Rauch punctuated the win with a three-run home run in the seventh inning, pitched a two-hitter with eight strikeouts and retired the final 15 batters of the game to lead the Wildcats to their sixth straight victory. Villanova has won 10 of its last 12 overall and has its record above .500 for the first time since the opening day of the season when the team defeated Marshall in its season opener. Rauch and junior catcher Ally Jones (Brielle, NJ) hit home runs in Thursday’s win over the Bluejays, junior third baseman Chloe Smith (Sacramento, Calif.) doubled and drew a career-high three walks, and graduate second baseman Angela Giampolo (East Windsor, NJ) had two hits and two runs scored.
There is no doubt that the Wildcats offense has rounded into peak form in recent weeks. Thursday’s game was the 10thth straight in which Villanova hit at least one home run, a streak that is believed to be a school record. Eight different batters had a hit for the Wildcats in the first of three games in Omaha. Villanova has outscored the opposition by an 84-31 margin while averaging 7.0 runs per game in its past 12 outings. The team has 44 extra-base hits and a .599 slugging percentage in the 12 games. Rauch by herself has hit seven home runs and slugged 1,100 in this stretch, although six other players have hit at least two home runs in the 10-2 hot streak.
As has frequently been the case in the past few weeks, Thursday’s game began with a quick start by the Wildcats offense. Smith walked to lead off the game – one of a season-high eight bases on balls for the Villanova lineup – and went first-to-third on Rauch’s single down the right field line. Senior offensive player Ryan Henry (Ramsey, NJ) scored Smith with an RBI groundout and freshman right fielder Kelsey White (Taunton, Mass.) hit a sacrifice fly which plated Rauch for a 2-0 lead. That run scored was the record-breaking 157th of Rauch’s Wildcats career, breaking a tie with Brittany Husk (2015-18). Rauch came to Villanova in 2019 after playing her freshman year at Fordham; her overall career totals include 209 runs scored and 195 RBI.
The Wildcats eventually scored in each of the first three innings to build a 4-1 lead. Junior left fielder Dani Dabroski (Cedar Grove, NJ) singled with one out in the top of the second, stole her fourth base of the year and scampered all the way home from second on an infield hit by Rauch. She was in scoring position with two away when Rauch hit a hard chopper up the middle that Creighton shortstop Madeline Vejvoda gloved, and Dabroski alertly raced for home on a long throw across the diamond to first base. The RBI was the 148th in a Villanova uniform for Rauch, tying her with Sara Carlson (2000-03) in the program record book for a short period of time until her home run later in the game. In the third inning a leadoff single by Giampolo and a one-out double by Jones got a run back for the Wildcats after the Bluejays had scored their lone run in the bottom of the second inning.
Rauch, who is now 6-1with a 1.65 ERA and 44 strikeouts compared to just 27 hits allowed in her last seven starts, struck out two in a 1-2-3 bottom of the first inning. She faced Kiara Mills to lead off the home half of the second though, and Mills’ sky-high fly ball got lost in the sun and dropped into the deep center field on what would eventually turn into an inside-the-park home run as Mills raced around the bases. The only other baserunner against Rauch the entire day was in the bottom of the third inning when Alyssa Gappa led off with a single down the left field line. The next two batters each grounded out into a fielder’s choice and Rauch struck out Cayla Nielsen to end the inning.
The best chance Creighton had as the game went along was to try and attack Rauch early in the count. The 3-4-5 hitters in the Bluejays lineup went down in order on just nine pitches in the fourth inning, while Rauch later got the 9-1-2 hitters on a mere four pitches in the sixth. A fly ball to left, a soft bouncer back to the circle and a strike out in the bottom of the seventh inning closed out Rauch’s ninth complete game and 11th win of the season.
For all the superlatives Rauch and company accumulated, the game was still well within reach for the Bluejays as the score stayed 4-1 through six innings. That all changed with a five-run barrage fueled by a two-run homer for Jones and a three-run shot by Rauch in the top of the seventh. Giampolo led off the inning with a double down the left field line and Jones hit a ball that smacked off the top of the fence in the left-center field and caromed over the wall for a one-out home run that stretched the margin to 6- 1. Dabroski and Smith drew consecutive two-out walks before Rauch drilled a 1-2 pitch that sailed out of sight beyond the right field fence to put an exclamation point on the proceedings for the day. It is the 27th game in her Villanova career that Rauch has hit a home run in a game that she was the starting pitcher; the Wildcats are 23-4 in those contests, including 11-0 over the past two seasons.
Villanova is making its first trip to Omaha since 2018 and drew even in the all-time series with Creighton at 10-10 with Thursday’s win. The second game of the series comes up on Friday at 2 pm Eastern time (1 pm Central).