“Great pitching beats great hitting.” So reads a popular baseball/softball adage. In the case of women’s softball’s fortunes in the 2002 NESCAC tournament this past weekend, a more fitting phrase would read: “Greater pitching beats great pitching.” Only that wording does justice to the respective talents of Jodie Moreau and Katherine Baldwin ’03; unfortunately for the Williams faithful, in the context of the NESCAC tournament, “greater” applies to Moreau and “great” refers to Baldwin.
Behind another dominating pitching performance out of Moreau, who led the NESCAC with a miniscule 0.61 ERA during the regular season, the Tufts Jumbos (28-17) repeated as NESCAC Champions following a 2-0 victory over the Williams Ephs (25-15) on a beautiful, sunny day at Cole Field.
“I think we were all on a mission to get back to the NCAAs and get to the World Series,” said Kris Talon, head coach of softball at Tufts. “We felt we were the best team for sure, we just had to prove it; there was a little bit of pressure on us, a little bit of a target on our backs, but we went out there and did it.”
The Jumbos jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first inning on the strength of a two-out rally. Tiffany Trahan smashed a triple over the head of Eph right fielder Tracey Henderson ’03 and was driven home on Julie Fox’s opposite-field single in the very next at-bat.
Though Tufts tacked on an ostensibly critical insurance run in the top of the seventh inning when Courtney Bongiollati went deep to left field, the way Moreau was pitching there was little doubt that she would need any more than the 1-0 lead.
Moreau didn’t allow a hit after Jess Hartley ’02 and Baldwin connected on back-to-back one-out singles in the first inning.
“Two teams couldn’t have played better: there were two teams full of great pitching, and [Tufts] managed to take advantage of an early miscue and push one across,” said Fran Vandermeer, head coach of softball at Williams. “We had our chances, we had some great at-bats, but we couldn’t get any runs on the board.
Before the team could think about the tournament title game, the Ephs showed true grit as they overcame a one-run deficit in the later innings of a 4-3 triumph over the Bowdoin Polar Bears (25-10).
The Ephwomen jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first inning after Kristin Massimiano ’03 scored on an error by Bowdoin third baseman Emily Rizza. Williams tacked on another run in the second inning following an RBI single by Massimiano.
The Polar Bears opened their half of the fourth inning with back-to-back singles up the middle and pushed a run across the plate on a sacrifice fly to right field.
Bowdoin took the lead the following inning after scoring two unearned runs on the strength of a two-out rally off Liz Gluck ’05, who replaced Baldwin on the mound.
Gluck retired the first two batters efficiently, but Carly Massey ’04 made two errors on a fly ball out in right field that allowed the Polar Bears to take a 3-2 advantage.
The Ephs managed to retake the lead in the top of the sixth on the strength of a devastatingly effective brand of small ball: bunt singles were had by Massey, Henderson and Massimiano to load the bases for the Ephs with nobody out.
Polar Bear hurler Jessie Poulin could not handle a grounder up the middle and Massey scored the tying run of the game. With one out and runners at the corners, Gluck helped her cause by connecting on a sacrifice fly to left field to score Henderson with the go-ahead run.
Gluck set the Polar Bears down after that point to ice the 4-3 win.
With the win, the Ephs managed to exorcise any demons lingering from the team’s disappointing playoff exit last season, which came at the hands of Bowdoin. After the Ephwomen had come away with a 9-0 victory in the teams’ first meeting of the tournament, a Williams loss to Tufts necessitated a second game, in which the Polar Bears routed the Ephs to the tune of a 9-3 victory.
“I think we had some motivation to come back and play them again,” said Vandermeer.
Williams had to take on Bowdoin for the second time in the tournament, after losing to Moreau and Tufts in the Ephs’ second game of the tournament.
The Ephwomen sent Baldwin to the hill, but another excellent outing was spoiled when she failed to escape a fourth inning jam that saw the Jumbos push the only run of the game across the plate.
Baldwin allowed an infield hit to lead off the fourth, and the Jumbos’ next batter took first when Mary Baccash ’05 was called for catcher’s interference. The Jumbos scored the only run of the game on the very next pitch, when a floater of a pop-up fell in the proverbial Bermuda triangle in between the shortstop, center fielder and left fielder.
The Ephs had their opportunities against Moreau but proved unable to push the tying run across the plate. In their last licks, the Ephs were thrown a lifeline when a lazy grounder to the shortstop off the bat of Courtney Gordon ’05 resulted in a two-base throwing error to lead off the seventh inning.
With Gordon standing on second, Vandermeer chose not to take the bat out of the hands of Baldwin, statistically the team’s best hitter, and had Baldwin swing away as opposed to sacrificing Gordon to third. The decision would backfire as Baldwin popped out to the second baseman, which failed to advance Gordon to third.
“I don’t second guess not bunting with Katherine there at all,” said Vandermeer. “We were just trying to get the ball out of the infield and Katherine’s one of the few kids in our lineup that can do it against Moreau.”
After Baccash reached base on a botched fielder’s choice, Vandermeer then chose to pinch hit for Rodriguez with Beth Mulligan ’05, who had amassed only 11 AB’s in her brief collegiate career. Moreau fanned Mulligan for the second out of the inning, and then struck out Massey looking to end the game.
In the team’s first-round game against Bowdoin, Baldwin picked a good time to throw the first no-hitter of the Fran Vandermeer era as her dominating outing propelled the Ephs to a 1-0 victory over the Polar Bears. Massimiano came through with a clutch two-out RBI single in the fourth inning that scored Baccash with the only run of the game.
“I’d never thrown a no-hitter before at the college level,” said Baldwin. “I think towards the later innings I had an idea that something might be going on, but no one said anything which I appreciated because I’m sure it would have just made me nervous.
“I thought I was hitting the corners really well all day, and that keeps the hitters off balance.”
“From the start it seemed like she was pitching really well,” said Baccash, Baldwin’s battery-mate. “She was just hitting all her spots, keeping the hitters off balance and getting ahead in the count all game long. “
In the end, however, Tufts owned the weekend. The Jumbos employed the powerful right arm of Moreau in each of their three victories.
In the team’s opener, Moreau was in the midst of a perfect game when the game was called in the fifth inning per the mercy rule.
In two games against the Ephwomen, Moreau proved mortal, but not mortal enough for the Ephs to see any returns in the runs column. The ace of the Tufts staff threw 19 innings in the tournament and never allowed a run.