Softball wins Amherst series, claims lead in NESCAC West

Softball (24–10, 7–1 in the NESCAC West) won two of three games in a series against Amherst over the weekend. The women saw their winning streak end at 17 games but took over sole possession of first place in the NESCAC West standings.

The Ephs swept the Amherst Mammoths in a Saturday doubleheader. Mackenzie Murphy ’19 and Rebecca Duncan ’20 each pitched complete games as the women prevailed 2-1 and 5-2 at Cole Field. 

Both teams began the day undefeated in division play and were tied atop the NESCAC West. Amherst was ranked No. 5 nationally and No. 1 in New England, seven spots above Williams.

The first game was a pitchers duel between Murphy and her Amherst counterpart, Gina Pagan. The Ephs got on the board first when Margo Beck ’18 led off the fourth inning with a solo home run to left-center, and the Mammoths tied the game in the top of the fifth on a two-out RBI double by Sammy Salustri. 

The score stayed knotted until the bottom of the seventh. With one out, Casey Pelz ’19 pinch-hit and reached on an error. Kristina Alvarado ’19 pinch-ran and moved to second on a wild pitch. With two outs, Lexi Curt ’18 ripped a single into left field, and Alvarado scored to win the game in walk-off fashion.

Murphy (8-4) went the full seven innings and scattered five hits, walked one and struck out one.

Curt led the offensive charge in a pitching-heavy game, batting 2-for-3 with a double, a walk and an RBI.

She continued her success in the nightcap, belting a solo homer to left in the first inning to give the Ephs a 1-0 lead. She would finish 3-for-5 in the doubleheader, with a double, a home run, two runs  scored and two RBIs.

The women then broke the game open with a four-run second inning. Riley Salvo ’20 ignited the outburst with a single and Alejandra Magana ’19 drew a walk. The runners moved to second and third on a sacrifice bunt by Brenna Martinez ’17. Alvarado then ripped an RBI single, and Jessica Kim ’19 added a sacrifice fly. Curt was intentionally walked, and Murphy greeted Amherst reliever  Lorena Ukanwa with a scorching line drive to right-center that scored both Alvarado and Curt, giving the Ephs a 5-0 lead. 

The Mammoths got a run back in the top of the third and scored again in the fifth to cut the lead to 5-2. Amherst threatened with the bases loaded and no outs, but Duncan picked up a strikeout and induced two flyouts to end the threat.

She would retire nine of the final 10 batters she faced to close out the victory. Duncan pitched the full seven innings, allowing eight hits while not walking a batter and striking out eight.

Murphy, playing at first base, was 2-for-3 in the game with a double and two RBIs. Curt, Salvo, Alvarado and Martinez each picked up a base hit as well.

In eleven games this season, the Ephs are undefeated on Cole Field. Their last regular season home loss came on April 12, 2016.

Amherst saw its 14-game winning streak come to an end, while the women extended their streak to 17. The Ephs’ streak, however, came to an end the following day.

Sunday’s game at Amherst was scoreless after two innings, but the Mammoths got on the board first with a solo home run from catcher Kate Kopatic. They scored again in the bottom of the fourth, before Martinez cracked a homer to lead off the fifth, cutting the lead in half. In the sixth, Curt came across to score on a throwing error to knot the score at two. 

In the top of the seventh, Duncan had a pinch-hit triple to center and scored on a wild pitch for a 3-2 Eph lead. The Mammoths, however, sent the game into extra innings on back-to-back doubles from Kopatic and Julia Turner in the bottom half of the frame. 

The game went to extra innings, and after neither team scored in the eighth, Amherst walked off in the bottom of the ninth.

With two outs, centerfielder Julia Turner drew a walk and stole second. Rightfielder Andrea Sanders then launched a double to left to drive her in, capturing the 4-3 Amherst victory. 

Ukanwa (6-2) earned the win for Amherst, and Duncan (10-4) took the loss.

At the plate, Duncan was 2-for-2 with a triple and a run scored, and Magana was 2-for-4.

Winning two of the three games against the Mammoths, the Ephs clinched the Little Three title. The women have a game remaining at Wesleyan on Sunday, but the series outcome was decided after they swept an April 2 doubleheader in Middletown, Conn. Williams won last year’s title, while Amherst won in 2015.

The all-time series now stands at 44-18 in favor of the Ephs.

“The Amherst games were fun, and winning the Little Three is an important outcome,” Head Coach Kris Herman said.

“We have a great team,” she added. “We dont always play our best, but thats what sports are all about: working to have your best game every time. We need to buckle down on some fundamentals and make sure we keep attacking at the plate.”

Herman said that beating Amherst was encouraging, but the team must continue to work hard until it clinches an appearance in the NESCAC Championship. The top two teams from the NESCAC West and NESCAC East earn a spot in the tournament.

The Ephs are currently first with a 7-1 record, and the Mammoths place second at 10-2. The Middlebury Panthers are third at 4-5.

“At this point winning games against good teams is the key,” Herman said. “We have not clinched a spot in the tournament yet, but it’s good to hold the tiebreaker versus other teams. Every game is crucial at this point.”

The women travel to play a division series at Middlebury this weekend. The teams will play a single game on Friday at 5 p.m., followed by a doubleheader on Saturday.