Tufts softball returned for the 2021–22 season with a doubleheader at Middlebury on Saturday. In 2019, the Jumbos won the NESAC Championship, but after the pandemic denied them a 2020 season, only nine players from that championship team remain.
The first game was riddled with errors and batting struggles for both teams, as the offseason rust was palpable. It took until the bottom of the fourth inning for the first run to materialize when Middlebury junior outfielder Jen McGann doubled, and junior center fielder Sophia Marlino scored. Tufts responded with a fifth inning single from senior outfielder Reegan Coleman that scored junior first baseman Nicole Russo, knotting the score at one. In the same inning, senior infielder Emma Della Volpe grounded out, but it was enough to get sophomore outfielder Michelle Adelman home and give Tufts the 2–1 lead.
The fifth inning ended with the Panthers equaling the score, and in the bottom of the seventh, the home team struck the final blow after a series of Jumbo mistakes and a bit of bad luck. First, Middlebury sophomore outfielder Jordyn Johnson struck out swinging but reached first on a wild pitch. Then, Johnson appeared to catch the Jumbos daydreaming and stole second. The next batter reached first on a fielding error at the hot corner, and with runners in scoring position, Middlebury singled to center field and sent the winning run across home plate. The Jumbos’ first game ended with a tense and unfortunate 3–2 loss.
The general mantra for the 2019 World Series Champion Washington Nationals was to go 1–0 every day. The Jumbos needed to reset and go 1–0 in a matter of minutes, but that is nothing new to them.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty, and coming into the season we were told to take it day by day,” sophomore outfielder Kat Yuzefpolsky said. “Things will change and we will have to take it one day at a time and take the chances we are given. We kept finding out we were going to play different teams, and it didn’t really hit that we had a real game until we were on the bus.”
If ever there were a time to be a goldfish with a five second memory, it’s after losing to a team that just beat you with a walk-off run. Picking themselves up and starting all over again proved to be the Jumbos’ winning formula as the team bounced back from its disheartening first game with an offensive showcase in their second game, securing their first win of the season.
The Jumbos were in a hole early on, with Middlebury scoring three times to close the first inning with a 3–1 lead. But the Jumbos rallied back to even things up in the second with runs scored by Yuzefpolsky and first-year infielder Rachel Moore. Yuzefpolsky had a monster outing, going four for four with four RBIs and three runs scored. She also sparked the turning point in the game with a tiebreaking double that put Tufts up 5–4 in the top of the third.
“Coming up to bat with the tie and the energy high it was super exciting and the first time I got to play in that Tufts uniform,” Yuzefpolsky said. “It was just super exciting to finally get on the field with my teammates. It was a long time coming. All I can say is exciting, exciting, exciting.”
The floodgates then burst as the Jumbos scored five more unanswered runs and ended the Panthers’ short-lived undefeated season. Tufts totaled 19 hits and zero errors in an entertaining victory that put their first loss to bed.
“After that first game it was definitely our chance to restart, refresh and take it day by day,” said Yuzefpolsky.
Disappointment followed by exultation characterized the day for first-year pitcher Sophia DiCocco, who pitched over five innings in the two games and earned both the first loss and win of her collegiate career. DiCocco closed out the second game with a four-inning gem, allowing no runs and no walks.
“I didn’t expect to have both [a win and a loss] in one day, never mind the first week of play,” she said. “The first game when I stepped on the mound I was literally shaking because I was nervous, but the second game it was like tunnel vision. I just needed those first two innings to calm down.”
This was not only her first game, but Tufts’ first softball game since 2019.
“It almost felt like a scrimmage,” DiCocco said. “But the energy was so refreshing, and that’s the part I missed the most. In practice we were always in separate groups and this was finally our chance to play against some competition.”
DiCocco and the Jumbos had a tough break in the first game, but they kept the moment in perspective and felt fortunate to be playing again.
“I feel like wins and losses do matter, but I remember in the group circle the message was that we may have lost but at least we’re here and we were just happy to be playing again,” DiCocco said. “The first game was just an introduction. We were not sad about the loss, and we understood this was our first time back in forever.”