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Thursday, September 29, 2022

Behind Kenedi Brown’s arm, the Aggies’ offense blasts past CSU Bakersfield

UC Davis rides a five-game win streak after sweeping Bakersfield in three-game series

By MARLON ROLON — sports@theaggie.org

 

 UC Davis second-year star pitcher Kenedi Brown continues to impress on the mound striking-out 17 batters, a career high, shutting down Cal State Bakersfield in the process of the first game of the double header on Saturday afternoon. The Aggies’ dormant offense reemerged in the fifth inning, scoring five-runs to pull away 8-1 and came from behind in game two, scoring three-runs in the fifth to win 7-4.

“When I feel comfortable on the mound and the defense has my back, I feel like I can throw my best,” Brown said. “That is a big factor, records are meant to be broken so I’m looking to one up myself sooner or later.”

In game one, Brown pitched her 11th complete game of the season. The second-year threw 115 pitches, 85 of which were strikes, allowing one unearned run on just one hit. The star pitcher is ranked first in the conference in ERA and 35th in the country.

“[Kenedi Brown] had a great year last year and she had a target on her back coming into this year,” said UC Davis Softball Head Coach Erin Thorpe. “She just went after it today, she just really had a good command over her pitches and her pitches were very successful against her batters.”

The Aggies fell behind at the top of the fifth off an unearned run. Bakersfield’s one run lead did not last, UC Davis let their bats fly on the bottom of the fifth scoring five-runs off six-hits. 

“We started off slow, and then we got a couple things rolling and we kept going,” Thorpe said. 

Fourth-year shortstop Claudia Kim got the party started with a big hit that singled to left field. The next batter, third-year infielder Alyssa Ito let it fly to left center field as the Aggies were gaining confidence at the plate. Then, second-year Anna Dethlefson loaded up the bases with a power swing that drove the ball down the right side. At this point, the Aggies scored from hits by Sommer Kisling, Sarah Starks and Libbie Mcmahan. 

“I think the difference maker was when Claudia Kim came in and started off the rally, and Alyssa Ito came in and got the next hit and I think that’s big from our eight, ninth batters to go in and start an inning like that,” said Thorpe.

The hits didn’t stop there. In the bottom of the sixth, first-year Reese Mattley bombed a pitch to center field near the wall giving her enough time to reach second-base. After Mattley, fourth-year Delaney Diaz hammered a line drive to the left side that brought the speedy Mattley home. As if things couldn’t get any worse for Bakersfield, they did when Dethlefson swung for the fences, blasting the ball out the field into the street, giving UC Davis the lead 8-1 and eventually closed the show. 

 

Game two 

Second-year pitcher Taylor Fitzgerald started the game on the mound for UC Davis. The second-year pitcher was off to a rough start, allowing two hits, a home run and two runs scored. 

Through the first two innings, the Aggies hitting inconsistencies left two runners stranded on base. That is until Dethlefson stepped up to the plate blasting a homer down left center field.

Being down 2-1 in the fourth inning, Fitzgerald found herself in a bit of trouble allowing four hits and two runs and the Roadrunners took a commanding lead 4-1. Mattley and Diaz answered back with a pair of hits and Mattley scored off an error. 

After a pitching change made by UC Davis, the ball game changed but not because of the pitching — the change came on the plate. Again the fifth inning proved to be pivotal for the offense. First-year Grace Kilday hit her first career home run to get the offense flowing. It was the same narrative as in the earlier game, the Roadrunners had no answers to stop the runs allowing four hits and three runs. In a game where it looked like Bakersfield was going to run away with it the Aggies stormed back to take the 5-4 lead.

“We’ve been working hard on trying to put more balls in play. I think we’ve been struggling with swinging big and just not putting balls in play,” Thorpe said. “I was really happy with us that we were able to do that today, but still in both games our adjustments came later in the game, and so I think that’s something that we’re focusing on now. We’re putting the ball in play, we’re doing well there, but we want to start making those adjustments to the pitchers earlier in the games.”

The successful pitching continued for UC Davis when second-year Sara Reineman, who relieved Fitzgerald earlier in the game, did not allow a hit in a crucial sixth inning.

In the bottom of the sixth, however, the Aggies’ Kilday and Dethlefson would hit doubles, scoring two more runs putting the home team up 7-4. Reineman would close the show with her strong pitching effort in the seventh inning, shutting out the batters to end the game earning her second win of the season. She allowed one hit in three-innings. 

