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St. John’s softball finally plays on campus

It has been three years since Gina Calabrese has been able to leave her car in the school parking lot and walk to the playing field where she has been so dominant.

While the four-year pitching standout for St. John’s has made herself at home on the softball diamond, etching her name atop every major pitching record in the Red Storm record book, it wasn’t until the senior right-hander’s last start Sunday that she could toe the rubber on a field that she could finally call her own.

“It’s kind of like a dream come true,” said Calabrese as she stood on the infield of St. John’s newly renovated softball diamond, basking in the twilight of her career. “We’ve been waiting for a field for three years. There are seven of us seniors who have been together for four years, and we’ve been through a lot together.”

After making the 25-mile commute to Long Island to Garden City’s Mitchell Field Athletic Complex to play their home games the past three years, the team’s seniors were given the ultimate send-off, an opportunity to finish off their careers on the campus where they had gotten their start, and in front of a truly partisan crowd.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said second-year Red Storm coach Melody Cope. “This is the first time in three years that we felt like the home team and had the home crowd behind us.”

On the field, the Red Storm fed off the excitement from the memorable day, parlaying that energy into a double-header split with the Syracuse Orangewomen.

In the opener, Calabrese capped off her brilliant career by tossing a three-hit shutout, stymieing the Orangewomen in what could be her last collegiate start. The senior was backed by right-fielder Cecelia Baston’s two-out single up the middle that scored Lauren Fisher from second in the bottom of the fourth, providing Calabrese with a one-run cushion and all the run support she would need.

Calabrese retired Syracuse in order in the third and fourth innings, keeping the Orangewomen at bay until the bottom of the seventh. A lined single up the middle by Syracuse catcher Jaime Grillo sparked a two-out rally as the Orangewomen threatened in the game’s final frame, but Calabrese was able to induce Syracuse second baseman Nikki Lincoln into a fielder’s choice to second to stifle the rally and seal the Red Storm’s 30th win of the season by a 1-0 decision.

“I was hoping to just get a win today,” said Calabrese. “I didn’t care what the score was as long as the team played well.”

In the second game, the Red Storm (30-31, 8-12) ran into a buzzsaw in the form of Syracuse right-hander Heather Brown. Brown frustrated the Red Storm line-up with her hard-nosed approach, consistently challenging the St. John’s hitters with her fastball while recording five strikeouts through the first three innings.

While Brown baffled the Red Storm batsmen, the Orangewomen’s offense came alive, as Syracuse (19-28, 6-14) touched Red Storm starter Courtney Fitzgerald for three runs in the bottom of the third, as third baseman Jackie Herman found a hole on the left side of the infield to score centerfielder Christina Holowich, and shortstop Missy Bieman slapped a base hit past Red Storm third baseman Lisa Sheppard, scoring two more Orangewomen and giving Syracuse a 3-0 lead.

Brown took a no-hit bid into the top of the sixth before Alesha Argeris ripped a 3-2 offering from the right-hander into left field for a double. The rally was thwarted, however, when Brown got third baseman Lisa Sheppard to line out and Bieman snagged catcher Lisa Tropea’s sinking liner to end the threat.

The Red Storm threatened again in the bottom half of the seventh, as shortstop Tiffany Howerton led off the inning with a towering home run beyond the left-field fence. The blast awakened the previously dormant Red Storm bench, but the solo shot would be all that St. John’s would muster, as Brown would induce centerfielder Kelly Houghton into a groundout to short, designated player Lauren Fisher would line-out to second, and Brown would fan pinch-hitter Courtney Nilan to finish off the Red Storm, Syracuse winning by a 3-1 count.

Despite the letdown in the second game, the loss couldn’t take the luster off a special day for the program and the seniors. The seven seniors: Calabrese, Fisher, utility player Nilan, Bellerose native Danielle Sweeney, catcher Jeanine Giammarino, pitcher/first baseman Michele Crokus, and former pitcher and team manager Brianne Leary were honored in an emotional post-game ceremony celebrating their careers.

“It made me cry because I realized that it was my last game here, and that this would be my last complete game,” said Calabrese. “St. John’s has been an amazing experience for me. The people, the players, everything.”

Red Storm split with UConn: After losing the opener, 8-0, St. John’s rebounded with a 3-0 win in the nightcap, thanks to a strong performance by Calabrese, who allowed six hits in the complete-game shutout. The Red Storm snapped the Huskies’ 22-game winning streak with the split.

Reach contributing writer Brian Towey by e-mail at TimesLedgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 130.

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