The softball team showed no signs of slowing down its pursuit of a second-straight national championship, going undefeated in the regional round of the Div. III NCAA Tournament.
The tournament featured a double-elimination regional round from May 9 to 11. Sixteen teams emerge to compete in a Super Regional round from May 16 to 17, followed by the final round, from May 22 to 27, hosted by The University of Texas at Tyler.
In the first round, Tufts beat Lesley College 9-1, with the game stopping after six innings due to the mercy rule. In a close game, Tufts clung to a 2-0 lead until a seven-run explosion in the sixth.
As has been the case all year, graduating senior Lauren Giglio dominated, going the distance and allowing three hits and three walks with one unearned run.
In the top of the first, graduating senior co-captain catcher Jo Clair blasted a homerun to right center, staking Giglio an early 1-0 lead. Tufts manufactured one more run in the third inning off of an RBI single from rising senior outfielder Michelle Cooprider, but was kept off the scoreboard for most of the game.
“We didn’t have a lot of runners on base and weren’t pushing a lot of runners along in the first few innings, but were making pretty solid contact throughout the entire game,” rising junior shortstop Christina Raso said. “We were just hitting it right at the Lesley players. There were hard line drives … everywhere that were getting caught. Lesley did a good job making plays.
In the top of the sixth inning the Jumbos’ luck turned, and they put up seven runs, including a three-run homer from Cooprider.
“”In the [sixth inning] we were finally getting balls to drop,”” Cooprider said. “”Finally … the ‘softball Gods’ were on our side. We were pretty happy with how we did offensively even though it didn’t show for a while.””
Tufts advanced to play Williams in the winner’s bracket. The matchup was the culmination of a year-long battle between the two teams, and the rubber match in a season-series that was, until then, split 2-2. Williams had beaten Tufts twice in the regular season, but Tufts had come back to beat Williams twice in the NESCAC tournament to claim its third-straight NESCAC title.
“”Williams always gives us good competition, and we were just trying to step up and beat them when it counts,”” Raso said.
On May 10, the Jumbos again emerged victorious when it mattered, dispatching the Ephs 4-2 and advancing to the final round of regional play. Rising junior Allyson Fournier pitched all seven innings, striking out eight and giving up three hits. The team also allowed two unearned runs due to uncharacteristically sloppy play from a Tufts’ defense that was first in the NESCAC in fielding percentage. Williams rising sophomore Brooke Bovier toed the rubber for the opposition and performed admirably, matching Fournier through three innings before allowing three runs in the fourth and one in the fifth.
“”They threw a different pitcher against us, so we were just trying to make adjustments and win the game,”” Raso said.
Once again, a three-run Cooprider homerun did most of the damage in the fourth.
“”I think it’s always easier to play at your best when you have things to play for,”” Cooprider said of her offensive explosion this weekend, in which she tallied eight RBIs. “”I was very zoned in all of the [weekend’s] games. Also, everything is scheduled [for] these weekends [in the] NCAA tournament, so having the consistency gets you in game mode … I was definitely ready to go for all these games, which was probably helpful.””
The three runs were all Fournier needed. Although the two unearned runs allowed in the bottom half of the fourth made the game interesting, the Ephs were unable to get Fournier to budge in the last three innings.
Tufts played Endicott in the final round of the regional bracket and broke out in a big way, no-hitting Endicott over five innings while putting up 11 runs to end the game in only five innings. Fournier and Giglio combined for the no-hit effort, with Fournier striking out 10 of the 12 batters she faced, and Giglio pitching the fifth inning to seal the win.
At the plate, the Jumbos jumped out to a quick 4-0 lead in the bottom of the first before tacking on five more in the third, and two in the fifth. The knockout punch came from Raso in the third inning, when the diminutive shortstop blasted a grand slam.
“”I was just looking to hit the ball as hard as I could and make good contact,”” Raso said. “”When I hit it, I didn’t think [the ball] was going to go out. I thought it was going to drop between the left fielder and the center fielder, but it ended up staying in the air long enough to go out, so I was pretty happy.””
The blowout of Endicott is also a clear sign that Tufts has not lost its desire or ability to fight for another national title. If anything, the team is hungrier the second time around.
“”I think we know the potential is real, because we’ve [won a national championship] before, so we know there’s a chance we can do it again,”” Cooprider said. “”When we said we wanted to win last year, it was sort of like the impossible dream, but then we were able to [win]. Now … we still have the same dream, and we know it’s a possibility.””
With a clean sweep of the competition in the regional round, Tufts advances to play Bridgewater State in a best-of-three series in the Super Regional round on May 16-17. Results were not available as of press time.