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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Tufts becomes first Div. III softball team to three-peat at NCAAs

Senior Christina Raso's strong offense paved the way for the Jumbos national title defense.

The Tufts softball team became the first Div. III team to three-peat at the NCAAs after posting a 51-0 record during their 2015 season.

Tufts finished their first-ever undefeated regular season with a double-header victory on April 26 against Wheaton (Mass.). The team not only surpassed their previous 35-game win streak (reached in 2009) but  also bested the regular season records of their past two national title-winning seasons (in 2014 and 2013), in which the Jumbos dropped three of their regular season games. 

The Jumbos closed off their regular season with 11 games in six straight days -- a challenging time that ended up giving the team more confidence for the postseason.

"One of my favorite moments was our win in the last game of the regular season against Wheaton," senior shortstop Christina Raso said to the Daily in an email. "They were probably the toughest competition we had faced up to that point, and it was the last of eleven games we had played in six days. The game was intense and very back and forth, but it was so much fun. The win gave us a lot of confidence heading into the postseason."

The Jumbos received a new home field this season with a newly renovated Spicer Field, but the heavy snow conditions prevented the team from practicing on the field and forced them to reschedule several games at the beginning of the season.

"The amount of snow we got this winter created a big obstacle for us," Raso said. "By the time our field was playable, we had a lot of games to squeeze in before the playoffs, which also left us with little time for practice. To overcome this, we would also take extra swings and ground balls before or after games if we needed them. We really had to focus on how we were going to improve from one day to the next, so we would choose something specific to work on as a team each game."

"Our greatest strength was everyone's ability and willingness to adapt and make the best of a given situation," junior outfielder Carrie Copacino said. "We had a lot of set backs with sickness and travel issues but everyone stayed optimistic and still put their best attitude and effort forward."

In the opening game of the 2015 NESCAC Softball Championship at Spicer Field, Raso went three for three with a home run and two runs scored as Tufts won with a 2-0 victory over Middlebury College on May 1.After coasting past Williams the next day with a 5-0 victory, Tufts played the 30-7 Williams again on May 3 for the NESCAC title. Junior designated pitcher Shelby Lipson delivered the eventual game-wining RBI in the bottom of the sixth as the Jumbos defeated the Ephs 1-0 to win their fourth straight NESCAC championship and 10th overall.

Tufts, already favorites for the national title, began their third championship quest by sailing through the opening rounds of the NCAAs, with the closest contest being a 3-2 come from behind win against MIT in the NCAA Regional Final on May 10. In a game that went the distance, the Jumbos emerged victorious in the ninth inning off a grounder by sophomore catcher Raven Fournier that allowed Lipson to score the game-winning run.

Tufts continued their strong showing until the final game of the season -- the National Championship game against the 50-7 University of Texas at Tyler - where they captured their third national title in a dramatic fashion. With Tufts' pitching less dominant than usual, the pressure fell on the team's offense to carry the team to victory, after having scored just nine runs in the previous four games at the NCAA Finals.The Jumbos found themselves in a 2-0 hole with just six outs left in the game but rose to the challenge by scoring six runs in the sixth inning and another in the seventh to win 7-4 against the Patriots to cap off their perfect 51-0 season.

Pitcher, Jumbos tri-captain and three-time All-American Allyson Fournier (E '15) finished 35-0 with a 0.20 ERA, striking out more than 14 batters per game and allowing fewer than two hits per game on the season.Fournier won NESCAC Pitcher of the Year for the fourth straight year, winning NESCAC Pitcher of the Week five of eight times this season.

On April 1 against non-conference opponent Babson, Fournier recorded her 1000th career strikeout, making her just the 17th player in NCAA history and the fifth player from New England to record such a feat. To cap off her storied career as a student-athlete at Tufts, Fournier won the Honda Award for Div. III Athlete of the Year for the second time this summer -- the highest honor for a Div. III athlete.

"I think pitching was our greatest strength this season," Raso said. "We did not give up many runs this year and a huge part of that was due to the hard work and dedication of our pitchers."

With Fournier's graduation, the bulk of the pitching load will fall on senior Erica County -- who pitched 104 of the 328 innings this past season, recording 56 Ks in 20 games with a 1.68 ERA -- a player who already has the ability to inspire her teammates with her efforts from the mound.

"One of the most memorable moments of the season was our second game against Wheaton in the regular season, and it was a really hard-fought game," junior Cassie Ruscz said to the Daily in an email. "Erica County was pitching, and after the last out I remember hugging her on the mound because she worked so hard that game for every single out. The rest of the team modeled after Erica that game and worked so hard. I was so proud of every single person on the team that day."

In the Championship game, the Jumbos offense, lead by Raso and Ruscz, came into the spotlight.

"Our hitting has always been a strength of ours, and it continued to be a strength throughout this season as well," Raso said.

Raso recorded three home runs and 57 hits of the season, behind Ruscz's 66 hits and tri-captain Michelle Cooprider's (LA '15) 68.

"I think I played a large role this year as an offensive leader, [and] I believed I was expected to come up with the big hits and drive in runs," Ruscz said. "I think my role shifted [this season] because my own mentality switched. I stopped thinking about coming up with the big hits and started thinking more about how I could be a supportive teammate when and where people needed me."

For their fans, the Jumbos' successful season will be remembered as threefold: it was the year they cinched the national title for the third time, the year they won their 10th NESCAC Championship and the year they went undefeated.

But to Ruscz, this season will be remembered as the season when the team surpassed their biggest obstacle yet: their own reputation.

"I’ve thought a lot about this season, and I’ve come to the conclusion that our biggest obstacle was our reputation," Ruscz said. "We were looked at as a very powerful team, so every single team out there wanted to be the team to beat us and break the streak. However, as a team we barely brought up the streak, so we stayed focus on the task at hand, which was winning one game at a time and moving onto the next."