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Storm softball takes two from Pitt

In her right hand, St. John’s freshman pitcher Meghan Allman had a homemade brownie, baked by teammate Kelly Houghton’s mother. And on her left arm were two huge bags of ice, one on her wrist, the other on her forearm.

Ah, the joys of pitching back-to-back shutouts.

In what Red Storm coach Melody Cope called “must wins,” Allman tossed a no-hitter and followed by scattering seven hits in a Big East doubleheader sweep of Pittsburgh Sunday at Red Storm Field.

St. John’s won the opener 1-0 and romped the Panthers 7-0 in the nightcap, breaking an eight-game winless streak.

The victories were huge for a Red Storm team whose psyche was fragile after an 0-4 start to the Big East season, including a pair of blankings by Notre Dame in Jamaica a day earlier.

“I don’t feel we’re out of the Big East tournament yet, but I knew we had to win two games today,” Cope said. “This was a big day for us, the girls stepped up to the challenge and played hard.”

Unlike a pair of one-run losses to Seton Hall last weekend, Allman got plenty of support from her teammates, both in the field and at the plate.

Senior shortstop Tiffany Howerton was a big part of the offensive support in the second game, crushing a two-run home run over the fence in right centerfield to put St. John’s (12-20-1, 2-4) in front 2-0 in the bottom of the first inning.

“It was a hit and run and I love hits and runs,” said Howerton, who added an RBI-single to right field in the fourth inning. “It takes the thinking out of it. You just have to put your bat on the ball.”

The Red Storm, who tied a season-high 13 hits in the drubbing, also got help from some shoddy defensive play by Pittsburgh. Houghton led off the second with a single to left field and then advanced to second when Panthers leftfielder Missy Smith held onto the ball too long and nobody covered second base.

Houghton scored on Jessica Shepherd’s RBI-single to left and Cecelia Baston, who had walked to get on, scored on a bases-loaded error by Pittsburgh third baseman Kelly Hulpa to put the Red Storm ahead 4-0 after two innings. Bessolo (5-7) left the game after the second inning and was replaced by Janelle Pepe.

The Panthers had two more errors in St. John’s three-run sixth inning, highlighted by Allina Sainz’s two-run single to right centerfield.

The rare early run support was a blessing for Allman, who improved to 12-17 with the win. Allman tired in the third inning as, after Amy Steich reached on a Howerton error and Smith walked, Pittsburgh (15-23, 3-7) had runners on first and second with no out.

But Allman bore down, getting Clare McCann to fly out to center before striking out Angela Blackmon and Hulpa to get out of the jam.

“Meghan did a good job of keeping them off-balance today,” Cope said. “She kept the ball down and got ground balls. She let the defense help.”

The defense came up huge in the fourth inning when, with a runner at second and two out, Tiffany White hit a line drive to right field. But Marilyn Brown raced in and made a diving stop to preserve the shutout.

White doubled to right to lead off the seventh inning and appeared ready to score with two outs on McCann’s single to center, but Houghton fired a strike to catcher Jillian Sandoval to nail White and end the game.

In the opener, Sainz provided all the offense the Red Storm would need in the sixth inning, as her bloop single to right scored pinch runner Christina Wellington in St. John’s 1-0 win.

Allman was spectacular, tossing her second no-hitter of the season. She struck out 10 and walked just two while Nikki Gasti was the hard-luck loser, giving up one run on six hits while striking out six.

“I felt great—I warmed up today better than I did yesterday,” Allman said. “I tried not to worry about how many hits or what inning it was. I just tried to go out and throw my pitches.”

After a doubleheader at Connecticut Wednesday and a pair of non-league games against Iona Thursday, St. John’s plays two important conference doubleheaders at Providence Saturday and Boston College Sunday.

Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 143.

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