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SOFTBALL: NO. 19 EASTERN TAKES DOWN NO. 14 BRANDEIS BY 3-2 SCORE

Rathbun pitches, hits Warriors past Judges; Game 2 cancelled: darkness

rathbun HR slides_9630.jpgWALTHAM, Mass. --  Behind sophomore All-America pitcher/DP Molly Rathbun (Hebron), Eastern Connecticut State University won the battle of New England's top-rated and nationally-ranked teams, edging Brandeis University, 3-2, Thursday afternoon at Marcus Field. The second game was cancelled after four innings due to darkness with the teams tied, 3-3 .

Rathbun (13-1) pitched a complete-game two-hitter with 13 strikeouts and only one walk  and drove in all three runs with a two-run home run in the top of the first and an RBI single in the third. The home run was the team-leading third of the season for Rathbun , who has won ten straight pitching decisions this year and improved to 29-8 in her two-year career. She has 131 strikeouts and 23 walks this year and has fanned at least 11 batters in six of her 12 starts.

Eastern is ranked No. 1 in New England and No. 19 in Division III; Brandeis is No. 2 in New England and No. 14 nationally. They are the only New England teams ranked in the most recent NFCA Top 25. The Warriors are 8-0-1 in their last nine games and Brandeis was 15-1-1 in its previous 17.  It was the first meeting ever between the programs.

Rathbun outdueled Brandeis junior ace Emily Vaillette (12-4), who scattered six hits and walked two in the route-going performance. Vaillette walked Eastern sophomore rightfielder Priscilla Alicea (Stratford) to open the game. Alicea was sacrificed to second by senior centerfielder Ashley Sullivan (Trumbull) and Rathbun knocked in her team-leading 20th and 21st runs of the game with her two-run shot. In the third, Sullivan extended her hitting streak to six games with a with a one-out, opposite field double to right and Rathbun singled her in to make it 3-0.

Facing a team with a .344 batting  average, Rathbun retired 16 in a row after issuing a leadoff walk - getting the first six outs via strikeout - before the Judges broke up her no-hit bid with a one-out single in the sixth and a two-run home run by leadoff hitter Melisa Cagar. Rathbun got successive ground balls to end the sixth and closed out with a 1-2-3 seventh that included two punchouts. Brandeis' top three hitters this season - each batting .380 or higher - were 0-for-9 and struck out five times.

Eastern is now 4-0 in one-run games this season.

In the second game which was eventually cancelled, Eastern scored three times in the top of the first but Brandeis bounced back to tie the game in the bottom of the second by scoring three unearned against sophomore righty Kassondra Silva (Hamden) on two hits and two Eastern errors.  Eastern knocked out Brandeis senior righty Allie Mussen in the first by scoring three times - the third run being driven in by senior shortstop Kim Church's (Farmington) RBI double - but left the bases loaded.

Eastern visits the University of Southern Maine Saturday for a 1 p.m. Little East Conference doubleheader.