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Tufts softball sweeps Williams in NESCAC Championship

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The Tufts Daily
The Tufts Daily
 2021-05-16

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Senior pitcher Kristina Haghdan stands at the mound during a game against Bates on March 30, 2019.Evan Slack / The Tufts Daily

By Isaac Karp

Fly the banner and start the parade because on Saturday, May 8, Tufts softball won its 12th NESCAC Championship at Williams. The series was a best of three, but the Jumbos only needed the first two games to claim victory over their in-state rivals. The journey up to Williamstown, Mass. had an added element of uncertainty since Williams was undefeated, and up to that point, Tufts had only beaten one team with a winning record — Brandeis. Technically, the Jumbos were still the reigning champs since they won the NESCAC in 2019, but the year-long hiatus and the pandemic-driven uncertainty surrounding this season rendered all predictions hazardous. Yet in the end, the ‘Bos had the right formula to defeat the Ephs.

Senior pitcher Kristina Haghdan, who earned NESCAC Pitcher of the Week, threw an impeccable two-hit shutout in the first game against Williams while striking out 11. The game started out as a pitchers’ duel between Haghdan and Williams senior Kirstin Mapes, but that all changed in the third inning when the Jumbos brought the lumber. With bases loaded, sophomore catcher Josie Steinberg reached first on the shortstop’s fielding error and sophomore infielder Rachel Moore scored. Then junior infielder Nicole Russo managed to get to first on a fielder’s choice while senior infielder Emma Della Volpe crossed home plate. Senior infielder Mia Steinberg capitalized on poor fielding by putting the ball in play as the Williams defense made yet another error, allowing her sister Josie Steinberg to score. Graduate student infielder Casey Maggiore capped off the inning by singling to send two home, and the Jumbos left the third up by five.

 Haghdan continued to deal with authority. She painted the zone like Van Gogh. She caught the inside, the outside and brushed the corners, leaving the Ephs with no answer. The Ephs batters swung with no purpose as Haghdan threw fire into Josie Steinberg’s mitt. But the ‘Bos were not done scoring. In the top of the fourth, sophomore outfielder Michelle Adelman sent a ball to left field that carried — it was going, going, gone and with that three-run dinger, so too were the chances of the Ephs coming back in this game. The Ephs left the bottom of the inning down 8–0.The Jumbos then scored twice more in the fifth inning, thanks to a double from Josie Steinberg. Haghdan finished the first game strong with another two strikeouts to cap off a wonderful performance.

Della Volpe reflected on the importance of pitching for playoff games. 

“We are so lucky, I mean they’re all such amazing pitchers and I think it gives so much confidence to us playing defense behind them that we know that they’re going to get it done,” Della Volpe said.

The second game of the series saw first-year pitcher Sophia DiCocco on the mound for the first four innings. DiCocco came into the championship leading the NESCAC in ERA with nine wins and one loss, and she’s only going to get better. Tufts went on a four-run scoring spree at the bottom of the first inning, sparked by a leadoff single from Adelman, and then another single from sophomore outfielder Kat Yuzefpolsky, who advanced to second after an error from the Ephs’ outfielder. With Adelman on third and Yuzefpolsky on second, Russo singled to left, sending Adelman home. 

Later in the inning, graduate student infielder Casey Maggiore smashed a three-run home run over the left field wall to put the Jumbos up 4–0. The Ephs managed to get one run at the top of the second, but the defense limited Williams throughout, and the lefty DiCocco made it difficult for batters at the plate. With a cushion on the scoreboard, the Jumbos kept their foot on the pedal — especially Russo, who homered in the third to extend the lead to five. All Williams could muster was a measly run in the fourth to make it a four-run game, but then Russo seemed to say, “Watch this!” and sent a solo blast to put the final nail in the coffin in the fifth inning. Russo was named NESCAC player of the week, and she is among the leaders in the NESCAC, with 18 runs batted in. She’s tied for fourth in hits, doubles and home runs. 

Russo noted how it took more than just playing softball to get through this season. 

“It feels great, I mean all that hard work: playing with a mask, getting tested every other day, waking up super early before games to get tested, [it] all finally paid off,” Russo said. “It’s really nice to get that win.” 

Senior pitcher Kristi Van Meter closed out the last three innings on the hill while allowing only one hit and striking out two. Van Meter stepped up when it mattered most and helped secure the championship win.

Della Volpe pointed to how the two-game series gave the Jumbos an opportunity to prove themselves. 

“This year we had a whole day to prove how we knew we could be the better team,” Della Volpe said. “We worked so hard all fall and it was really exciting to finally be able to play for something, play for a championship.”

With these two wins in Williamstown, Tufts advances to the NCAA tournament, and coach Lauren Ebstein’s crew shows no signs of slowing down.