Softball Three-peats in a Perfect Season
Finishing a perfect 51-0 season in dramatic fashion, the Tufts softball team won its third consecutive NCAA Division III championship on May 25 with a 7-4 victory over the University of Texas at Tyler. Head coach Cheryl Milligan’s squad becomes the first Division III softball team to win three national titles in a row.
In a game when senior four-time All-American Allyson Fournier was not as dominant as usual, the Jumbo bats came through. Down to the last six outs, Tufts erased a 2-0 deficit with six runs in the top of the sixth and another in the seventh. The Jumbos had scored just nine runs in the previous four games at the NCAA finals.
The Patriots put the potential tying run on first base in the bottom of the seventh before Tufts recorded the final out on a fly ball to senior left fielder Gracie Marshall.
The victory extended Tufts’ NCAA Division III record winning streak to 53 games, dating back to the two wins that clinched the 2014 national title over Salisbury last spring. The victory also tied Tufts in Division III for the most wins in a season (51) with the 2011 Linfield team.
Making their fourth appearance at the NCAA softball finals, played this year at the Moyer Sports Complex in Salem, Virginia, the Jumbos won games against Alma (3-0) on May 21, Salisbury (3-0) on May 22 and Linfield (1-0) on May 24 to earn a spot, along with UT-Tyler, in the best-of-three NCAA championship series. Earlier in the day, Tufts defeated the Patriots 2-0 in game one. Game two was completely different, as the teams combined for 11 runs and 20 hits.
A Tight Game
Texas-Tyler took an early 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first. With two outs, junior Jackie Mendez walked. Junior Vanessa Carrizales hit one back to Fournier, but she overthrew to first base, and Mendez came all the way around to score on the error.
Though Tufts was getting on base, they stranded six runners in the first five innings. In both the second and fifth frames, the Jumbos had runners on second and third with two outs and could not come through in the clutch.
Then, with two outs in the bottom of the fifth, Mendez drilled a solo home run to left field, putting the Patriots in front 2-0. It was the first home run allowed by Fournier this season.
Tufts’ sixth-inning rally was led by the team’s first-year players and aided by three errors made by Texas-Tyler, which had entered the week as the fourth-best fielding team in the nation with a .976 percentage.
Jumbo sophomore Cassie Ruscz started the inning by hitting the first of her two home runs in the game to pull Tufts within 2-1. Marshall reached on a throwing error; then first-years Raven Fournier and Samantha Siciliano followed with singles to load the bases. Up came first-year pinch-hitter Raina Galbiati, who had 36 at bats this season. She laced a two-run single to center, giving the Jumbos a 3-2 lead.
A throwing error on Galbiati’s hit allowed her to take second and Siciliano to advance to third. UT-Tyler replaced sophomore starter Alaina Kissinger with junior reliever Kelsie Batten. After a fly out, first-year Michelle Chisdak’s hard grounder to first was misplayed, scoring both runs for a 5-2 Tufts lead. Junior Christina Raso continued the inning with a double to left-center, scoring Chisdak for a 6-2 margin. In all, Tufts scored six runs on five hits and the three Patriot errors. Only two of the runs were earned.
Texas-Tyler came back with a run in the bottom of the sixth to make it 6-3. Senior Christa Hartnett led off with a single and moved to second when sophomore pinch-hitter Mel Hinojosa was hit by a pitch. With two outs, senior Shelby Sheldon hit an RBI single down the left-field line.
Ruscz got the run back by crushing a home run to left field, giving the Jumbos a 7-3 advantage heading into the bottom of the seventh. The bomb was her third of the NCAA finals and 13th of the season.
Sophomore catcher KK Stevens led off the bottom of the inning with a home run to pull UT-T within 7-4. The Patriots then proceeded to load the bases, as Hartnett singled, first-year Kursten Jaime walked and senior Whitney Burt was hit by a pitch. Shelton hit the ball well to left field, but Marshall was there to make the championship-winning catch.
Fournier went the distance for the win, allowing nine hits, four runs (three earned) and five walks with six strikeouts. The hits, runs and walks were the most she has allowed this season, but she toughed it out, as the offense led the way. Fournier finished her remarkable senior season at 35-0 with a 0.20 earned run average and 422 strikeouts in 210.2 innings.
Siciliano broke out of an NCAA slump and went 3 for 4 with a run. Ruscz and Raso both had two hits for the Jumbos, who finished with 11. Seven players had hits overall.
Tufts Sports Information Director Paul Sweeney can be reached at email@example.com.