Tufts softball stays resilient through nail-biters and blowouts

Tufts softball faces Bowdoin on April 17. Lydia Richardson / The Tufts Daily

Another weekend of Tufts softball comes to a pass as the Jumbos make their final push toward the end of their regular season with only six games left. Now, sitting atop the East Division with an 82 overall record and 51 mark in conference play, the Jumbos seem sure to make the NESCAC championship, but not without some obstacles along the way. In terms of their strength of schedule, the teams Tufts has beaten have a combined winning percentage of around .455 in the NESCAC, while Bowdoin who split wins with Tufts in their matchup this weekend is the only opponent with a winning percentage for conference play of at least .500. This makes predictions hazardous, especially in a condensed season when teams are missing players and are playing four games almost every weekend. While there is no doubt the Jumbos have one of the best teams in the NESCAC, they need time to patch up some holes that, if left unattended, could sink the ship later on. 

On Sunday, the Jumbos swept a twofer against the Bantams. In the second game, first-year pitcher Sophia DiCocco threw for nine tortuous innings to earn her fifth win of the season. A pitcher’s duel through the first four innings, run support came first only in the fifth, when senior shortstop Mia Steinberg and the graduate student at first base, Casey Maggiore, combined for three RBIs, and drove the Jumbos to a 30 lead. The Bantams scored in the bottom of that inning, but their bats were more active in the seventh when they knocked in two runs to tie everything up at 33. The Steinberg sisters, Mia and sophomore catcher Josie, sent two batters home on sacrifice flies to give Tufts a 53 lead going into the bottom of the ninth. Although Trinity scored once more, Tufts won 54. The clutch gene must run in the family. 

Tufts easily won its first game at Trinity 60. Josie Steinberg went three for four with one RBI, and although she is just 5 feet 4 inches tall, she puts the ball in play consistently and with power. Steinberg has refined her prowess at the plate by working this past year on her mechanics and bettering her grasp of situational hitting. But she also has a bone to pick when it comes to this part of her game. 

“I guess kind of my whole life I’ve always been looked at as a little person … People don’t really think that I can actually swing the bat,” Steinberg said. “And I think, to a certain extent, that gives me a lot more confidence because I’m just like, ‘Oh, they want to pitch to me. They don’t think I can hit. I got to show them what I can do.’”  

But the Jumbos won with more than just their bats. Senior pitcher Kristina Haghdan pitched a complete game shutout with nine strikeouts, no walks and only three hits. Haghdan has been outstanding this season and just received the NESCAC Pitcher of the Week award for the second time in her collegiate career. She also holds a 2.02 ERA and is tied for first in the NESCAC in strikeouts with 37, and Steinberg does not want to take that for granted. 

“When we defensively have a longer inning, [DiCocco’s] out there, working on the mound, or [Haghdan] or whoever’s out there is working really hard … let’s give our pitchers a break and let’s give ourselves some chances to get runners on base,” Josie Steinberg said. 

The games on Saturday followed a similar pattern: one blowout and one nail-biter. The Jumbos squashed the Bantams in the second leg of the doubleheader by scoring 12 runs in only four innings. DiCocco had her way on the hill for five straight innings, allowing no runs and six hits in total. Nicole Russo, a junior pitcher who also plays first base, had 11 RBIs over the course of the two games, with a whopping seven RBIs in the second game. Russo said she felt great about her performance this weekend — especially her three-run home run in the bottom of the first in the second game. 

“I think that first at-bat for me in the second game was probably the highlight of my day with the home run but you know, I just went up with the mindset of base hits every at-bat and it worked well for me,” said Russo.

In the first leg of the Saturday games, Haghdan threw another tremendous five innings, holding the Bears to one hit and no runs. The Jumbos put together a solid string of at-bats in the fourth inning, when Russo tripled and batted in two others to give Tufts a 20 lead. Later in that inning, senior outfielder Reegan Coleman got to first due to a fielding error and Russo crossed home plate, giving Tufts a sizable 30 lead. At the top of the sixth, when senior pitcher Kristi Van Meter replaced Haghdan and had a difficult time finding the strike zone, the Bears capitalized. Realizing she might have made a mistake after taking out Haghdan, head coach Lauren Ebstein subbed her back into the game.

Coming out cold and without warmups, Haghdan went back to work on the mound, and the first batter she faced took her over the fence for a solo home run. The Bowdoin dugout went ballistic. But Tufts quieted them thanks to a double from sophomore left fielder Kat Yuzefpolsky in the bottom of the sixth to go up 54. Then senior infielder Emma Della Volpe crushed a home run, but was called out after the catcher for Bowdoin appealed the run by arguing that Volpe did not touch home plate. The home plate umpire agreed, and the inning ended with Tufts up only 64. The Bears then scored four times at the top of the seventh on only one hit, with the Jumbos fighting back yet again to equal the score at 8–8 going into extra innings. The Bears scored three times in the eighth inning and the Jumbos fell short, losing just their second game of the short season 11–8. However, Josie Steinberg believes the team’s resilience kept its members from losing their confidence moving forward.

“In general, our team has shown a lot of grit and a lot of heart and there’s not much that can happen to bring us down,” said Steinberg. 

In terms of the way this team is feeling, Russo echoed her teammate’s thoughts.

“We had a lot of back and forth with our games this weekend, going into extra innings and whatnot,” said Russo. “And the energy never went down, and I don’t think I’ve played on a team like that before — everybody’s in it to win it, and it’s so much fun.”