Softball Caps Perfect 51-0 Season by Winning 3rd Straight NCAA Championship

SALEM, VA - Finishing a perfect 51-0 season in dramatic fashion, the Tufts University Softball team won its third consecutive NCAA Division III championship on Monday with a 7-4 victory over the University of Texas at Tyler. Head coach Cheryl Milligan's squad becomes the first Division III softball team to win three national titles in a row.

Image result for 2015 NCAA Div. III Softball Championship In a game when senior four-time All-American Allyson Fournier was not dominant like usual, the Jumbo bats came through. Down to their last six outs, Tufts erased a 2-0 deficit with six runs in the top of the sixth and another in the seventh. The Jumbos had scored just nine runs in the previous four games at the NCAA Finals.

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The Patriots, who finished 50-5, would put the potential tying run on first base in the bottom of the seventh before Tufts recorded the final out on a fly ball to senior left fielder Gracie Marshall

The victory extended Tufts' NCAA Division III record winning streak to 53 games, dating back to the two wins which clinched the 2014 national title over Salisbury last spring. Today's victory also tied Tufts for the most wins in a season (51) with the 2011 Linfield team.

Making their fourth appearance at the NCAA Softball Finals played at the Moyer Sports Complex, the Jumbos won games against Alma (3-0) on Thursday, Salisbury (3-0) on Friday and Linfield (1-0) on Sunday to earn a spot along with UT - Tyler in the best-of-three NCAA Championship Series. Earlier on Monday, Tufts defeated the Patriots 2-0 to take game one. Game two would be completely different, as the teams combined for 11 runs and 20 hits. 

Texas-Tyler would take an early 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first. With two outs, junior 1B Jackie Mendez walked. Junior 3B Vanessa Carrizales hit one back to Fournier, but she overthrew to first base and Mendez came all the way around to score on the error.

Though Tufts was getting on base, they stranded six runners in the first five innings. In both the second and fifth frames, the Jumbos had runners on second and third with two outs and could not come through in the clutch.

Then with two outs in the bottom of the fifth, Mendez drilled a solo home run to left putting the Patriots in front 2-0. It was the first home run allowed by Fournier this season.

Tufts' sixth-inning rally was led by the team's first-year players and was aided by three errors made by Texas-Tyler, which had entered the week as the fourth-best fielding team in the nation with a .976 percentage.

Jumbo sophomore 1B Cassie Ruscz started the inning by hitting the first of her two home runs in the game to pull Tufts within 2-1. Marshall reached on a throwing error, then first-years Raven Fournier and Samantha Siciliano followed with singles to load the bases. Up came first-year pinch-hitter Raina Galbiati, who had 36 at bats this season. She laced a two-run single to center giving the Jumbos a 3-2 lead.

A throwing error on Galbiati's hit allowed her to take second and Siciliano to advance to third. UT - Tyler replaced sophomore starter Alaina Kissinger with junior reliever Kelsie Batten. After a fly out, first-year DP Michelle Chisdak's hard grounder to first was misplayed scoring both runs for a 5-2 Tufts lead. Junior SS Christina Raso continued the inning with a double to left-center scoring Chisdak for a 6-2 margin. In all, Tufts scored six runs on five hits and the three Patriot errors. Only two of the runs were earned.

Texas-Tyler came back with a run in the bottom of the sixth to make it 6-3. Senior CF Christa Hartnett led off with a single and moved to second when sophomore pinch-hitter Mel Hinojosa was hit by a pitch. With two outs, senior 2B Shelby Sheldon hit an rbi single down the left-field line.

Ruscz got the run back by crushing a home run to left field giving the Jumbos a 7-3 advantage heading into the bottom of the seventh. The bomb was her third of the NCAA finals and 13th of the season.

Sophomore catcher KK Stevens led off the bottom of the inning with a home run to pull UT-T within 7-4. The Patriots then proceeed to load the bases as Hartnett singled, first-year Kursten Jaime walked and senior RF Whitney Burt was hit by a pitch. Shelton hit the ball well to left field, but Marshall was there to make the Championship-winning catch.

Fournier went the distance for the win, allowing nine hits, four runs (three earned) and five walks with six strikeouts. The hits, runs and walks were the most she has allowed this season, but she toughed it out as the offense led the way. Fournier finished her remarkable senior seasion at 35-0 with a 0.20 earned run average and 422 strikeouts in 210.2 innings.

Siciliano broke out of an NCAA slump and went 3 for 4 with a run. Ruscz and Raso both had two hits for the Jumbos, who finished with 11. Seven players had hits overall.

Texas-Tyler's nine hits including three by Hartnett and two each from Carrizales and Stevens. Kissinger pitched five innings allowing six hits and an unearned run with two strikeouts and no walks. Batten took the loss in relief, surrenderring four hits and five runs (two earned) in two-thirds of an inning. First-year Abby Walker also pitched for the Patriots (1.1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 K). 

Today's NCAA championship is the third won by Tufts in as many days. Senior Mitchell Black won the NCAA Outdoor 800 meters on Saturday and Tufts Men's Lacrosse defeated Lynchburg 19-11 to win their second straight NCAA crown on Sunday. Tufts has now won 14 NCAA titles by teams or individuals since 2010. Tufts teams have won eight NCAA championships in men's lacrosse (2010, 2014, 2015), men's soccer (2014), field hockey (2012) and softball (2013, 2014, 2015). Individually, Julia Browne captured the 2010 Division III women's singles crown in tennis, Johann Schmidt won the 2012 and 2014 NCAA men's one-meter diving championship, Jana Hieber took the 2014 NCAA Women's Outdoor Track 400-meter hurdles title and Black won both the 2015 NCAA Indoor and Outdoor 800 meters races.

Game Photos by Matt Healey / Tufts