Photo Gallery | Williams falls to MIT in NCAA regional final
WILLIAMSTOWN — When the six seniors on the Williams College softball team graduate next month, they'll take more than diplomas home.
A senior class that took its team to three consecutive NCAA Division III tournaments, hosting all three, has much to be pleased with. That won't, however, take away Sunday's disappointment.
Needing two wins to win the Williamstown Regional and move on in the tournament, the Ephs got a must-win victory in the first game at Cole Field. But in the nightcap, regional MVP Lexi Marshall walked a tightrope as MIT beat Williams 5-3 to clinch the regional title. Williams (35-11) had won the opener 4-1.
"I think we all felt we were in a good place," said Williams senior outfielder Amanda Siedem. "We were going to take two from them today like they took two from us back in Boston in March."
The six seniors graduate from a team that won a school-record 35 games, and hosted a Regional for the third time in as many seasons — also something that had never happened here. That is quite a legacy.
"We realized that we could have a huge impact on our team," senior first baseman Melissa Cendejas said. "We definitely, these past few years, worked to do that. This is the culmination of that. I'm really proud of that."
With the split, MIT (31-12) will play Worcester Polytechnic Institute in this weekend's Super Regional. The winner goes to the Division III championship round in Salem, Va. WPI beat MIT in eight innings to win the NEWMAC tourney title.
Mackenzie Murphy, who pitched six innings of shutout softball in the opener, hit a two-run home run in the top of the first inning to give the Ephs all the runs they'd need in the first game. Jessica Kim homered in the third for Williams.
That seemed to give Williams some much-needed momentum going into Game 2. The Engineers, however, took it right back in the first inning when leadoff hitter Jasmin Joseph hit a 1-2 pitch from Alejandra Magana over the fence in center field. That seemed to stop the Williams momentum from Game 1 in its tracks.
"I kind of wasn't in the greatest place coming into today," said Joseph, whose homer was the first or her two-year career. "I didn't think [the ball was out] and then I saw it."
The Ephs tied the score in the second on an error, a hit, a walk and a wild pitch that brought Magana home from third. The Engineers took the lead for keeps in the top of the third.
MIT chased Magana, after the freshman gave up three runs on three hits. Run-scoring singles by Tori Jensen, Zoe Hinton and Ali Trueworthy plated the runs. None of the balls were hit especially hard.
After Murphy gave up one run in the seventh inning of the opener, some could have expected a Murphy-Marshall rematch in the circle. While Marshall pitched for the Engineers, Williams coach Kris Herman had a different plan.
"Both Brooke [Bovier] and Alejandra held MIT really well when we played them earlier in the year," the coach said of games that finished 2-1 and 1-0 for MIT. "We thought Alejandra was a little more spinning [on her pitches] and they weren't going to be as successful.
"It was a toss up. We have three great pitchers and hindsight, who knows, is 20-20."
It might not have even mattered if the Ephs had been able to produce a clutch, run-scoring hit. Williams left runners on base in all seven innings, left runners on in scoring position in five innings, and Williams was 2 for 12 with runners in scoring position.
"We did a lot of really good things and we had a lot of timely hits, but none of them at what turned out to be the right time," said the Williams coach.
If there was an inning that the Williams players and coaches will have bad dreams about it was the bottom of the fifth. Kim and Murphy led off with singles and Lexi Curt walked to load the bases. Kim scored on a wild pitch by Marshall, but the MIT lefty came back to strike out Magana and pinch-hitter Casey Pelz. After Cendejas reached on an error to load the bases, Marshall struck out Brenna Martinez to end the inning.
The Ephs left the bases loaded in the sixth and had the potential winning run at bat with two outs in the seventh, but couldn't get anything done.
"This was an excellent, excellent regional. There were so many good teams here that we knew it was going to be a battle every single game, and it really was," said MIT coach Jennifer Williams. "Williams is an excellent team. They're very well coached and have a lot of great athletes. We knew they were going to make us earn every single bit of it, and they did."
Marshall struck out 34 batters in 28 innings to win the MVP award. Other MIT players named to the All-Tournament team were Jensen, Amanda Lee and Natalis Shifflet. Murphy, Kim and Erica Li were All-Tourney selections for Williams.
"We were all here last May talking about what we wanted to do," said Li. "Except for the final outcome, we did a pretty good job of it."
Contact Howard Herman at 413-496-6253.