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Softball: In NCAAs, Bears Claw Warriors

After loss, Warriors need five wins in three days to capture regional

teepee300dpi_2442.jpgMANSFIELD, Conn. -  The Eastern Connecticut State University softball team has not had to play catch-up very often this year. If the Warriors hope to capture a third straight regional championship, that's exactly what they'll have to do.

In a second-round game at the NCAA Division III Mansfield Regional Tournament,  top-seeded Eastern (41-2) had a 40-game win streak ended and was knocked into the losers' bracket in a 5-0 winners' bracket loss to fifth-seeded U.S. Coast Guard Academy Friday afternoon at the Eastern Softball Field.

Eastern, which survived a loss in the first game of the championship round in last year's regional, will need to win five games in the next three days to advance to its third straight NCAA Division III national tournament. The Warriors face third-seeded  University of Rochester Saturday at 11 a.m. and would need to eliminate either fourth-seeded Ithaca College or sixth-seeded St. John Fisher College at 6:30 in order to extend their season until Sunday. Eastern would need two victories Sunday and another Monday to advance.

Coast Guard (28-17) faces second-seeded Tufts University in a meeting of the two remaining undefeated teams Saturday at 4 p.m.. That winner needs one victory either Sunday or Monday to claim the crown in the double-elimination tournament.

In a battle of senior All-America pitchers in Eastern's Molly Rathbun (Hebron) and Coast Guard's Hayley Feindel, the Bears broke a scoreless tie by scoring all five of their runs in the bottom of the fourth inning on four hits - three coming home on sophomore leadoff hitter Devin Fellman's home run - to defeat Eastern (41-2) for the first time in three games this year.

The all-time NCAA leader in strikeouts (1,449) and wins (124), Feindel (21-8) was nursing a broken right finger and did not pitch against Eastern in the regular season. Friday, she gained revenge for a 1-0, nine-inning loss to the Warriors in the 2010 regional championship game by tossing a complete-game two-hitter with ten strikeouts and only one walk. She became the first pitcher to shut out Eastern in more than four years.

With two outs in the fourth, , Coast Guard senior Jamie Kim and freshman Erin Lisko each drove in a run on back-to-back singles. They were followed by Fellman's three-run homer to dead center field - her seventh roundtripper of the season.

Needing a victory to break her own program season record, Rathbun (30-2) shouldered her first defeat since dropping a 4-2 decision to Tufts University on the opening day of the season in Clermont, Fla. Rathbun allowed eight hits and two walks while fanning six through the first four innings.

 Rathbun singled with one out and one on in the first, but Feindel stranded two runners in the with  a pair of inning-ending strikeouts. She retired 12 in a row before junior Kassondra Silva (Hamden) singled with one out in the fifth and the Warriors down by five.  The Bears had three baserunners through the first three innings on two singles and a walk before breaking through in the fourth by scoring all of its runs with two out.  Three consecutive batters reached safely before Fellman launched her three-run home run on a 1-2 pitch.

Eastern junior Arielle Cooper (Mystic) opened the game by reaching on an infield error but was hitless in three at-bats as her program-record 33-game hitting streak came to an end. She also grounded to third in the third and flew out to left to open the sixth.


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