After troubled start to season, Jumbos get back to impressive form

Pitcher Erica County (LA '16) pitches in Softball's 7-5 win against Bowdoin on April 1. Sofie Hecht / The Tufts Daily

The softball team got back to its usual style of play this weekend, sweeping a three-game series at Colby from Friday to Saturday and then returning home to sweep a doubleheader against Bowdoin on Sunday. Playing five games over three days seemed to have little effect on the team’s stamina or on its offensive production as the Jumbos beat the Colby Mules by 6-1, 10-8 and 14-5 margins. In Sunday’s doubleheader, which was rescheduled from the previous weekend, the Jumbo bats stayed hot as they downed the Bowdoin Polar Bears 11-6 in the first game and 11-3 in the second.

After a pair of troubling losses to Williams in a March 30 doubleheader, which didn’t affect Tufts’ conference record since Williams plays in the NESCAC West division but still poses a challenge to the team’s hopes of winning the NESCAC title again, Tufts responded with a win over Bowdoin on April 1 and then five more NESCAC East victories this weekend to move to 6-0 in conference play this season. The Jumbos are used to being undefeated in the NESCAC East: after this weekend’s results, they now have 55 consecutive NESCAC East wins dating back to 2011.

Although the Williams losses were a blow to the team’s confidence, coach Cheryl Milligan believes they were merely illustrative of poor team play in those games rather than a decrease in the team’s ability over previous years.

“If losing to Williams was not shocking to us, neither was sweeping Bowdoin and Colby. We will live and die by our performance every game,” Milligan told the Daily in an e mail. “There is no magic to our winning and therefore, no additional significance to our losing other than that we didn’t play well. We are a tough team to beat when we run our defense, and we make the other team work hard to get us out. We are, like most teams, fairly easy to beat when we don’t play our game. We’ll keep focusing on our offense and getting better on defense, and the rest will take care of itself.”

The players, meanwhile, believe the losses to Williams spurred their recent streak of impressive play.

“I think the losses to Williams lit a fire under us because as a team, we do not like losing,” senior co-captain and pitcher Erica County told the Daily in an email. “I think the losses made us realize that we need to bring more intensity to our games, which is what we tried to bring to the Colby series.”

That intensity was evident. In the first game on Friday, both County and Colby’s sophomore starter Julia Saul impressed on the mound and scoring was limited through most of the game. But in the sixth, with the score tied at one-all, the Jumbos lit up Saul for five runs, with seven of the team’s 11 hits coming in the inning. Junior first baseman Cassie Ruscz, a perennial leader for the Jumbos at the plate, picked up two hits and three RBIs in the game. Sophomore catcher Michelle Chisdak had two hits, an RBI and a run, while classmate and left fielder Samantha Siciliano scored a run as well. County hung on to the 6-1 lead in the seventh to secure the win.

In the first game on Saturday, the Jumbos were in trouble down 8-5 going into the seventh. But in a dramatic comeback, Tufts’ hitters pulled through for a five-run rally in the top of the seventh, capped off by a two-out, three-run home run from sophomore center fielder Raina Galbiati — the first of her career. The Jumbos got the early lead with two runs in the first and then extended that lead with three more in the third, before first-year starter Amolee Hawkins struggled in the third and gave up seven runs to the Mules’ hitters. Tufts played from behind for most of the game until Galbiati’s heroics in the seventh and then County, in relief of Hawkins, held on in the bottom of the inning for the win.

Later on Saturday, the team completed the sweep against Colby, powered by 14 hits and five Colby errors. The score stayed close through the first few innings until the Jumbos pulled away with four runs in the fifth and five in the seventh. County got the start and went the distance in the game, earning her third win in as many games.

Sophomore right fielder Raven Fournier homered in both Saturday games, with her solo shot in the third inning of the second game giving her team a lead they would not relinquish. First-year shortstop Christian Cain showed how comfortable she’s gotten in collegiate play, hammering a grand slam in the fifth for her first career homer and scoring three runs in the nightcap. County was impressed by the play of the team’s younger players, citing Cain and Galbiati as players who had impressive weekends.

Showing no signs of fatigue as they came home on Sunday to take on the Bowdoin Polar Bears, the Jumbos exploded for double digit run totals in both games of the doubleheader. Like the Colby games, the first game took a while to heat up. The Jumbos got a run in the first inning but neither team scored again until the fourth when Siciliano hit a two-run double. But Bowdoin came back strong with six runs and eight hits in the fifth inning to take a 6-3 lead. Still undeterred as they trailed another NESCAC East team, the Jumbos again put together an impressive late rally with eight runs in the sixth to take the 11-6 lead, which they held to the end.

In the final game of the weekend, the Jumbos cruised to another big win on the back of more strong pitching from County and hot Jumbo bats. Tufts led 2-0 early on in their rematch until Bowdoin tied it up in the third inning. But with a two-run home run from Cain in the fourth that headlined a five-run inning, Tufts began to pull away, following up with a four-run fifth inning that ended the contest with the hosts up 11-3. 

For her seven hits, eight RBIs and six runs across the five games, which also saw her hit the first two home runs of her career, Cain earned NESCAC Player of the Week honors. She is the second Jumbo to do so in the first four weeks the award has been given out, following Cassie Ruscz, a junior, who earned it in March.

“Our comebacks when we got behind in a Colby game and a Bowdoin game really showed our ability to stay tough and deliver under pressure situations,” County said.

After scoring 52 runs across the five games this weekend, the team seems to have regained its confidence. But looking forward, the Jumbos still plan to take their season one game at a time.

“It’s important that we go into each game moving forward with more intensity than the last,” County told the Daily in an email. “When we are able to keep our energy up as a team that is when we have been more successful. As a result, we need to keep working hard, learning from our mistakes and getting better with each game that we play.”

Reflecting on previous games, County said the team needs to continues its intensity.

“We played our toughest NESCAC East opponents and played well,” she told the Daily in an e-mail. “They are our biggest games and we came through, showing some toughness and relentlessness in coming from behind as well as in playing five in three days. We will need to keep our intensity and drive up going forward, because no one is going to hand us much as we get into late season.”

The team now gears up for a three-game series at home against NESCAC East rival Trinity, with the first game starting at 4 p.m. on Friday and the other two starting at noon on Saturday.


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