May 8, 2012

The Panther softball team had a busy week with five games, four of them coming at the NESCAC Tournament hosted by Amherst. On Friday, Tufts first-year pitcher Allyson Fournier threw her third perfect game of the year and sophomore Jo Clair belted a walk-off home run to lead Tufts past Middlebury in eight innings on the first day of the 2012 NESCAC Softball Championship.

Lost in the thrilling finish was an outstanding pitching performance by Middlebury sophomore Elizabeth Morris (Kenilworth, Ill.), who held the Jumbos scoreless through seven innings before giving up the two-run homer to Clair. Morris struck out four, walked one and gave up seven hits while receiving an exceptional performance from her defense.

Fournier struck out the side in the first, fifth and sixth innings, moving her season total to a conference-best 204.

The closest Middlebury came to breaking up Fournier’s perfect game was in the sixth inning on a dropped third strike, but Clair was there to make a strong throw to first. Fournier also induced two pop-ups in foul territory and two groundouts, as the only ball that left the infield was a flyout to Luppa in center field in the third inning.

Tufts twice had runners on first and second with nobody out, but the Panthers’ infield was sharp throughout the game. Middlebury escaped the fourth inning with a double play, and in the seventh it was junior Emma Katz (Northridge, Calif.) who helped get out of the jam by recording a pair of unassisted putouts at third base.

With two outs in the bottom of the eighth, senior Lizzy Iuppa kept Tufts alive with an infield single for her first hit of the day. Clair followed with a no-doubt-about-it line drive that sailed over the fence in left center, marking her 48th and 49th RBIs of the season.

Clair finished with two hits for the Jumbos, while Lena Cantone and Emily Beinecke each went 2-3.

Middlebury advanced to the NESCAC Championship for the second straight year with a pair of wins on Saturday.

Middlebury sophomore starter Alexa Lesenskyj (Robbinsville, N.J.) tossed 4.2 strong innings, outdueling sophomore counterpart Melissa DellaTorre in the Panthers’ 4-1 elimination game victory over Bowdoin.

Lesenskyj surrendered just one run on two hits, while striking out six to improve to 9-7, while Morris logged 2.1 shutout innings in relief, allowing just two hits with three strikeouts.

DellaTorre went the distance in the loss, giving up four runs on nine hits, while fanning eight batters.

Sophomore Emily Kraytenberg (Londonderry, N.H.) led the Panther attack, going 2-for-4 with three RBI, while Katz finished 1-3 with an RBI. Rookie Christina Bicks (Ridgewood, N.J.) added a pair of base-knocks, while sophomore Kimber Sable (Winnetka, Ill.), junior Jessa Hoffman (Golden, Colo.), junior Sarah Boylan (Danvers, Mass.) and sophomore Alex Scibetta (Ridgewood, N.J.) each recorded a hit.

Toni DaCampo drove in Bowdoin’s lone run, while Caroline Dewar, Casey Correa and Hanna Wurgaft each went 1-3.

Hoping to get the Panthers off to a fast start in the bottom of the first, Hoffman laced a double down the left field line before advancing to third on an errant relay throw from the outfield. With two outs, Kraytenberg came through with a clutch hit, slapping a single to right that pushed across the game’s first run.

With Middlebury tacking on another score in the top of the fourth on a Katz RBI single to left, Bowdoin looked to finally get something going against Lesenskyj, who had retired seven-straight and nine of the first 10 batters she faced.

Legging out a bunt single back to the mound, Dewar spoiled the Panther starter’s no-hit bid before stealing second. Following a Gen Barlow strikeout, DaCampo ripped a double to the base of the left centerfield wall to bring around the Polar Bears’ first run. Amy Hackett then drew a walk to once again put two aboard, but Lesenskyj bore down, getting Correa to pop-out to third and Wurgaft to foul-out to first to escape any further damage.

Down 4-1 after Middlebury added two more runs on Kraytenberg’s bases loaded single through the left side in the top of the seventh, Bowdoin put two aboard on consecutive Correa and Wurgaft base-knocks with one out. After Courtney Colantuno grounded out to third for the second out of the inning, the Polar Bears had one final chance with Victoria Rusch coming to the plate, representing the tying run, but Morris shut the door, getting the first-year to weakly tap a comebacker to the mound to end the game.

In their second game of the day, Morris pitched all seven innings, allowing just one run to lead Middlebury to a 2-1 victory over host Amherst. Surrendering just six hits with three strikeouts, Morris improved to 8-3 on the year, while Amherst starter Arielle Doering dropped to 11-2 after giving up two runs on a pair of hits in 2.2 innings.

The Jeffs’ Carolyn Miller and Idalia Friedson each recorded a pair of hits, while junior Jessica Poracky (Ramsey, N.J.) paced the Middlebury lineup, going 2-3 with two RBI. Katz chipped in with a pair of base-knocks, while Hoffman registered the Panthers’ only other hit.

Handed an early 1-0 lead with Poracky’s RBI single back up the middle in the bottom of the first, Morris retired six of the next eight batters she faced to protect the Panthers’ margin through three.

Putting a runner aboard on a hit-by-pitch in the bottom of the third, Middlebury looked to add to its tally, moving the go-ahead run into scoring position on a Kraytenberg ground out to short. Needing a big two-out hit, Poracky again delivered, singling back up the middle to double the Panther lead heading into the top of the fourth.

