“Honestly our energy in the dugout, it never felt like we were down. I knew deep down that we were going to come back and score and we just tried to stay up in the dugout and do the little things right,” Thomas said. “It was important for us in those last few innings we got runners on and we did what we needed to do to execute and get the runs in.” 

Neither team was able to score in the seventh, which prompted the game to head into extra innings. With the runner starting on second, both teams had a chance to capitalize with a runner in scoring position.

TCNJ was shut down by Lutz in the top of the eighth thanks to a pair of strikeouts and a diving snag from Thomas at first base. 

To start the bottom half of the eighth, Melvin was placed on second as the ghost runner, but eventually moved over to third after McCaffery laid down a sacrifice bunt, setting up Thomas at the plate. 

With the heart of the lineup up, Coach Wilson was feeling confident that the Profs would come out victorious.

“I thought we were in a really good position with having McKenzie [Melvin] on second base to start the inning and our three and four batters coming up,” Coach Wilson said. “I was pretty confident we would be able to score.” 

Early in the Thomas at-bat, she chased a pitch attempting to drive in the winning run and then tried to execute a squeeze play in order to bring Melvin home. But after a controversial foul call by the umpires, Thomas was recalled to the batter’s box. 

She then drove home the winning run with a deep fly ball that hit off the wall in right field. 

“Once there was one out and Kenz (McKenzie Melvin) was on third all I was trying to do was to hit the ball to second base, my first swing I took a little bit of a big swing at it and I missed. But then I was 2-1 and coach gave me the squeeze and I honestly don’t bunt a lot, but I was ready to do what I needed to do,” Thomas said. “And then once I had to go back up there my mindset was if she was going to throw anything close, I was going to swing and take everything to the right side of the field so McKenzie would have enough time to score.” 

With these wins, the Profs remain perfect in conference play at 8-0 and sit at the top of the NJAC with a 25-3 record. Rowan will look to stay undefeated in conference play when they take on Montclair State on Saturday, April 15, in North Jersey for a doubleheader. 

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