Softball clinches NESCAC West title with series win

Erica Li ’16 scored a key run for the women as they defeated Middlebury 4-3 last Friday in the opener of a three-game series.
Erica Li ’16 scored a key run for the women as they defeated Middlebury 4-3 last Friday in the opener of a three-game series.

Softball (22-7, 10-2 in the NESCAC) earned the right to host the NESCAC championships after a 2-1 series victory against Middlebury last weekend. After winning 4-3 on Friday, the Ephs edged the Panthers in a 5-4 victory before falling 12-2 in five innings during a double-header Saturday.

In Friday’s game, Middlebury struck first with a run scored in the top of the first inning, sandwiched between strikeouts from starting pitcher Emma Harrington ’15. The Ephs quickly responded by loading the bases with no outs, and a single by co-captain Ali Graebner ’14 brought Erica Li ’16 and Alison Michalik ’17 home. A sacrifice bunt by Mo Frank ’15 led to a throwing error that allowed Graebner and Kacey Cramer ’16 to score, giving the Ephs a 4-1 lead after the first inning.

Middlebury fought back with a timely double in the second inning, bringing in two runs to put the score at 4-3. However, the Ephs soon got their third out of the inning, holding on to their slim lead. The next few innings became a pitcher’s duel, as Harrington went through nine straight batters without allowing a hit. The Panthers’ pitcher also prevented the Ephs from getting any momentum, earning seven strikeouts in the first three innings alone.

A triple by Michalik in the fourth provided an opportunity for the Ephs, but a pop out left the runner stranded. It was the Panthers’ turn to respond in the top of the sixth, loading the bases with two outs, but a key out by the Ephs stopped the Panthers’ threat. After three straight outs in the top of the seventh, Harrington earned her eleventh win of the season with a final score of 4-3.

In the opening game of Saturday’s doubleheader, strong pitching and fielding dominated as neither team allowed a runner on base in the first inning. However, a two-run homer by Middlebury in the top of the second broke the deadlock, giving the Panthers a 2-0 lead.

In the bottom of the third, a double by Michalik allowed Melissa Cendejas ’16 and co-captain Theresa Legan ’14 to round the bases, tying up the game. An RBI by Cramer gave Williams a 3-2 lead by the end of the inning.

In the fourth, Williams continued building a lead with runs by Lindsey Precht ’15 and Cendejas on consecutive at-bats for the Ephs. The Panthers responded by bringing in Elizabeth Morris to the pitchers mound, who ended the inning to keep the score at 5-2. Yet Williams also displayed strong pitching, with Brooke Bovier ’17 going the next two innings without allowing a hit.

In the top of the seventh, the Ephs were three outs away from earning the NESCAC West division crown and the right to host NESCACs. Middlebury fought back with a two-run homer to bring the score to 5-4, and the next at-bat led to a runner on first for the Panthers. Even as the runner advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt, the Ephs earned a second out, and a strike-out by Bovier sealed the victory for the team. Bovier was named the NESCAC Pitcher of the Week for her two-hit performance in the division-clinching game, as well as her one-hit shutout against Keene St. on April 21.

Middlebury began the third game of the series with two runs in the top of the first inning, the third straight time the Panthers got an early lead. This time, the Ephs failed to strike the next blow, as the Panthers batted in two more runs in the third inning. Then, with two outs and the bases loaded, Middlebury launched a grand slam to bring the score to 8-0.

In the bottom of the third, the Ephs responded with a bases loaded situation of their own. However, the Panthers caught a line drive to end the inning and the Ephs’ best scoring opportunity of the game.

In the top of the fifth, Middlebury extended its lead with four more runs, giving the Panthers a 12-0 cushion. With the eight-run mercy run in effect to end the game after five innings, the Ephs had one last opportunity to close the gap and avoid a shutout. With a double by Graebner, Li advanced to third base to place both runners in scoring position. With two outs in the inning, Priscilla Pino ’16 hit a single that allowed Li and Graebner to cross home plate. Although the eight-run mercy rule was enacted, the Ephs avoided a shutout in a 12-2 defeat.

“This past week we didn’t play very solid defense but strong pitching and timely hitting kept us ahead,” Graebner said. “For NESCACs, we’re going to be playing some really good teams so we’ll just have to focus on playing our best.”

Williams faced RPI last night with results coming in too late to publish. The women will take on Bowdoin at 2:30 p.m. on Friday in the opening round of the double elimination NESCAC Championships at Cole Field.