Softball Falls In NESCAC Championship

May 6, 2012

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. Allyson 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) earns 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.

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

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

Looking to get Middlebury off to a fast start, Kimber 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 Jessa 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 Jessica Poracky and Sarah Boylan before catching Alex 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 ’15 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.