Middlebury

Softball Returns To NESCAC Tourney

May 5, 2011

Six-time conference champion Tufts University, the top seed out of the East Division, will serve as host for the 2011 NESCAC Softball Championship at Spicer Field in Medford, Mass. The three-day, double elimination tournament begins on Friday, May 6 with the host Jumbos taking on another former champion, Williams, at 2:30 p.m. and will be followed by Middlebury, the West Division's top seed, battling Trinity at 5:00 p.m. The action continues on Saturday, May 7 before wrapping up on Sunday, May 8.

It came down to the final weekend of play to determine not only which teams would make the tournament, but who from the East Division would host. Three teams from the East were jockeying for two playoff spots at the start of the week: Bowdoin, Trinity, and Tufts. Each had at least one game this past week, and the Bantams and the Jumbos were scheduled to play a three-game series in Hartford with the winner guaranteed to host this year's championship. In game one on Friday, it took 13 innings to decide a winner, with Tufts prevailing over Trinity by a 5-4 score. The following day, the Jumbos won the first game of the double-header with the Bantams to secure hosting duties thanks to holding the necessary advantage in the conference's tie-breaking criteria. Trinity managed to win the third game of the series, securing a spot in the tournament and in the process denying Bowdoin, last year's runner-up, a return trip.

Over in the West Division, Middlebury knew it would be the top seed heading into this past week after the Panthers got two wins over Amherst on April 22. The pair of victories put Middlebury in the tournament for the first time since 2005. The Jeffs ended up getting swept by the Panthers, and as a result Amherst needed to take 2-of-3 from rival Williams in order to make the championship. Amherst was victorious on Friday, 8-4, and had Williams down to its last out in game two of the series until Eph sophomore Kaitlin Dinet (Pearl River, N.Y.) lined the first pitch she saw into left-center and drove in two runs to give her team a walk-off 5-4 win. The Ephs carried the momentum into the final game on Saturday, winning 10-0 to claim the last spot out of the West Division.

Tufts (22-16, 9-3 NESCAC East) head into the NESCAC championship with a bit of momentum. Since falling twice to Bowdoin in the three-game series back on April 15-16, the Jumbos have gone 8-2 to wrap up their regular season. No team has won more conference titles than Tufts, which claimed three in a row from 2001-03 and repeated the feat from 2007-09. During last year's championship, the Jumbos lost their first game to eventual champion Wesleyan, 13-3, then fell to Williams in an elimination game, 8-4, only the second time that Tufts had failed to win a game in the in the 10-year history of the tournament. The Jumbos have already faced the three other teams participating in this year's championship and own a 4-1 record against them. Tufts won a spring break meeting with Middlebury in Clermont, Fla. by a 5-4 score on March 26, downed Williams in nine innings, 6-5, on March 31, and took the aforementioned season series over Trinity, two games to one.

Williams (19-15-1, 7-5 NESCAC West) is one of only two teams to participate in every NESCAC championship since the tournament began in 2001, the other team being Tufts. The Ephs and the Jumbos have a bit of history between them, having met 15 times in tournament play with Tufts holding a slim 8-7 advantage in the all-time playoff series. Williams started off the season by winning its first seven games and went 8-4 during its spring break excursion to Florida. The start of the conference slate was not as kind to the Ephs, as they were swept by Middlebury and sat at 2-4 at the midway point before winning five of their last six league outings. Although Williams has won three conference crowns, the Ephs' last NESCAC crown came in 2006 and they haven't managed to reach the title game since. Against this year's championship field, Williams is 1-4, the lone victory coming against Trinity in Clermont, Fla. on March 24, 13-9.

Middlebury (25-5, 11-1 NESCAC West) is making its fourth overall NESCAC championship appearance after reaching three consecutive tournaments from 2003-05. The Panthers are in the midst of a remarkable season, having won a program-record 25 games, and until a recent 3-1, extra-innings loss to Skidmore on April 27 had not lost in 17 consecutive outings, also a program record. Middlebury nearly ran the table in the West Division en route to capturing the division's top seed for the first time, as the Panthers' lone conference setback came on April 3 at Wesleyan, 8-0. The Panthers have only reached the title game once in their three previous tournament trips, overcoming a day one loss with two wins on day two before succumbing to Williams for the 2004 championship, 2-0. Middlebury is 3-1 against tournament foes but has not faced Trinity since the 2005 season.

Back in the tournament for the first time since 2008 is Trinity (20-11, 8-4 NESCAC East). The Bantams got what proved to be a key series victory over Bowdoin to start the conference schedule back on April 2-3, as both teams tied for second in the division with 8-4 records. Trinity's pair of losses to Tufts this past weekend denied the Bantams the opportunity to host the championship for the first time ever. While they will not have the ability to play at home this weekend, the Bantams, like the Panthers, hope to reach Sunday's title game for only the second time after making their first appearance in 2007, falling to Tufts 5-0. Friday's second game at Spicer Field may prove to be a hard-fought battle, as both Trinity and Middlebury feature the league's best hitting and pitching. The last time these two met was the first elimination game in the 2005 NESCAC championship, and the Bantams ended the Panthers' season in a 5-2 decision.

2011 NESCAC SOFTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP
Day 1 - Friday, May 6 at Tufts
Game 1 - W2 Williams at E1 Tufts - 2:30 p.m.
Game 2 - E2 Trinity vs. W1 Middlebury - 5:00 p.m.

Day 2 - Saturday, May 7 at Tufts
Game 3 - Loser of Game 1 vs. Loser of Game 2 - 10:00 a.m.
Game 4 - Winner of Game 1 vs. Winner of Game 2 - 12:30 p.m.
Game 5 - Winner of Game 3 vs. Loser of Game 4 - 3:00 p.m.

Day 3 - Sunday, May 8 at Tufts
Game 6 - Winner of Game 4 vs. Winner of Game 5 - 10:00 a.m.
Game 7 - If Necessary - Immediately Following

--courtesy NESCAC--