Softball looks to carry momentum from successful Florida trip into home-opener

The softball team returned from a packed week in Florida, playing 15 games that included a 13-game winning streak before losses in the final two matchups. With their 13–2 record, the Jumbos now are ranked at No. 23 in the nation by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) poll.

Tufts benefited from powerful swings and strong performances on the mound through the week. The team outscored opponents 92–43 and accumulated a batting average of .308. As a staff, the pitchers — led by sophomore Kristi Van Meter, junior Gillian O’Connor and sophomore Kristina Haghdan — averaged a 2.03 earned run average (ERA). Spring break was the busiest part of schedule the Jumbos’ schedule, as they played nearly one-third of their games in just nine days.

“It puts a lot of strain on our bodies,” senior utility player Kristen Caporelli said. “Towards the end of the week, people were hurting and tired.”

The wear and tear showed for the Jumbos towards the end of the week. The trip ended on Sunday with a heartbreaking, extra inning 12–10 loss to the University of Wisconsin-Stout. By the fifth inning, Tufts led 7–0 after home runs by junior rightfielder Maria Ostapovich and junior infielder Jamie Stevens. But the Blue Devils rallied in the sixth and seventh innings, taking advantage of some of Jumbos’ errors to send the game to extras. After the Blue Devils put up four in the top of the eighth, the Jumbos only got two runs across from senior third baseman Christian Cain’s RBI double and Stevens’ sacrifice fly before the Blue Devils wrapped up the impressive comeback win.

The only other loss of the week came the day before, on Saturday, to University of St. Thomas. The 9–0 loss was the largest losing margin for Tufts since the NESCAC championship game in 2016 against Williams. Van Meter — who had dazzled on the mound earlier in the week — struggled against the No. 4 ranked Tommies, allowing five earned runs in four innings of work. On offense, the Jumbos only mustered four hits in the five-inning, run-rule-shortened game.

Earlier in the day, Tufts defeated No. 22 University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire behind a total 15 hits and a complete game from Haghdan.

Friday’s action saw Tufts defeat University of Wisconsin-Superior 6–2 and St. Olaf College 7–4. Thursday’s victories showcased both the offensive and pitching strength of the Jumbos; they beat the Marian University Knights 13–2 off of 20 hits and then went on to beat the Ramapo College Roadrunners 1–0 behind Van Meter’s complete, one-hitter game.

Tuesday was a similar story: Van Meter threw a complete game two-hit shutout as Tufts defeated Rowan University 1–0; in the afternoon, a home run from Caporelli and two triples from sophomore second baseman Emma Della Volpe led Tufts to a 7–1 win over St. Joseph’s College.

Van Meter talked about the benefits of the Florida trip and the variety of opponents she gets to face.

“I think that the best part about Florida is that we kind of have a better idea of our potential now,” Van Meter said. “I think we had some really good games, like Rowan and Amherst, where we kind of excelled. But, then, we had other games where we saw that we could have done better, like our two losses. That’s just motivating us to do better.”

On Monday, the Tufts mercy-ruled two teams — SUNY Plattsburgh and Grinnell — 8–0 in five innings. The Jumbos combined for 25 hits across both games, and Van Meter threw another two-hitter in the Plattsburgh game. One of the team’s strengths this season is its batting, which carried the team to many of its wins over break.

“Our bats really came alive in these games,” Caporelli said. “We can hit all throughout the lineup, and we can make a lot of substitutions and still be as strong as our initial lineup.”

Sunday’s matchups included a familiar NESCAC opponent in Hamilton, whom Tufts defeated 7–3 before beating Rutgers University-Camden later in the day 9–3. The week of games began with a NESCAC opponent in the Amherst Mammoths on Saturday; the Jumbos narrowly defeated them 4–3. Later on Saturday, Tufts also beat Mount St. Mary College 3–1. The week’s games revealed some of the team’s strengths and weaknesses moving forward.

“We try to look at the week as a big picture and take away what we need to learn from that, and the things that we need to work on to get better, and then the things that we were working on that we did well there,” interim head coach Lauren Ebstein said.

One area in which the Jumbos showed some weakness, however, was on defense. Across the 15 games, the Jumbos made 22 errors — an average of 1.47 per game. But, as anyone familiar with baseball or softball can tell you, the timing of errors is really what counts. In the Wisconsin-Stout game, Tufts made some costly errors that led to the loss. In the cold New England winter, Ebstein’s players simply can’t practice ground balls and pop flies in the dimly lit Carzo Cage.

“When we’re inside for most of the preseason, we do a ton of hitting,” Ebstein said. “We’re going to continue to work through situations defensively as we get outside. Seeing the ball off the bat is something that we don’t get to see a ton inside, so we’ll continue to work on those situations defensively — continue to get good reads on balls, to make good choices, communication, all those things that are important for defense.”

Back from Florida, the team now will focus in on the first home series of the season against NESCAC opponent Bates.

“I think we’re going to look to play our best softball in May and not the end of March,” Ebstein said. “Every NESCAC series is important for us, so we’re hoping to come out excited that we’re at home. We’re going to continue where we left off, so I don’t think too much will change from the end of Florida to this weekend.”

First pitch on Friday is slated for 4 p.m., followed by Saturday’s doubleheader at 12 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. against the Bobcats.