Women’s softball (24-11, 10-2 in the NESCAC) made a deep run into the NESCAC Championship, beginning with a 6-0 victory against Bowdoin in Friday’s opening round. Immediately after falling 4-1 to defending national champions Tufts on Saturday, Williams edged Middlebury by a score of 8-5 to reach the finals of the double-elimination tournament. The Ephs stumbled late in Sunday’s championship series, losing 10-1 in five innings as the Jumbos earned their third consecutive NESCAC title.
“Tufts hit the ball hard and put their hits together better than we did,” Head Coach Kris Herman said. “[Its] pitcher is exceptional and she was able to hold our offense.”
In Friday’s game against Bowdoin, both teams advanced runners to third base in the first inning, but neither side could convert their positioning into a point. It took until the bottom of the third inning for the Ephs to get another opportunity to score, but a walk by Kacey Cramer ’16 loaded the bases for the Ephs. Co-captain Ali Graebner ’14 stepped up to the plate and crushed a grand-slam home run to bring the score to 4-0 for the Ephs.
“Graebner’s grand slam was a great opener to our weekend,” Herman said.
Lindsey Precht ’15 added another home run for the Ephs in the fifth, sending home Graebner to bring the score to 6-0. Emma Harrington ’15, who along with Graebner was named to the Capital One Academic All-District I Softball First Team, controlled the Polar Bear hitters for the rest of the game to maintain a 6-0 shutout for the Ephs.
“I was proud that we were able to shutout Bowdoin, who had a great year, and then come out with great energy versus Tufts,” Herman said.
In Saturday’s game against the top-ranked Jumbos, the Ephs struck first with their third home run of the tournament, a solo homer by Ali Michalik ’17 in the top of the third. The Jumbos responded by advancing a runner to third in the bottom of the inning, but a fly out allowed the Ephs to hold on to a 1-0 lead.
“They have a great team all around and it would have been easy for our team to think that they were not up to the challenge,” Herman said. “We came out strong, took the lead and played well.”
Tufts again threatened Williams in the next inning, putting runners on first and second with two outs. This time, a hit to left field brought in both runners, granting the Jumbos a 2-1 lead. The next two innings, the Jumbos expanded their lead with a solo homer in the fifth and a RBI single in the sixth. With one more chance to tie the game in the seventh, Frank reached first base, but the Ephs were unable to take advantage, falling 4-1.
“We knew we wanted another chance at Tufts, and more importantly, the NESCAC title,” Herman said.
Facing an elimination game against Middlebury on Saturday, the Ephs immediately got to work, loading the bases with a hit by Graebner. A base hit by Priscilla Pino ’16 allowed Michalik and Erica Li ’16 to reach home, and Precht’s RBI single brought the score to 3-0 in the first inning.
The Ephs’ pitcher Brooke Bovier ’17 limited the Panthers’ chances in the opening innings, but a home run by first-year Hye-Jin Kim in the second ended Bovier’s shutout bid. Middlebury added another run in the third after Kim was walked with the bases loaded.
With the score 3-2, Williams expanded their lead in the top of the fourth with a double by Michalik, allowing Mo Frank ’15 to score. A sacrifice bunt by Li scored Theresa Legan ’14 and led to two additional runs for the Ephs, and Pino added her third RBI to put the Ephs up 7-2. But Middlebury wasn’t finished yet, as a sacrifice fly with the bases loaded brought a Panther runner home. Once again, Kim contributed for the Panthers by hitting a single to allow two more runners to round the bases, closing the gap to 7-5.
Williams inched further ahead in the top of the sixth after Pino launched a double that allowed Cramer to score. The 8-5 margin was more than enough for Bovier, who pitched the last two innings without allowing a hit to earn Williams a spot in the finals against Tufts.
“We played Middlebury three times last weekend and had a good idea of what their pitcher was going to do,” Herman said. “We took advantage of their mistakes and were able to sustain a lead when we were less than great.”
In Sunday’s final against Tufts, the Jumbos made the first move with a homer during their first at-bat. However, Tufts could not take advantage of two runners in scoring position, as Harrington earned a strikeout to end the first inning at 1-0 in favor of the Jumbos.
Although both teams would place runners in scoring position over the next two innings, solid fielding by Williams and Tufts kept the game close. It wasn’t until the fourth inning that a single by Precht allowed Graebner to reach home plate to tie the game 1-1. Although the Ephs loaded the bases with no outs, strong pitching by Jumbos junior Allyson Fournier (19-0) ended the inning in a deadlock.
The Ephs struggled in the bottom of the fourth, as the Jumbos added seven runs to their total to bring the score to 9-1. Needing a run in the fifth to avoid the eight-run mercy rule, Cramer delivered with an RBI to close the gap for the Ephs. However, in the bottom of the fifth the Jumbos hit a sacrifice fly to bring in the winning run, ending the game in five innings by a score of 10-2.
“Overall, we did well to go from not making [the NESCAC tournament] for two years to being runners-up to the No. 1 team in the country,” Herman said. “However, we wanted to win it.”
On Monday, the NCAA awarded the Ephs with one of 19 at-large bids to the 62-team NCAA tournament. Williams will host a regional consisting of Tufts, Lesley (21-13) and first-round opponent Endicott (22-11-1).
“We should be proud of our season so far and we hope to be playing for a few more weeks,” Herman said.