This past week, the softball team dropped two games in a home doubleheader against Williams before recovering with a win against Bowdoin in a tight NESCAC East battle. The Jumbos came away with a 7-5 win over the Bowdoin Polar Bears on Friday in their first and only conference game so far, while the 6-4 and 6-5 losses to the Williams Ephs on Wednesday are still troubling for the team’s conference title aspirations — even though the losses don’t factor into the team’s conference record since the Ephs play in the NESCAC West.
In the first game against Williams, the Jumbos were stalled by strong pitching from Ephs’ junior Brooke Bovier and first-year Mackenzie Murphy, as the two combined to hold the Jumbos hitless through five innings before first-year third baseman Kristen Caporelli singled off Murphy with one out in the top of the sixth. Williams dominated the entire game, with sophomore Brenna Martinez hammering a two-run shot in the top of the seventh to put her team up 6-0 going into the last half inning. That homer proved to be the game winner, though, as Tufts rallied to score four runs in the bottom of the seventh on a leadoff solo home run from sophomore left fielder Samantha Siciliano and a three-run shot from junior catcher Summer Horowitz. But the comeback fell short as Murphy got a groundout and strikeout after Horowitz’s shot to seal the win.
In game two on Wednesday evening, Tufts managed to get closer but still couldn’t pull out the W against a Williams team that was admittedly tough but one that the back-to-back-to-back defending national champions should have beaten. The Ephs again got on the board in the first and never trailed the entire game, which was shortened to five innings. Good defense hampered the Jumbos’ comeback efforts as Ephs outfielders threw out Jumbo runners at the plate in the second and in the fifth to limit the hosts’ best scoring innings.
Williams, leading 5-4 going into the fifth, added an insurance run before staving off another Tufts comeback in the bottom of the inning. Senior co-captain second baseman Christina Raso nubbed a ball in front of the plate with the bases loaded and two outs to score a run to get the Jumbos within one, down 6-5. But Williams starter Alejandra Magana Siciliano grounded out with the bases loaded to shut the door.
“Our losses against Williams are a motivation for us,” Horowitz told the Daily in an email. “We only lost both games combined by three runs. If we continue to improve each game, we should be able to play much better if we see Williams in the playoffs.”
Coach Cheryl Milligan agreed that the losses to Williams don’t necessarily merit pulling the alarm.
“We are mainly focused on preparing us, more than preparing for opponents,” Milligan wrote to the Daily in an email. “This team has a lot of potential, but a lot of calculated work to do. Williams is a senior-laden team who was a regional team last year with the at-large bid. They have some of the aura we are working to create, of confidence and experience. We learned a lot from playing them, and for all our youth and lack of readiness, we hung with them in both games. We need to make some climbs on the ladder to beat them in May, but that’s what we’re here to work on every day.”
Senior co-captain pitcher Erica County, who went the distance and took the loss in game one against Williams — in part because of the uncharacteristically low level of run support from her hitters and some sloppy defense behind her — said that the team worked on limiting defensive errors and coming out more aggressively at the plate as they prepared for the Bodwoin game on Friday.
In what was basically a must-win game for a reeling Tufts squad on Friday, the team beared down and got its first win at Spicer Field on the season against Bowdoin. The Jumbos fell behind early, giving up a three-spot in the second inning as County struggled to find her rhythm and her fielders made two errors behind her. Tufts got one back when sophomore DH Michelle Chisdak singled to center with the bases loaded to score junior first baseman Cassie Rucsz, but Bowdoin’s first-year right fielder Caroline Rice threw Horowitz out at the plate to limit the damage.
Bowdoin answered in the top of third with a pair of runs to make it 5-1, but Tufts continued to chip away at the deficit and this time its comeback made it all the way as County settled down on the mound and held the visitors scoreless with just two hits after the third. The Jumbos scored two runs in the third as Raso and Siciliano both crossed the dish and another two in the fourth, when Siciliano drilled a double to center to knock in junior center fielder Carrie Copacino, who had walked, and Raso, who had singled again. Siciliano came up big again in the sixth, lining a two-out, two-run homer to put her team on top for the first time since spring break. County hung on in the top of the seventh to earn the win.
The three-game series was scheduled to continue with a doubleheader on Saturday, but the first game was halted due to rain, and the remaining two games were postponed to this Sunday.
“Bowdoin has perennially been our strongest opponent in NESCAC East play,” Milligan said. “We know them well, and they know us well. We made some mistakes and made that game a lot harder for ourselves, and we surely could have pushed and been up more than 1-0 in the halted game. But I’m only going to lose faith in this team when we start getting complacent with where we are and stop climbing.”
The team dynamic seems to have finally come together in the Bowdoin game, and a new crop of Jumbos stepped up to carry the team as seasoned offensive leaders like Rucsz were quiet in the team’s first home games of the season.
“We had a few players step up and make a difference in [the Bowdoin and Williams games],” Milligan said. “I think we had a solid defensive effort from our middles, especially [first-year] Christian [Cain] at [shortstop] with a couple really nice and hungry plays up the middle. Our breakout offensive innings were often aided by Sammy [Siciliano] and Summer [Horowitz], who are really crushing the ball right now.”
The team is still working to develop its chemistry and integrate the rookies into the dynamic.
“I do not think our team has hit our stride yet, so I am very excited for that to happen,” Horowitz said. “I think once everyone gains confidence in themselves at their position and their teammates, we will be very successful. Working hard every day at practice and in games is bringing us closer to that point.”
The Jumbos look to continue improving with every game and hit their stride by the end of the season. Tufts next plays Colby on the road with games scheduled for Friday and Saturday before they return to Medford on Sunday for the doubleheader against Bowdoin.