Hoping to jumpstart the Amherst offense, Leet led off the frame with a single to center. After Horan popped out on a bunt toward first, Miller ripped a double into the left centerfield gap, bringing in a hustling Leet for the Jeffs’ first run. Looking to limit the damage, Morris got Dudzik and Kelley to ground out to third, ending the Amherst threat.

Still up 2-1 in the top of the seventh, Morris quickly recorded a pair of outs before surrendering a Friedson single to center to give the Jeffs life. Ayers then reached on a bobbled throw at first to put the tying run in scoring position, but Middlebury’s sophomore hurler regrouped, getting Silkowitz to tap a slow comebacker to the mound to end the game.

In Sunday’s title game, Middlebury saw its hopes of a second straight NESCAC title come to an end as the Panthers fell 2-1 to Tufts at Amherst in the championship. Fournier pitched another gem for the Jumbos, striking out 17 batters to lead Tufts to the victory.

Winning its first title since 2009 (seventh overall), Tufts (36-5) earned the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, while Middlebury fell just short of defending its 2011 crown, finishing with a 22-16 overall record and 2-2 mark in tournament play.

Going the distance after starter Rebecca DiBiase was pulled after loading the bases in the top of the first, Fournier surrendered just four hits in seven shutout innings. In her three tournament appearances, the first-year logged 22.0 shutout frames, striking out a championship record 47 batters, while issuing just five walks.

Gracie Marshall plated Tufts’ two runs with a two-out single in the bottom of the second, while Lena Cantone, Lizzy Iuppa, Sara Hedtler and Emily Beinecke each recorded a hit.

Lesensky surrendered two runs on two hits in 2.2 innings, while Morris tossed 3.1 shutout frames in relief.

Bicks was the lone Panther to record multiple hits, while Kraytenberg finished 1-3 after driving in the visitors’ lone run.

Looking to get Middlebury off to a fast start, Sable led off the game with a walk, before Bicks beat out a bunt single down the third base line to put two aboard. After Hoffman singled to center to load the bases, Tufts quickly called on Fournier to relieve DiBiase, but the first-year issued a free pass to Kraytenberg to force in the Panthers’ first run.

Still searching for the frame’s first out, Fournier bore down, striking out both Poracky and Boylan before catching Scibetta looking to get the Jumbos out of the inning without any further damage.

With Fournier escaping another jam with runners on second and third in the top of the second, Tufts looked to get something going against Lesenskyj in the home half of the frame. Cantone got the rally started with a single to center before advancing on Beinecke’s sacrifice bunt and taking third on a wild pitch. Kris Parr then drew a walk before stealing second to set the plate for Marshall, who delivered a big two-out, two-RBI single to put the Jumbos up 2-1.

Hoping to solve Fournier in the top of the fifth, a hustling Poracky took a pair of bases on a ball that dropped at the edge of the outfield between Tufts shortstop Mira Lieman-Sifry and a sliding Hedtler. With two out, Boylan drew a walk to put the go-ahead run on, but Fournier again responded, recording her 12th strikeout of the afternoon to end the Middlebury threat.

Trying to pad the Jumbo cushion in the bottom of the frame, Hedtler dropped a ball just inside the left field line past a drawn-in infield before Iuppa legged out a bunt single to put two on. With Jo Clair drawing a walk to load the bases and Tufts threatening to blow the game open with nobody out, Morris regrouped, popping up Cantone before striking out Beinecke and getting Parr to hit into a fielder’s choice to end the inning.

Needing to string something together still down 2-1 in the top of the seventh, Hoffman reached on an error before going to second on Kraytenberg’s bunt single. With the tying run in scoring position, Fournier held firm, striking out Poracky, while getting Boylan to pop-out and fanning Scibetta to end the game.

Earlier in the week, Middlebury played its final regular season game prior to the NESCAC Tournament, earning an 8-3 win at Skidmore on Thoroughbred Field.

Middlebury grabbed an early 2-0 lead after back-to-back RBI singles from Kraytenberg and Poracky in the first. They made it 3-0 in the fifth on Sable’s run-scoring single.

Skidmore broke through in the sixth as Katie Sorchka blasted a two-run shot to center, her team-leading fourth homerun of the season, to cut the lead to 3-2.  The Panthers answered right back as they scored five runs on six hits in the top of the seventh, highlighted by Kraytenberg’s two-run double, to push the lead to 8-2.

Julia Martin led off the bottom of the seventh with a homerun to left center, the first of her collegiate career, but that’s as close as the Thoroughbreds would get as Middlebury earned the 8-3 win.

Sam Crose took the loss, allowing three runs on three hits over 4.1 innings, while Abby Fuhrman allowed five runs over the final 2.2 innings in relief.

Lesenskyj earned the win, allowing one run over the first three innings and just the Martin homerun over the final 1.2 innings. First-year pitcher Marcela Olvera (Gurnee, Ill.) allowed two runs on three hits in 2.1 innings of relief.

Poracky finished 3-4 with two RBI and one run scored, while Kraytenberg was 2-4 with  three RBI and two runs scored. Rookie Hannah Marks (Chappaqua, N.Y.) finished 2-4 with a run scored.

• Softball final record: 22-16