Tufts scores huge wins against No. 11 Amherst

First-year infielder Mia Steinberg throws to first base in Tufts' 9–6 win over Babson on April 17. Evan Sayles / The Tufts Daily

Having entered the week on top of the NESCAC East division, the No. 21 Tufts softball team posted a 3–1 stretch, starting with a 15–0 demolition of Pine Manor on Friday, followed by two massive wins at then-No. 11 Amherst over the weekend. However, he Jumbos’ eight-game winning streak, dating back to April 13, was snapped when they lost to the Babson Beavers, 3–0, on Monday. The team now faces a very difficult week — its last of the regular season — during which it hopes to secure its spot at the top of the conference standings.

Babson senior pitcher Ali Reilly (14–4) stood firm in the circle on Monday, shutting out Tufts in a complete-game effort at the latter’s Spicer Field. The New Canaan, Conn. native’s performance was quite a reversal from the teams’ matchup on April 17, when she surrendered seven earned runs in 3.1 innings of work. For Tufts coach Cheryl Milligan, the loss was disappointing, especially after the Jumbos’ great performances over the weekend.

“We had a rough Monday afternoon, that’s really what it was,” Milligan said. “We had some mental mistakes and some physical mistakes on the corners with their short game.”

Milligan noted that the team struggled in its pitching and defense. Although Tufts was disappointed with how the umpires called the game, Milligan noted her team failed to take advantage of a big strike zone. More than anything, though, the timing of the game provided problems: The Jumbos had Sunday off, and with final exams approaching, their intensity was lacking at times, according to first-year Kristi Van Meter.

“Babson’s a strong team,” Van Meter said. “We could’ve used a bit more fire in that game. It was a weekday, which was tough. We’ve got to bring a better focus to MIT this week.”

Prior to the loss, the teams played out the last two innings of the second game of their April 17 doubleheader, which had been postponed due to darkness. After restarting with the score tied 4–4 in the top of the eighth inning, Tufts pushed across the winning run in the bottom of the ninth. With sophomore third baseman Jamie Stevens standing on second base, junior catcher Christian Cain provided a sacrifice bunt to move Stevens over. The Beavers then intentionally walked senior first baseman Raven Fournier, but their plan backfired, as sophomore center fielder Kayla Schinik committed an error, allowing Stevens to score.

Two days earlier, with conference bragging rights on the line, Tufts took a pair of games from NESCAC West division leaders Amherst (23–5, 7–1 NESCAC West). Though the two matchups were entirely different — the first, a pitchers’ duel; the second, a shootout — they were both exciting affairs.

In the second game of the afternoon, the Jumbos out-hit the Mammoths 17–15, highlighted by senior second baseman Samantha Siciliano’s three-for-five effort, which included her third home run of the season. Siciliano provided a spark for the Jumbos’ offense from the lead-off position, knocking in four runs and scoring two. Milligan was happy with her team’s hitting, especially given how quiet their bats were in the first game of the day.

“[The win] gave us confidence to know that we can contend with the best teams if we play some solid ball,” Milligan said. “It wasn’t a pretty game per se, but it was nice to see the bats working.”

First-year pitcher Kristina Haghdan (8–3) took to the circle to start the game but exited in the fourth inning after walking three batters in a row. The Pelham, N.H. native battled through a nerve-related shoulder injury, ultimately returning to close out the Mammoths in the bottom of the seventh.

“I was glad I got put back in to finish what I started and shut them down at the end,” Haghdan said. “I’m positive about [my performance] because it was a good moment to reset and learn what I need to work on.”

The first game was in sharp contrast to the second. Van Meter (11–3) excelled in the circle once again, throwing a no-hitter until the bottom of the seventh. Fournier’s two-run home run in the top of the first inning spotted the Jumbos an early lead, which they maintained throughout. Fatigue set in for Van Meter in the seventh inning, though, as she attempted to shut out a dangerous Amherst lineup.

After Van Meter allowed two singles and a walk to load the bases with no outs, she struck out first-year catcher RonnieMarie Falasco. Sophomore pinch hitter Kate Kopatic then hit a sacrifice fly to center, bringing the Mammoths within one. With two outs and the bases loaded, Van Meter faced sophomore pinch hitter Annie McCluskey. McCluskey roped a ball to center, which looked like a game-winner. Van Meter thought as much.

“After that pitch, I saw it falling and thought we had lost the game,” she said.

But out of nowhere, first-year center fielder Edie Huling streaked toward the falling ball and threw herself under it, timing her dive to perfection, making the catch and sealing Tufts’ first victory over Amherst since 2016. Milligan expressed that she doesn’t think anyone else on the roster could’ve gotten to the ball, and even Huling wasn’t sure she was going to make the catch.

“I didn’t expect to catch it,” Huling said. “It was a do-or-die situation, so I just went for it. The ball almost fell out when I hit the ground.”

In a prelude to Saturday’s chaotic games, the Jumbos annihilated an 0–20 Pine Manor squad at home, 15–0, on Friday.

Tufts will attempt to secure the NESCAC East title in a three-game home set starting with third-place Trinity (17–11, 6–3 NESCAC) on Friday. The team is then scheduled to play doubleheaders against non-conference opponents Lesley, MIT and Wheaton on successive days to close out the regular season.