May 16, 2011

            The Middlebury College softball team had a great run this season, winning its first NESCAC Title en route to its inaugural NCAA Tournament appearance.

            The sixth-seeded Keuka Storm (21-3-1) shut out third-seeded Middlebury Thursday in an NCAA Division III Softball regional game played at Ithaca College.

            Keuka jumped out to a 3-0 first-inning lead and held the Panthers – who were playing the program’s first NCAA playoff game – scoreless, escaping a bases-loaded, no-out Middlebury threat in the bottom of the seventh.

            First baseman Sarah Fredericks and catcher Sara James hit back-to-back home runs in the Storm’s three-run first inning.

            Allison Richter scattered seven hits in improving to 11-2 with the complete-game shutout. She worked out of a jam in the seventh after the first three Panthers reached base. Senior Emily Burbridge (E. Greenwich, R.I.), sophomore Emma Katz (Northridge, Calif.) and junior Alyson Downing (Rumney, N.H.) all singled but Richter induced three straight infield pop-ups to end the game.

            James and Fredericks, who hit consecutive doubles in the seventh to account for Keuka’s final run, each had three of their team’s 10 hits. Fredericks added an RBI single in the third. Left fielder Denise Bilbow had two hits for Keuka. 

            Senior Geena Constantin (Pelham, N.H.) (7-3) suffered the loss, giving up four runs over 3.1 innings while striking out six batters. First-year pitcher Alexa Lesenskyj (Robbinsville, N.J.) tossed three innings of one-run relief with three strikeouts, while rookie Elizabeth Morris (Kenilworth, Ill.) closed out the game with .2 innings of work. Seven different players singled in the game for the Panthers.

            Middlebury eliminated the seventh-seeded Centenary [N.J.] from the NCAA Division III Softball Regional Friday on day two.

            Middlebury had the bats going early, as Burbridge hit a grand slam in the top of the first to put the Panthers on top, 4-0.

            The Cyclones scored their run in the fourth inning. Left fielder Jen Vasta and catcher Cara Montferrat led off with infield singles and right fielder Nicole Fleming delivered a two-out RBI hit to pull Centenary to within 4-1 with the tying run at the plate but senior Ali McAnaney (Northbrook, Ill.) closed out the inning by coaxing a ground ball for the final out.

            The Panthers struck for three in the fifth with an RBI single to left by Katz and a two-run single to right by first-year player Emily Kraytenberg (Londonderry, N.Y.).

            Leading 7-1, Middlebury added a run in the sixth on an RBI double from sophomore Jess Poracky (Ramsey, N.J.) and a solo homer from Burbridge in the seventh. The long-ball was the second of the game for Burbridge, tying Middlebury records for homers in a game (2) and season (6).

            Burbridge finished the day 2-3 with two runs scored and five RBI, while senior Megan Margel (Ridgewood, N.J.), was 2-4.

            McAnaney improved to 10-1, striking out five and allowing four hits over five innings. Morris followed with two innings of no-hit relief, striking out four batters.

            The fourth-seeded St. John Fisher Cardinals (30-13-1) hit back-to-back home runs in the top of the 14th inning on their way to eliminating Middlebury with a 9-5 win Saturday. The Panthers end their record-breaking season with a record of 30-8.

            The game was just the ninth in the 29 years of the Division III Championship Tournament to last at least 14 innings and the two teams combined for an NCAA playoff-record 39 total bases.

            Second baseman Megan Zoerb hit a three-run home run in the top of the 14th to put the Cardinals up for good and third baseman Kayla Goodberlet followed with a solo shot. Sarah Stefanon threw all 14 innings for St. John Fisher, striking out 11 and raising her record to 15-5.

            The Panthers, who were making the program’s first NCAA playoff appearance, battled back to tie the game twice – once on a two-out three-run home run by sophomore Sarah Boylan (Danvers, Mass.) and again in the bottom of the ninth when sophomore Jessa Hoffman (Golden, Colo.) doubled home senior Nellie Wood (Hampden, Maine) after the Cardinals had taken a 5-4 lead in the top of the inning on a lead-off home run by Leanne Merchant.

            The Panthers nearly won the game after Wood scored the tying run; a single by senior Leslie Crawford (Mount Vernon, Wash.) put runners at first and third with one out, but St. John Fisher got out of the inning when Goodberlet turned a soft liner to third into an unassisted double play.

            Zoerb singled in the game’s first run to open the Cardinals’ three-run third inning. St. John Fisher scored two more runs on Middlebury errors.

            Poracky put the Panthers on the board with an RBI single in the bottom of the third; the Cardinals got the run back in the fifth when center fielder Jenn Vanek scored on an infield error.

            Vanek finished with three of St. John Fisher’s 11 hits. Goodberlet, Zoerb and catcher Jamie Harmon each had two hits.

            Crawford led the Panther offense with three hits. Boylan, Hoffman and Margel had two apiece. 

• Softball final record: 30-8