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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Softball starts the season on fire with an 11–3 performance at The Spring Games

Spearheaded by stellar pitching, the Jumbos started out 8–0 and look primed for a successful season.

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Sky Johnson is pictured in the March 18 game against Millikan.

St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame second baseman Rogers Hornsby once famously said that when there was no baseball in the winter, he would stare out the window and wait for spring. For the Tufts Jumbos softball team, this sentiment holds resoundingly true.

The Jumbos had to wait until March 16 to open their season, kicking off an expectation-filled 2024 campaign with 14 games at Legends Way Park in sunny Clermont, Fla. The relaxing weather was not reflected in the schedule, as the Jumbos played a grueling doubleheader during each one of their gamedays.

“We’d seen a bunch of other teams at Tufts had started playing [their seasons], [and] other [Division] III softball teams had started playing, so we were all … wanting to get to Florida. … That’s always the best time of the year,” junior pitcher Sky Johnson said.

Like the weather, though, the Jumbos got off to a hot start. Opening day saw a 3–1 defeat of the Ohio Wesleyan University Battling Bishops, with senior ace pitcher Sophia DiCocco throwing a complete game, allowing just one run on six hits. The Jumbos muscled out their runs thanks to a sacrifice fly from graduate student shortstop Josie Steinberg and RBI base hits from junior catcher Keriann Slayton and sophomore outfielder Kaitlyn Perucci.

The day’s second matchup yielded the same scoreline, though this time it was Johnson going the distance on the hill for the Jumbos. The Jumbos capitalized on poor defense to take the lead with Perucci scoring on an error and graduate student third baseman Rachel Moore taking home while sophomore first baseman Haley Leimbach was caught stealing at second. Junior outfielder Lindsay Neumann capped off the scoring in the fourth with an RBI to seal the victory.

The next day, the Jumbos continued their winning ways, defeating Manchester University 7–2 and William Paterson University 7–1. Sophomore pitcher Claire Guitmann threw a complete game in her season debut against Manchester. The offense was spearheaded by two RBI doubles from Steinberg and the team’s first home run of the season, a solo shot from sophomore utility player Lauryn Horita. Against William Paterson, Johnson and DiCocco combined for a stellar pitching effort, with Johnson capping off DiCocco’s 5.1 innings pitched with 1.2 frames of no-hit ball. Once again, it was Steinberg who led the offensive charge, driving in three runs with a double and a single.

As the calendar turned to March 18, the Jumbos continued to steamroll their competition. Johnson once again went the distance, allowing one run on five hits in a narrow 2–1 victory over Millikin University. Senior second baseman Bela Jimenez drove in what proved to be the winning run in the fourth inning, cracking an RBI double that scored Leimbach. Following the victory, the Jumbos came out on top 9–4 in an action-packed thriller against the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Blugolds. After Guitmann surrendered four runs in the third inning, the Jumbos scored six unanswered in the top of the fourth and three unanswered in the top of the sixth to seal the victory. Jimenez was the only Jumbo with two RBIs, doing so with a bases-loaded walk and a single for the game’s final run.

Against the Buffalo State University Bengals, the Jumbos found themselves facing a 6–0 deficit after the top of the first inning. DiCocco finished the ballgame with six shutout innings though, allowing the Jumbos to gradually claw their way back, capping the comeback with a five-run sixth inning en route to a 12–6 victory. Perucci carried the load at the plate, clobbering three RBI doubles in a four-hit, five-RBI performance. Johnson once again dazzled on the mound in the day’s second matchup with Endicott College, throwing a complete game and allowing just one hit, as Slayton’s two RBIs led the Jumbos to a 3–0 win.

“It always feels great to go out and compete the best you can for your team and … put our team in the best possible situation to win as many games as we can. … So, I think, obviously, it feels great to start off the season so strong,” Johnson remarked.

On March 21, the Jumbos’ winning streak finally came to an end. The Ramapo College Roadrunners’ pitcher Marissa DiPaolo held the Jumbos to just one run, a Michelle Adelman RBI single, but the Roadrunners squeezed out two runs as they triumphed 2–1. The University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point Pointers dismantled the Jumbos in the second game of the day, routing them 8–0 in a contest that only lasted six innings, led by a 3-RBI double from pinch hitter Abby Van Beek.

Tufts lost out on their chance to bounce back the following day, as their games versus State University of New York Plattsburgh and Western New England University were postponed due to rain. They used the extra day of rest to come out fresh against Union College, as DiCocco went seven shutout frames and allowed only four hits. Adelman demolished her first home run of the year, as a different Jumbo drove in each run. The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Warhawks provided the most even test for the Jumbos, as Johnson and Warhawk pitcher Maddy Anderson both allowed just one run in the regular seven innings. In the ninth, though, singles from Anderson and junior right fielder Kiarra Kostroski gave the Warhawks a 4–1 win.

On the last day of the trip, Guitmann started and held Elmhurst University to two runs, with DiCocco capping off the save, as the Jumbos romped to a 6–2 win. Steinberg’s four hits and Neumann’s two RBIs comprised the offensive power. Lastly, against Westminster College, junior pitcher Lacey Chilek went the full seven innings and allowed no runs in her season debut. Steinberg again shouldered the offensive burden, as her two hits and three RBIs gave the Jumbos a 7–0 win in their final game of the tournament.

In all, the week was a successful business trip for the Jumbos, who returned to Medford sporting an 11–3 record. For Johnson, the week was especially fruitful, as she was named NESCAC Pitcher of the Week.

“It feels pretty good. It's my first one of my career at Tufts, so it's super exciting. I think I squealed when [they] told me that I got it. … And, I think it just shows like all of the hard work that I've put in [and] all of the hard work that our team has put in is paying off.”

In a doubleheader home opener, the Jumbos will face the Williams College Ephs on Friday. The expectations are high, the road ahead long and the task challenging, but there is no doubt that the excitement for the season is palpable. The success at The Spring Games showed the Jumbos’ quality, depth and knack for winning. They know that, at their best, no team will stand in their way.

“I think the goal is to always win a national championship, so hopefully this year is the year for that,” Johnson said. “But, I think looking more game-to-game and less big [picture] national championship, I think just to keep doing our best every game, and learning from our mistakes and continuing to rely on each other as teammates and just do our best every chance we can.”