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Softball: Warriors Clinch LEC Top Seed

Eastern sweeps Western Connecticut to extend winning streak to 32


WATCH Dr. Elsa Nunez gives address at Dedication Ceremony.(6:36)

 In the most recent NFCA Division III national poll, released Wednesday, Eastern moved up a spot to No. 2. Defending champion Linfield College fell from first for the first time this year after losing two games in the Northwest Conference tournament this past weekend to Pacific Lutheran University. Emory University, No. 2 last week, moved up to No. 1. Eastern was chosen No. 2
based on a 31-1 record through the weekend and 30-game winning streak. The Warriors remained the No. 1-ranked team in both the New England Coaches' Poll and NCAA regional rankings.

MANSFIELD, Conn. --  Senior All-America Molly Rathbun (Hebron) won both games on the mound, recorded her 1,000th career strikeout, and rapped a three-run home run in the nightcap as the Eastern Connecticut State University softball team clinched the No. 1 seed in the Little East Conference tournament for the third straight season with a pair of come-from-behind wins, 4-1 and 4-3 in eight innings over Western Connecticut State University Tuesday night at the Eastern Softball Field.

Above: Molly Rathbun addresses the audience during during the pre-game Dedication Ceremony for the new softball field.

Ranked No. 3 nationally and first in New England, Eastern (33-1, 12-0 Little East) has won 32 straight games and improved its three-year record in regular-season conference play to 38-2. As the No. 1 seed, Eastern will host the six-team, there-day double-elimination tournament beginning Thursday, May 3.

A winner of 21 straight pitching decisions this year, Rathbun (22-1) pitched a complete-game three-hitter without allowing an earned run in the first game, and pitched the final 3 2/3 innings of relief in the second game. In the second game, Rathbun blasted a three-run home run in the bottom of the first after Western (21-13, 3-7 Little East) had taken a 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning.

In the first game, Western scored an unearned run in the first inning and that lead held up until the Warriors scored twice in the fifth on RBI singles by freshman DP Sam Rossetti (Shelton) and sophomore centerfielder Mattie Brett (Waterford). Eastern tacked on two insurance runs in the sixth on Cooper's RBI double and an RBI single by Rathbun.

Rathbun gained the second-game win after allowing the Colonials to tie the game in the sixth  on a two-out single. Eastern won the game in the eighth when junior third baseman Arielle Cooper (Mystic) beat the throw home from third on sophomore leftfielder Stephanie Johnson's  (Southington) bases-loaded ground ball to short. Cooper extended her program record hitting streak to 25 by singling to open the eighth. Rathbun, who has hit safely in 20 in a row, followed with a single and an infield ground out and intentional walk loaded the bases for Johnson with one out.

Junior Christine Akcer (Milford) pitched into the fifth inning of the second game, but gave way to Rathbun with one out and two aboard and the Warriors leading, 3-2. Junior first baseman Kelly Paterson (Southington) fielded a tough chance and threw out the runner for the second out and Rathbun got the final out on a swinging strikeout.  Akcer allowed two runs on four hits with five strikeouts and two walk but did not figure in the decision after the Colonials reached Rathbun for the tying run in the sixth.

Rathbun finished the doubleheader with four hits and four RBI, reaching base safely seven times. Cooper had three hits and scored three runs and sophomore shortstop Megan Godwin (Manchester), Rossetti and senior rightfielder Priscilla Alicea (Stratford)  all had two hits. Godwin also walked twice.

Jackie Zilnicki had four of Western's nine hits on the day.

With her fourth of six strikeouts in the opener - coming to the leadoff batter in the fourth -- Rathbun became the 13th pitcher in Division III history to strike out as many as 1,000 batters.By allowing Western's sixth-inning run in the second game,  Rathbun fell one inning shy of tying her program record of 52 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run. Rathbun entered the game leading Division III in earned run average and shutouts and was second in least hits allowed per game, third in strikeouts per game, fourth in total strikeouts, and fifth in wins.

Alicea  had one hit in each game to tie the program career record of 192 hits, set 20 years ago by E-Club Hall of Famer Leanne Shoop.
Eastern hosts Wesleyan Thursday at 7 p.m. in a single game.


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