WILLIAMSTOWN -- When the No. 1 softball team in the nation is on the ropes, a knockout punch had better be coming quickly.
In the top of the fourth inning, the Williams College softball team had the bases loaded and none out in a tie game but didn’t push a run across. Tufts responded with an eight-run fourth on eight hits -- including three consecutive home runs -- to beat Williams 10-2 in a game stopped after five innings by the mercy rule.
"We were one hit away from being up three or four runs and it’s a whole different emotion for them," said Williams coach Kris Herman. "It actually turned out that at the end of the day they gained momentum from our good inning."
The Ephs, who came into the NESCAC Tournament ranked 25th in the most recent National Fastpitch Coaches Association Division III poll, needed that first-game win to force the "if" game against the Jumbos.
"They just have a lot of great hitters," said Williams co-captain Ali Graebner. "They hit the ball well. It would have been nice to score some runs in that situation."
With the win, the Jumbos (37-3) earn the automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Tournament. Williams (24-11) is in line for an at-large berth.
Tufts took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning when Michelle Cooprider hit a 3-1 pitch from Emma Harrington over the fence in straightaway center field.
Harrington pitched out of jams in the first and third innings, leaving runners stranded at third in both frames. That set the stage for the Williams rally in the fourth.
Graebner got a leadoff walk, went to third on Priscilla Pino’s opposite-field single to right and scored on Lindsey Precht’s single to left. Mo Frank singled to load the bases and the Ephs were in business.
Tufts pitcher Allyson Fournier, who came in with a 16-0 record, a microscopic 0.37 earned-run average and 213 strikeouts in 114 innings, found another gear.
The right-hander struck out Melissa Cendejas and pinch-hitter Ashley Wirth, and got Ali Michalek on a fly ball to left to end the threat. Fournier gave up only three runs in three games this weekend.
"Allyson’s tough. She’s a competitor. She’s the most competitive kid I know," said Tufts coach Cheryl Milligan. "We knew she’d give us a good outing and we wouldn’t hang it out to dry at that point."
The roof caved in on the Ephs in the next half inning.
Four singles and an error led to two runs. Then Jo Clair came up and ripped a 1-2 pitch from Harrington over the fence in left-center for a three-run home run. It was the first of three straight homers, as Cassie Ruscz and Gracie Marshall both went yard before the Williams coach came out to replace Harrington. It was Clair’s 18th home run of the season. She has more home runs than any other team in the conference.
"That’s what kind of offense we are always looking to put up," said Milligan. "As an offense, as a team, I think we found that extra gear.
"It’s the first time we hit three home runs in the same inning all year."
By the time the smoke cleared, it was 9-1. Williams made it 9-2 in the top of the fifth, but the Jumbos closed out the game on Marshall’s sacrifice fly that scored Cooprider with the 10th run. The mercy rule is triggered by an eight-run lead.
The NCAA Tournament bracket will be filled out this morning, and the Ephs will have to wait to see
"I don’t know," the Williams coach said when asked if she was confident of getting a bid. "The NCAA tournament isn’t about getting the best teams in anymore in Division III. It’s all about the automatic qualifiers.
"I think we’re one of the 64 best teams in the country, no doubt about that. We’ll have to stop to see how the numbers get crunched out. It’s impossible to tell."
To reach Howard Herman:
or (413) 496-6253.
On Twitter: @howardherman