CHARLESTON, S.C. - Cheyenne Gandara picked up her fourth win of the season and Brooke Lein connected on her first collegiate grand slam as Charleston Southern topped North Carolina A&T on Friday afternoon at the CSU Softball Field, 10-1.
Lein's grand slam came in the bottom of the third inning and was one of three Buccaneers (6-3) home runs hit in the contest as Gandara and Stephanie Baro both went deep in the contest as the Bucs scored in every inning against the visiting Aggies to close out the first day of the Willie Jewell's Invitational.
"We've been working a ton on our offensive game," said CSU head coach Shane Winkler. "The majority of our practices have been on offense and working on our girls' swings and it's been paying off in games. We don't want to rely on the two and three-run home run all the time, but we know we have it in our lineup and it's nice to get the big swings like that."
Lein's grand slam in the third put the game out of reach and Baro closed out the contest with a walk-off two-run shot in the bottom of the fifth helped boost the offense that was without the production of shortstop Stephanie Bergmann for the second straight game. Baro's home run was her second of the season and ended the contest via the mercy rule to cap off the first day's action at CSU.
"Those two bring explosive bats and will compete for playing time all year round," said Winkler on the freshman duo of Lein and Baro. "They're both third basemen, but with injuries right now they will both see time on the field. It's nice to see them put up results. When you have two players competing, you'd rather have to choose between two hot bats and if they are able to keep producing, it will only help our lineup this season."
Gandara (4-2) picked up the win inside the circle going the first three innings for the Bucs, scattering two hits while striking out four. CSU's leading hitter with a .591 batting average coming into the contest, Gandara went 2-for-3 from the plate and connected on her team-leading fourth home run of the season to lead off the bottom of the fourth.
"It would've been nice to see what Cheyenne could have done in our offense last season," Winkler commented. "She had a hand injury and couldn't swing last season, but we knew that she would bring a lot of punch to our lineup. The fact that she hasn't seen a lot of live pitching over the past two years but is able to produce the way she is has to be a testament to her hard work. It's fun to see and hope she continues to stay hot."
Amanda Matsumoto led off the Bucs lineup in the bottom of the first with one of her two singles on the day and came around to score on Gandara's double in the right centerfield gap to put the Bucs ahead 1-0 after one inning.
Gandara pitched around trouble in the top of the second inning as the Aggies loaded the bases in the frame with two outs on back-to-back singles by Maiven McKnight and Raven Gray. Natalie Yonan recorded the final out of the frame on an infield popup to keep the Aggies off the board.
CSU added two more runs in the bottom half of the frame as Lein and Taylor Powell both came around to score on a throwing error on Yonan's sacrifice bunt attempt to put the Bucs ahead 3-0.
Lein's grand slam capped off the Bucs scoring in the third inning as the freshman third baseman took advantage of a dropped foul ball one pitch earlier in connecting on her first home run of the season. Her blast cleared the left field fence and brought around Stevi Johnson, Powell and Gandara with one out to put the score 7-0 in CSU's favor.
Following Gandara's home run in the bottom of the fourth, North Carolina A&T extended the contest an extra half inning as the Aggies plated a run in the top of the fifth off of CSU reliever Jennifer Giles. Syerra Askew singled in Zebresha Blakeney with one out to put the Aggies on the board, before Giles could limit the damage with an infield fly-out and a grounder to end the frame.
Baro put the game away in the bottom of the fifth, connecting on the 1-1 offering from McKnight (2-2) for her first walk-off home run in her collegiate career, scoring Yonan on the play to end the contest.
The CSU-N.C. A&T game concluded one of only two of the scheduled four contests to be completed on the field on Friday as the first two games were called due to cold weather conditions in the morning. Saturday the weather is expected to heat up with the full slate being played with first game at 9 a.m.
"Going into the game with the weather today we told our team you never know what you're going to get," said Winkler. "The best way to stay warm is to get loud, stay energized and score some runs. We did that right away and were able to get off to a good start this weekend. We know we'll see some good pitching tomorrow and have to swing the bat 1-through-9 to continue to have success."
The Bucs open up their Saturday schedule at 1 p.m. against UNC Wilmington, while facing off against North Carolina A&T with first pitch scheduled for 3 p.m.