EAU CLAIRE, WI - The Tufts University softball team completed an undefeated run through the 2013 NCAA Division III Championship by winning 6-5 over Cortland on Monday to earn the Jumbo program's first national championship at the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire's Gelein Field.
Scroll Down for Slide Show
Head coach Cheryl Milligan's Jumbos (46-3) scored three runs in the bottom of the fifth inning to erase a 5-3 deficit and take a 6-5 lead. Sophomore CF Michelle Cooprider (Hopkinton, MA) hit a two-run double to tie the game and sophomore 2B Gracie Marshall's (Palo Alto, CA) single provided the game-winning rbi. Sophomore pitcher Allyson Fournier (South Windsor, CT) shut down Cortland in the sixth and seventh innings to close out the victory.
The NCAA title is the second won by a Tufts team in 2012-13, including field hockey's first national title in the fall. The Jumbos have won three NCAA team championships in the past four years, including men's lacrosse in 2010. Tufts is the first New England team to win the NCAA Softball Championship since Eastern Connecticut State University in 1990.
Earlier on Monday, Cortland (35-17) dramatically scored five runs in the bottom of the seventh to eliminate Salisbury 7-6 and earn a spot against Tufts in the final. The Red Dragons contined their momentum against the Jumbos. First-year LF Diane Cork opened the game with a lead-off home run against Fournier to put the Red Dragons in front 1-0. Cortland had three hits in the first inning overall, but Fournier limited the damage and ended the inning with a called strikeout.
The Jumbos evened the score at 1-1 in the bottom of the first when junior catcher Jo Clair (Glastonbury, CT) hit a long home run to left-center. The Tufts defense commited its first error in four games at the NCAA Finals in the top of the second, but Cortland was unable to capitalize. Another long home run, this time by sophomore 1B Kris Parr (Austin, TX) in the second inning, gave the Jumbos a 2-1 lead.
Red Dragons senior CF Cassie Kardias doubled with two outs in the top of the third, but Fournier got a ground out to end the inning. Tufts went on to score in each of the first three innings with another in the third. Sophomore LF Bri Keenan (Portsmouth, NH) was hit by a pitch with one out, Clair doubled her to third, then Cortland opted to intentionally walk senior SS Emily Beinecke (Concord, MA). However, a wild pitch by Red Dragons starter Amanda Corrigan allowed Keenan to score for a 3-1 Tufts advantage.
Cortland showed great resiliency and surged to a 5-3 lead by scoring once in the fourth and three times in the fifth. Sophomore SS Erin Wolstenholme led off the fourth with a double and scored when sophomore 3B Courtney Kadish followed with an rbi single. In the fifth, the Red Dragons loaded the bases on singles by junior 1B Alicia Hibbard, Kardias, and senior DH Nicole Gallo. Fournier struck out the next two, but couldn't get out of the jam as junior catcher Briana Barca doubled to left-center scoring two. First-year RF Jamie Bucci then squeeze bunted Gallo home for the 5-3 Cortland advantage.
Tufts answered immediately, scoring three times in the bottom of the fifth. Keenan led off the inning with a walk. Clair's hard shot to shortstop went for an error, putting runners on first and second with no outs. Beinecke hit into a fielder's choice, but then Cooprider lined a double to left-center scoring both Clair (unearned) and Beinecke tying the game. Marshall followed with a single to left-center, giving Tufts a 6-5 lead it would not relinquish. The Jumbos had a chance to add insurance runs, but left the bases loaded.
Fournier allowed a one-out single to Hibbard in the top of the sixth, but otherwise shut down the Red Dragons. She set them down 1-2-3 in the seventh, with the final out recorded on a ground ball to first-year 3B Christina Raso (Burlington, MA) who threw to Parr to begin the celebration.
Cortland had 12 hits and scored five runs against Fournier, but she got the job done for her fourth win of the tournament. She went all seven in the championship game, allowing five runs and striking out eight with no walks and one hit-batter. The victory was her 25th of the season and she was named Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Championship Finals.
Cooprider, named to the All-Tournament team, finished the game 2 for 4 with two rbis and a run. All-Tournament performer Clair was 2 for 4 with two runs and an rbi, while Parr went 2 for 3 with a run and an rbi. Beinecke was also selected All-Tournament.
Kardias led all hitters with a 3 for 4 performance, also scoring a run. Hibbard went 2 for 4 as the Red Dragons out-hit Tufts 12-8 in the game. Cortland made three pitching changes in the contest, with Corrigan taking the loss (20-7). She gave up five hits and six runs (five earned) with three strikeouts and five walks in 5.1 innings.
The Jumbos had advanced to the NCAA Championship series by winning their first three games in Eau Claire. They had victories against Texas-Tyler (6-0) on Friday, Montclair State (3-1 in nine innings) on Saturday, and Cortland (6-0) on Sunday.
With four wins at the 2013 NCAA Finals, the Jumbos surpassed the three victories that the program had recorded in its three previous trips to the Finals (2012, 2009, 2000). Tufts was 11-0 in the 2013 post-season (NESCAC's and NCAA's) and improves to 37-24 in NCAA Tournament play overall in 13 berths. The Jumbos are now 7-6 overall in their four trips to the NCAA Finals.
One of 404 NCAA Division III schools which play softball, Tufts started its year on March 16 with a 13-4 win over Bethany (WV) to opens its spring trip to Clermont, Florida. The Jumbos would go on to capture their second straight conference title (eighth overall) and second consecutive NCAA Regional title (fourth overall) before winning it all today.
"I think that final out and celebration was the best moment of my life," Cooprider said. "It was honestly full of pure joy. All weekend we played every aspect of softball well. We hit well, pitched well, played defense well, and constantly supported everyone. Every win was special because each one was won with such a team effort, not just one hero. We had a game where every line-up player had a hit, which is simply a testament to the strength of our team as a whole. I am going to be on cloud 9 for quite some time!"
2013 NCAA Softball Championship Bracket
2013 NCAA Division III Softball World Series All-Tournament Team
Alex Hill - Pitcher - Junior - Montclair State
Shari Huber - Outfielder - Senior - Luther College
Raven Rodriguez - Shortstop - Freshman - UT Tyler
Kelsie Batten - Pitcher - Freshman - UT Tyler
Harley Hill - Firstbaseman - Junior - Salisbury
Rachel Johnson - Pitcher - Sophomore - Salisbury
Lucia Meola - Secondbaseman - Senior - Cortland
Alicia Hibbard - Firstbaseman - Junior - Cortland
Cassie Kardias - Outfielder - Senior - Cortland
Michelle Cooprider - Outfielder - Sophomore - Tufts
Emily Beinecke - Shortstop - Senior - Tufts
Jo Clair - Catcher - Junior - Tufts
Most Outstanding Player - Allyson Fournier - Pitcher - Sophomore - Tufts
Game Photos by Alonso Nichols / Tufts