CHARLESTON, S.C. - Another dominant performance on the field by Cheyenne Gandara paced Charleston Southern on Friday afternoon as the Buccaneers opened Big South Conference play against Gardner-Webb with a 4-1 win over the Runnin' Bulldogs on the CSU Softball Field.
Gandara (13-6) struck out nine and supported herself with a two-run single in the bottom of the second inning as the Bucs put up seven hits early in the contest, but struggled toward the end against Gardner-Webb starter Summer Darnell (6-6) in holding on for the conference victory in their season opener.
"The key was starting off on the right foot in conference play," CSU head coach Shane Winkler said about the Bucs performance on the afternoon. "We're 1-0 and that is the way we expected to start. Cheyenne threw pretty well but I think our offense needed to do a lot better job. We left a lot of extra runs out there today."
The Buccaneers finished the contest with nine hits in the game with seven coming over the first three innings as CSU jumped out to a 4-0 lead over the Runnin' Bulldogs. Gandara's two-run single and Stevi Johnson's sacrifice fly put the Bucs ahead early, a trend that CSU and Winkler have tried to establish this season.
"I'm very pleased with scoring early and having an early lead," Winkler commented. "But the mentality from there needs to be to stay aggressive and put a team away. I don't think we did a good job of that today. Hopefully we can change that mindset. It's good to score early but you have to stay aggressive all game."
Gandara continues to advance in the CSU record books both inside the circle and at the plate as the sophomore is already in the top 10 in both strikeouts (129) and RBI (34) in the Bucs' all-time single season standings.
"It has been nice adding Cheyenne to our offensive lineup this season," said Winkler. "We knew she was going to grow as a pitcher. She threw extremely well last year as a freshman and we knew she was going to come back better this year. She's also hit the ball really well and has really been our workhorse both offensively and in the circle this season."
The Bucs also welcomed back sophomore Stephanie Bergmann to the lineup today as the shortstop had been sidelined with an injury since the second weekend of the season. Bergmann's addition to the defensive set was evident on several plays up the middle, including a fifth inning snag on Megan Champions' grounder back through the box.
"We've been missing Stephanie since the second week of the season," Winkler said. "It is great to have her back, especially defensively. She made some great plays today and she'll continue to make things easier for our pitchers. Offensively, she is still trying to get her timing back, but she brings another weapon to our offense."
The Bucs and the Runnin' Bulldogs continue the Big South Conference series tomorrow afternoon at the CSU Softball Field with first pitch set for 1 p.m. Both games will be streamed live on the Big South Network with John Peters and Hayes Holdsworth calling the action.
"We've got players from all over the country," Winkler said about playing on the Big South Network. "It's nice getting the opportunity to have parents who can't come to every game to see them play. I know our kids enjoy that and we had some good crowds out in California last weekend. Hopefully we come out and have a good showing tomorrow."
CSU jumped ahead early in the bottom of the first as Amanda Matsumoto scored on a ball thrown away on Gandara's shallow single to straightaway centerfield. The Bucs loaded the bases in the frame in threatening to go up big early, but Darnell pitched GWU out of trouble as CSU led 1-0 after the first inning.
The Bucs pushed three across in the bottom of the second highlighted by Gandara's two-run single. Natalie Yonan reached on a one-out hit by pitch and back-to-back singles by Matsumoto and Marci Christian loaded the bases. Gandara followed with a sharp grounder up the middle scoring Yonan and Matsumoto. Johnson capped the scoring with a sacrifice fly to the warning track in left center allowing Christian to cross to put the score at 4-0.
Gandara cruised through the first five innings before a CSU error put the Runnin' Bulldogs on the board in the top of the sixth. Kellie Beres reached on a leadoff single and stole second base. On Georgi DeLio's throw down to second, the Bucs failed to cover and the ball skipped off of Beres into left field allowing her to take third on the play. Two batters later Rachel Cumiskey connected on the sacrifice fly to right field to put GWU on the board.
The Bucs threatened in the bottom of the frame with Lexie Vanada starting the rally with a pinch-hit single up the middle. Matsumoto and Gandara drew walks to load the bases with two outs, but Darnell again pitched out of trouble getting Johnson to popup to third to end the frame.
Gandara retired the side in the seventh with Stephanie Baro snagging the line drive off the bat of Jill Blank and doubling up Champion off of first to end the contest and clinch the Bucs win.