Williams softball tops Tufts to bring home first NESCAC title since 2006

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WILLIAMSTOWN — It might have taken longer than anticipated, but when you're ending a 10-year streak, what's an extra game?

The Williams College softball team needed to go into the "if" game of the NESCAC Tournament against defending champion Tufts Sunday afternoon. The Ephs got out of it with an 8-3 win, and the school's first NESCAC softball title since 2006.

Not only that, but the win by Williams ended a four-year run of conference tourney titles by Tufts.

"It feels pretty great," Williams outfielder Erica Li said. "It's been a long time in coming. We've faced [Tufts] multiple times, and it feels good to finally have it end our way."

In each of the last two seasons, Tufts won the NESCAC title by beating Williams. The last time Williams beat Tufts in the NESCAC Tournament was on Cole Field in 2006.

Williams and Tufts now wait to hear their names in Monday's NCAA Division III softball selection show. Last year, both teams hosted NCAA sectionals. Those will begin play on Friday.

Sunday's "if" game was made necessary because the Jumbos erupted for 11 runs in the first inning and held off the Ephs 13-6. Williams outscored Tufts 6-2 over the final six innings of the opener, but the damage had been more than done.

"We're really a process-oriented team. We just go up there one pitch at a time," said Williams coach Kris Herman. "[The first game] didn't have an impact. It was a little bit of 'This is not good.'

"But we're going to keep doing our thing. It was great to come back and score a bunch of runs."

Tufts sent 15 batters to the plate in the first inning of the opener, scoring 11 runs on five hits. The key blow was a grand slam by Cassie Ruscz, her 15th of the season.

In the second game, Ruscz made it 16 homers when she hit a first-inning, 2-2 pitch over the fence in center field for a two-out, two-run home run. The obvious first thought among the fans might have been "here we go again." Murphy definitively said no.

"No. That one batter, she got me the last game I played against her," said the Williams freshman pitcher. "I knew I could get her.

"They have some big bats, but we do too."

Williams showed that in the second inning when Lexi Curt launched a two-run home run in just about the same spot where Ruscz hit her homer. That tied the game. One inning later, Brenna Martinez hit a leadoff homer to center. It was one of six home runs hit in the doubleheader.

Williams broke the game open an inning later, scoring four runs on two hits. The key hit of the inning was a three-run home run by Li. She hit the first pitch from reliever Raina Galbiati over the fence in center, just by the TV broadcasters location.

"I think Erica's was so big, but everything is so big," said Murphy. "I think that took Tufts back a little bit because they're seeing a slapper, and nope, she's got tons of power."

The senior from Salt Lake City said she wasn't necessarily trying to hit the ball out of Cole Field, but was more than happy with the result.

"I didn't even watch it. I was just trying to get a base hit," Li said. "It just turned into something else, which was exciting."

After the first inning, Murphy put zeroes on the board until giving up an unearned run in the top of the seventh inning. The right-hander pitched out of jams in the second and fourth innings, and at one point, retired eight of nine Tufts hitters.

In the opener, Williams pitcher Brooke Bovier was rocked in that first inning. She stayed in the game and held the Jumbos to two runs on three hits over the final six innings, stopping the bleeding and giving Williams a chance to get back into the game. In fact, after scoring five runs in the third — including three on a three-run homer by Kacey Cramer, the Ephs had chances to score in three of the last four innings. The Jumbos even loaded the bases in the fourth, but came up empty.

Williams had 26 hits in the doubleheader to 20 for Tufts. Curt was 6 for 8 in the doubleheader, while Li and Murphy both had four hits each.

For the six seniors on the Williams roster, this is the first time they have won a NESCAC Tournament title. For the six freshman, this was the first of what could be four titles. Only time will tell.

"We've got to keep doing this," Murphy said with a laugh. "Coach has told us many times that we haven't won NESCACs in 10 years. We have to do this every year now. Not another 10-year drought."

Contact Howard Herman at 413-496-6253.


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