Following extra-inning win over USCGA, Warriors are shut out
MANSFIELD, Conn. -- The Eastern Connecticut State University softball team emerged with a thrilling 5-4 eight-inning victory over the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in an NCAA tournament game Sunday afternoon at the Eastern Softball Field.
At right: Stephanie Johnson (David Santerre photo)
Unfortunately for top-seeded Eastern (44-3), it only prolonged its season for a few more hours, when it was eliminated in the first game of the championship round by No. 2 seed Tufts University (36-9), 5-0, which unseated the two-time regional champions with a perfect 4-0 tournament record and will represent New England in the NCAA Division III national tournament which gets underway Friday at Salem, VA.
Eastern would have needed two wins over Tufts - the winner-take-all tilt scheduled for Monday afternoon - to advance to the national tournament for a third straight time for the first time in 20 years.
After being shut out by Coast Guard, 5-0, in a second-round game Friday, the Warriors won three elimination games in two days before losing to Tufts for the second time in three games this year.
Freshman pitcher Allyson Fournier of Tufts, the tournament's Most Outstanding Player, spun a two-hit shutout Sunday for the Jumbos, fanning eight and walking only one in her first appearance this season against Eastern.
Tufts scored twice against Eastern All-America Molly Rathbun (Hebron) in the third and added single runs in the fourth, fifth and sixth against Rathbun and junior relievers Christine Akcer (Milford) and Kassondra Silva (Hamden).
With Fournier cruising to her 22nd win against a single loss and Tufts comfortably ahead by the middle innings, there was little drama as Tufts won its eighth straight game, fourth without a loss in the double elimination tournament.
The suspense was reserved for the first game of the day, when the Warriors and Coast Guard exchanged home runs that sent the game into extra innings. In the top of the eighth, the Warriors pushed across what proved to be the winning run on infield singles by juniors Arielle Cooper (Mystic) and Stephanie Johnson (Plantsville) and an infield error. Cooper led off the inning and was sacrificed to second sophomore cleanup hitter Megan Godwin (Manchester). With two out, Johnson outran a ground ball to second base, and when the throw was misplayed, Cooper came all the way around to score.
Rathbun's monstrous grand slam home run into the trees beyond the left field fence - the 28th of her career -- on the first pitch that she saw in the fifth had vaulted the Warriors into a 4-1 lead, but Coast Guard (28-19) came right back in the sixth to tie the game on No. 5 hitter Kaitlin Ward's three-run blast off Rathbun.
If not for a remarkable season-saving catch in the bottom of the seventh by sophomore centerfielder Mattie Brett (Waterford), Eastern's run through the losers' bracket would have ended in the semifinals. With two out and a runner on first and the game tied at 4-4, Coast Guard cleanup hitter Holli Bastinck launched a high fly ball in the gap between Brett and rightfielder Priscilla Alicea (Stratford). With the runner off at the crack of the bat, Brett made a long run to her left and hauled in the drive at the base of the fence, avoiding a collision with Alicea in the process.
Eastern could not capitalize on a scoring opportunity in the top of the seventh against All-America pitcher Hayley Feindel (21-10) after No. 9 hitter Kelly Paterson (Southington) had reached on a one-out double. Feindel, who had tamed Eastern with a ten-strikeout, two-hit gem Friday, got a pair of outfield fly outs to end the threat.
Cooper had one of the two hits against Fournier - a leadoff single in the seventh - and tied the 26-year-old Eastern season record for hits (69), first established by first-team All-America Trish Wodatch in the 1986 national championship season. She finished the season with a program-record 122 total bases and program-tying 11 home runs and her.782 slugging percentage was .001 shy of the season mark.
Rathbun, Brett, Johnson and Paterson represented Eastern on the all-tournament team. Rathbun pitched all but 3 2/3 innings in six games, winning four and losing two and striking out 53 with a 2.31 ERA in 36 1/3 innings and hitting .333 (7-for-21) with 11 total bases and six RBI. She won a program record 33 games this year and concludes her four-year career with 103 wins and 1, 135 strikeouts, both program records.
Paterson led Eastern in the tournament with a .467 average (7-for-15) and handled 21 chances at first base without an error. Johnson batted .375 (6-for-16). Brett batted only .167 but, in addition to her game-saving catch, had a two-run double in the first inning of Saturday's 6-0 win over Ithaca College.
Fournier pithed all 28 innings for Tufts without allowing an earned run. She gave up ten hits while striking out 43 and walking only.
Mattie Brett, OF, Eastern Connecticut
Francesca Busa, SS, Ithaca
Lena Cantone, 1B, Tufts
Jo Clair, C, Tufts
Hayley Feindel, P, Coast Guard
Sydney Folk, 1B, Ithaca
Allyson Fournier, P, Tufts*
Sara Hedtler, OF, Tufts
Stephanie Johnson, OF, Eastern Connecticut
Nina Korn, 1B, Rochester
Kelly Paterson, 1B, Eastern Connecticut
Molly Rathbun, P/DP, Eastern Connecticut
Jessica Richardson, C, Coast Guard
*Most Outstanding Player