Pack your bags! Tufts softball has clinched its trip to the NESCAC Championship with a four-game sweep over Bates and Wesleyan. Long bus rides to away games rarely worry the Jumbos who are 9–1 on the road and 12–2 overall. This team has been a juggernaut all season, and it seems like any opponent they face must retreat to the corner of the ring and withstand a barrage of punches. With the ‘Bos rolling on a seven-game win streak and championship aspirations on their minds, the East Division’s leader will look to finish this season on a strong note, and possibly get ranked along the way.
The road trip finished up in Lewiston, Maine, a state where the Jumbos already hold a 2–0 record against Colby this year. Interestingly enough, Maine broke off from Massachusetts for statehood in the early 19th century. If that never happened, who would Tufts have to crush on a perennial basis? Maybe Maine should rethink its secession.
The final game of the series with Bates gave Tufts a slight scare. The scoring began with junior pitcher and infielder Nicole Russo continuing her RBI tear by singling to right field to drive in sophomore center fielder Michelle Adelman, who leads the league in runs scored. Russo also crossed home plate later in the inning on a wild pitch to give Tufts a 2–0 lead. But the Jumbos’ bats really caught fire in the second with a 10-run romp. Senior infielder Emma Della Volpe smashed a grand slam to contribute four of those runs — a knockout punch if there ever was one. Della Volpe, who experienced a recalled home run against Bowdoin two weeks ago after she missed home plate on her trot, was much more careful about stepping on every base.
“I definitely was thinking about it yesterday, when I was running the bases for sure,” Della Volpe said. “I do believe, though, that I got the plate with my heel and I think our video footage would say the same.”
Russo also homered, while sophomore left fielder Katrina Yuzefpolsky and Adelman each contributed RBIs. Head coach Lauren Ebstein clearly thought the ‘Bos had it in the bag, and they held Bates to a goose egg for the majority of the game. However, when senior pitcher Cassie Cancemi replaced Russo on the hill in the bottom of the fifth, Bates scored nine straight runs in an attempt at a comeback. Fortunately, the Jumbos responded with a two-RBI single from Adelman and a two-run home run from first-year infielder Lexi Grein. The score would stay at 16–9 with first-year pitcher Sophia DiCocco closing out the final two innings, and Tufts surviving a tumultuous bout with Bates.
Della Volpe knows how quickly this team can get hot, even in the face of a potential comeback.
“Yeah, I think we could have been a little bit better at making adjustments as we went from bat to at bat,” Della Volpe said. “It showed on Sunday playing Bates that our hits are contagious … so when we get it going it seems like we can really do some damage.”
The proceeding game was less of a competition as Tufts senior pitcher Kristina Haghdan went seven innings with only one hit, zero earned runs and eleven strikeouts. An absolute gem. Haghdan, the Nolan Ryan of the NESCAC, has solidified her status as an ace while holding opposing hitters to a .153 batting average and leading the conference in strikeouts with 48, 10 above the runner-up. Tufts also delivered blow after blow hitting-wise with Adelman leading the way by going three for five with one RBI out of the leadoff spot. Adelman went six for eight on the day and was named co-NESCAC player of the week for her effort at the plate. The win was really a team effort, however, as six different Jumbos had RBIs to give Tufts the 8–2 win over Bates and sweep them on Sunday.
“Everyone did really well against Bates, it wasn’t just a few individuals and the other team had grit which was awesome, but I think we’re all pretty confident that we had the game,” said Adelman.
Saturday’s slate of games at Wesleyan yielded similar results — but with far less offense. In the second game, both teams only scored in the first inning. Tufts put four on the board early though only one was earned. DiCocco pitched the full seven innings and let up six hits and one run scored, but held Wesleyan scoreless after the first, striking out seven. DiCocco now leads all NESCAC pitchers in earned run average and has garnered seven wins of the season, as Tufts cruised to a 4–1 victory.
“Our pitchers are awesome. They’re so good, and they get so many strikeouts, and I don’t get a lot of balls to me — and I’m okay with that,” Adelman said. “They’re doing what they’re supposed to do, and that’s awesome.”
The first game of the doubleheader sported a pitcher’s duel and poor batting. Only four Jumbos had hits — a rare sight for this team. The scoring occurred in the fifth inning when Della Volpe reached first on an error by the pitcher and sophomore third baseman Rachel Moore advanced home. The other run came from an RBI by shortstop Mia Steinberg that sent Adelman home on a fielder’s choice. When the Jumbos’ offense struggled, their defensive play picked up — especially that of Della Volpe, who threw out the potential game tying run at home in the sixth inning. She also turned two to close the game out in the seventh, but Della Volpe has made these types of plays all season long.
“I definitely really like playing defense — I like to just get a ton of reps in practice,” Della Volpe said. “I think our defense has been great this year and we have such amazing pitching.”
Haghdan went three scoreless innings to get the save. Although Haghdan and senior pitcher Kirsti Van Meter — who pitched four innings — combined for eight walks and eight strikeouts which is unusual for the pair of seniors, they only let up one run, helping Tufts to a 2–1 finish over Wesleyan.
With the championship in sight, Tufts has two games left next weekend against Brandeis.
If the Jumbos seem confident, it’s because they’ve earned it.