Softball team rounds the bases
Conference success shows improvement from last season
Mike Ruechel is in his second season at UB and first as head coach. As an assistant last year, he helped increase the Bulls win total by seven and revolutionize their offense.
Buffalo (5-22-1, 2-2-1 Mid-American Conference) struggled more through its non-conference schedule this season but played tougher competition. Positive results early in MAC play could lead Buffalo to the playoffs for the first time in over four years.
The Bulls started conference play this week going 2-2-1 after Saturday’s game against Central Michigan (12-17-1, 3-2-1 MAC) ended due to rain. Buffalo powered its way to victory with the long ball and was finally able to take advantage of the shorter distance to the fence at Nan Harvey Field.
“I’m very pleased,” Ruechel said. “Our goal is to come out and compete and when you compete things can happen. We had some big situations where we came through with a big hit, big defensive plays and that’s what our goal is. To get into those spots and then take advantage of it and I thought we did that all weekend.”
Buffalo was miraculous in securing it’s only win against Central Michigan this weekend. Senior pitcher Ally Power held the Chippewas to just one hit through five innings, but the Bulls would only be up 1-0.
Central Michigan scored 5 runs over the sixth and seventh innings, leaving Buffalo down 4 runs in the bottom of the seventh.
UB fought back from the deficit. Freshman center fielder Alexis Matheney blasted a three-run home run and sophomore left fielder Anna Aguon followed with a solo shot of her own to tie.
Junior second basemen Jenelle Martinez finished off the Chippewas with a solo shot of her own. Buffalo went back-to-back-to-back and won their home opening game 6-5.
Ruechel has changed the swing mechanics of his players. The Bulls doubled their home run total from 2017 when he became a coach in 2018.
“We try to stay in games where we’re always within reach,” Ruechel said. “We have the ability to strike with a double or home run because it’s tough to put three, four hits together. We try to get one, two and then the big hit and it really paid off for us.”
Ruechel estimates that the size of the parks they played in during non-conference took away 10-to-12 home runs from the team.
Buffalo lost the second game of its Friday double-header 3-2. Junior pitcher Lace Smith gave up eight hits and three runs in a complete game.
The Bulls were within reach the majority of the game and led until the top of the fifth inning. Buffalo couldn’t bring junior utility player Gabby Keller home after she hit a pinch-hit double in the bottom of the inning. It was their last chance of the game.
Power took to the mound for the final game of the series and pitched another gem. She went 5.2 innings, giving up four hits and just one earned run. Ruechel said her performances this weekend were the best she’s had this year.
The Bulls jumped out to an early lead again but stumbled in the later innings. Aguon opened up the scoring with her second home run of the series, taking Samantha Howell deep in the bottom of the first.
The Bulls led 2-0 until the sixth where Central Michigan tied it. The Chippewas scored in the seventh to take a 3-2 lead as Buffalo came down to its final outs again.
Matheney saved the Bulls with a home run to left center to tie the game. Buffalo had its chances late but was unable to convert. The game would have gone to extra innings but was called due to rain, resulting in a tie.
“You got to have a few people step up,” Reuchel said. “Matheney stepped up in the game and yesterday. Even when we’re down five we have people who can get on so they can come up with their bats. So that’s going to be the key for us is getting those other people to step in and get the big hits at the right time.”
The Bulls won’t return home until April 10. They play next on Tuesday, April 2 at Akron in a doubleheader.
Nathaniel Mendelson is the senior sports editor and can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @NateMendelson.