Dubuque holds off Wheaton rally, 7-6

KISSIMMEE, Fla.- The Wheaton College softball team scored six unanswered runs between the fifth and sixth innings, but the University of Dubuque spoiled the comeback bid with a walk-off home run in the bottom of the seventh to lift the Spartans to the 7-6 victory. Senior right fielder Rachel Merrick (Methuen, Mass.) and classmate Kristen Hunt (Milford, Conn.) led the charge offensively for the Lyons with two hits each.

The top of the Wheaton (1-2) batting order provided the offensive punch for the Lyons as the first five batters combined to account for all seven hits. Merrick reached safely in each of her four appearances at the plate, including a pair of singles. Hunt went 2-for-4 from the dish with a pair of RBI and a run scored. Senior shortstop Katy Salka (Ayer, Mass.) drove in the game-tying run in the bottom of the sixth with a double.

Dubuque (3-2) freshman center fielder Caitlin Aulwes (Edgewood, Iowa) snapped Wheaton's string of six unanswered runs in the bottom of the seventh. The rookie powered her first collegiate home run over the center field fence to provide the decisive strike.

The Lyons began their ferocious comeback bid with one out in the top of the fifth. Merrick ignited the surge with a single to left field, and junior center fielder Amanda Poplaski (North Reading, Mass.) drew a walk to put runners in scoring position. Wheaton benefited from a Spartan miscue as freshman pitcher Melissa Webster (Burlington, Wis.) unleashed an errant throw on Salka's sacrifice bunt that allowed Merrick to score from second. Senior catcher Nicole DeRosa (Greenwich, Conn.) singled up the middle to drive in the second run, while Hunt chased Webster with a two-run triple to right field. First baseman Megan Roy (North Dighton, Mass.) capped the five-run outburst with a RBI groundout to second off freshman relief pitcher Jessica Nearad (Solon, Iowa) .

Lyons junior pitcher Lesley Warn (Portland, Maine) registered her first 1-2-3 inning of the contest in the bottom of the fifth to put the bat back in Wheaton's hands. With two outs in the frame, Poplaski used her speed to put the Lyons in scoring position by stealing second and advancing to third on a pass ball. Facing a full count, Salka delivered a clutch RBI double to left center field to draw the contest even at six.

Dubuque threatened to break the six-all tie in the bottom of the sixth, but Wheaton's interior defense was able to execute a pair of fielder's choice with runners in scoring position. Warn posted her fourth and final punch out of the outing to eliminate the threat.

In the pitching circle, Warn tossed her second-straight complete game, surrendering seven runs, five of which were earned, on seven hits, while yielding eight free passes (four walks, four hit-by-pitch) in six-plus innings of work. Nearad collected the win by throwing two and two-thirds innings of one-hit relief.

The Lyons return to action at 11 a.m. this morning, when Wheaton squares off against Centenary College (N.J.).

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