Softball | Inside the Jumbos’ run to the championship
Published: Tuesday, September 3, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, September 3, 2013 10:09
Last spring, the 2013 Tufts softball team made history. In May, the squad won its first NCAA Div. III National Championship and brought home the school’s second women’s title of the year. After taking a 6-5 win over SUNY Cortland to capture the title, the Jumbos head into the new academic year with the crown still perched atop their heads. Here’s a brief look at the team’s title run from last spring:
The Jumbos opened the season with a 1-1 record over the first two games of a spring break tournament in Clermont, Fla. After suffering its first loss of the season, the team went unbeaten for the remainder of the 14-game tournament. The momentum the Jumbos gained there set them up with the tools they later used to make their postseason run.
“At the beginning of the season, we had made it our team goal to win the national championship, however, in my opinion, that is a goal everyone has, but it seems so unattainable because that is such a huge accomplishment,” junior outfielder Michelle Cooprider said. “It slowly became a more realistic possibility with each win. Trying to comprehend the possibility of becoming champions was overwhelming during each game.”
The team’s hot streak in Florida marked the beginning of a 16-game win streak during a season in which the team lost just twice more and finished the regular season at 35-3, touting undefeated records both in the conference and at home.
In the early postseason, the Jumbos went 3-0 in the conference tournament, capturing the team’s second consecutive NESCAC Championship and its seventh overall title.
From there, Tufts moved on to the NCAA Div. III Regional Tournament hosted by Babson College and went 4-0 to earn a spot in the Championship Finals in Eau Claire, Wis. The Jumbos had reached the championships three times before but were 3-6 in their previous appearances.
“I felt that our team had a big advantage coming into the tournament because we had played in the World Series during the 2012 season,” junior shortstop Gracie Marshall said. “We weren’t distracted by the opening ceremonies, television crews or the reputation of the other teams.”
The Jumbos rolled through their first opponent, Texas Tyler, on the back of star junior pitcher Allyson Fournier, who recorded her 22nd win with the 6-0 victory. From then on, Fournier was the only pitcher used for the remainder of the season.
In the team’s second game, Montclair State proved to be tougher competition but eventually fell in an extra-inning thriller when Emily Beinecke (LA ’13) struck a two-run single in the ninth inning. Fournier pitched all nine innings, striking out 12 batters and improving to 23-1.
Fournier started for the third consecutive day in the team’s next game, retiring the first 12 batters on her way to pitching a shutout against Cortland State, racking up eight strikeouts and earning her 24th win of the season.
The win against Cortland propelled Tufts to the World Series. Having come from the winners bracket, the Jumbos needed only to win the first game in order to capture the Championship, while the team from the losers bracket needed to win the first game and force a second, winner-take-all contest.
Despite having started the last three games and throwing 107 pitches the night before, Fournier started the final game for the Jumbos, a rematch against Cortland State.
Uncharacteristically, Fournier allowed a leadoff homerun, putting Tufts in an early hole, but Tufts senior catcher Jo Clair responded in the bottom of the first with a home run of her own, evening the score at one apiece. Junior Kris Parr hit another home run in the bottom of the second, and a wild pitch in the bottom of the third scored another run for the Jumbos, making it 3-1 Tufts.
Cortland rallied in the fourth, scoring four runs to take a 5-3 lead, but Tufts surged right back in the fifth. A walk and an error set the stage for Cooprider’s two-run, game-tying double. After Marshall ripped a single to bring Cooprider home, the Jumbos took a lead they didn’t relinquish.
“At the time, I wasn’t aware that my hit would end up scoring the game-winning run,” Marshall said. “Cortland State’s bats were hot all game, and we had just tied the game at 5 when I came up to the plate. I had simplified my approach ever since coming back from a broken thumb in the middle of the season, so I was just looking for a pitch I could drive.”
The one-run lead was enough for Fournier. As she had all season, Fournier dominated and shut the door on Cortland’s hopes, securing for the team the National Championship for the first time in Tufts history.
“It was a dream come true to be able to play in the national championship game, and I was proud to represent Tufts at such a high level of competition,” Fournier said. “Our team dynamic and trust in each other were what allowed us to compete with the best of the best. It was amazing to see the community come together to support the team throughout the season, and I am looking forward to carrying that energy into the upcoming year.”
Fournier, the NCAA Div. III Athlete of the Year, was one of four Jumbos named to the World Series All-Tournament Team; Beinecke, Clair and Cooprider also joined her. She and the majority of the reigning champs will be back this year to lead the charge as the Jumbos look to defend their title.