 

Game three

 The next day, Brown pitched her 12th complete game of the season and once again was phenomenal, earning her 10th win of the season. The second-year allowed one hit, coming off a bunt while keeping the Roadrunners scoreless throughout the contest and striking out 12 batters.

UC Davis defeated Bakersfield 2-0 off RBI singles by Nakahara and Kim in the fifth-inning. Bakersfield had no answer at bat against Brown, they resorted to bunting for the most part to try and get on base. After two games the Roadrunners figured their best chance of winning against one of the best pitchers in the conference in Brown, was to bunt instead. It worked to avoid a hitting shut out, but that was the most action the offense could generate. The star pitcher for the Aggies adapted to eventually shut them out from the scoreboard. 

 With this win UC Davis softball team improves their overall record to 17-16 (5-4) in conference play. 

“It really is a roller coaster of a season, we want to keep trending upwards every game we get,” Thorpe said.

Being a very young team with seven freshmen and 10 sophomores, many would think the growing pains during the season would have this team towards the bottom of the standings. That is not the case, the Aggies are in fifth place in the Big West, one game behind UC San Diego for fourth.

“It’s been really cool to see us moving from [being] nervous to having a little bit more confidence in ourselves and also in understanding the game,” Thorpe said. “When we’re very young you have to learn the speed of play at this level, you have to learn what other teams are capable of doing and really the rules matter at this level.”

 “It’s a big learning curve when you get to college, we’re really proud of how our team is really trying to focus and learn and be constant learners through the season and we think that’s going to help them grow into the game and be competitive quicker,” Thorpe said.

Thorpe’s team looks composed and comfortable around each other and their overall chemistry looks far better than earlier in the season. The amount of positive reinforcement they provide to each other when they do good things on the field looks like they’ve been together for years. Even when mistakes are made, they’re picking each other up and high fiving each other.  

The batters are coming alive mid-game, however, one problem that the Aggies struggle with is being consistent at the plate to start games. They leave players stranded on base at times leaving points on the field. As of late though, players like Dethlefson and Mattley have stepped up big offensively to give this team a spark. Other players have also contributed to their recent success, such as shortstop Kim, Kilday, McMahan, Nakahara, Starks, Diaz, Kisling and Ito have come alive as of late helping this team ride a five-game win streak. 

The strength of this team seems to be the pitching, as the Aggies hold a top-two pitcher in the conference. Their rotation includes the likes of starter Brown, Grace Tangen, Mia Hildebrand, Reineman and Fitzgerald who seem to keep UC Davis in the ballgame. 

The group is led by Brown who has shown leadership qualities on the mound. The standout pitchers’ confidence on the mound is evident as she seems to get better throughout the game. Over the summer, Brown worked on two new pitches and worked on gaining strength through weight training. Her mid-game adjustments have helped sharpen her skillset.

“It’s helped for sure but also the chemistry between me and all of my teammates has allowed me to be the best pitcher I can be for this team,” Brown said after breaking her previous record in strikeouts.

“I feel like I’ve learned a lot this season. I learned a lot last season because we had a limited amount of girls and it was super small. I feel like I learned how to pick up myself and pick up my teammates when things weren’t going well. I think that has helped everybody know that everything’s going to be okay and have them feel comfortable, so just learning how to lead my team better than I did last year I feel like is a big help.”

 

A look ahead

UC Davis will travel to Riverside on April 8-9, to face the Highlanders for a three-game series, an opponent who is behind them in the standings. 

They come back home on April 15-16, to face Cal State Northridge to continue their Big West play.

The Aggies will then take a break from their conference play and will travel to Berkeley to play the Golden Bears on April 19. 

On April 22-23, they will go on the road to play UC San Diego. The Aggies then close out the season with nine Big West games against UC Santa Barbara at home (April 29-30), on the road against Cal Poly (May 6-7) and back home against Hawaii (May 13-14). 

If UC Davis can take care of business in their upcoming games against Riverside and Northridge, who are behind them in the standings, they’ll be within striking distance to finish near the top of the standings. The Aggies have a favorable schedule to their advantage. However, their last series of the season is against Hawaii, who is tied with Cal State Fullerton for first place.

 

Written by: Marlon Rolon — sports@theaggie.org

 

 

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