Roanoke Edges Tufts in NCAA Softball Championship
Courtesy Tufts Sports Information
SALEM, Va. – First-year pitcher Kelly Higbie threw a one-hitter and junior RF Hollee Warlitner delivered a two-out RBI double in the top of the sixth inning as the Roanoke College Maroons defeated the Tufts Jumbos, 1-0, at the NCAA Softball Finals on Friday evening at the Moyer Complex.
The Jumbos (40-6) fall into the loser's bracket and will face Plattsburgh State in an elimination game on Saturday at 1:30 pm. Roanoke (35-9), located nearby and playing on its home field, moves on in the winner's bracket and will play Montclair State on Saturday at 6:30 pm.
Roanoke first-year Rhea Schleicher had led off the sixth with a double that skipped to the fence in left field off Jumbo starter Allyson Fournier (South Windsor, Conn.). Fournier, announced a first team All-American on Thursday night, struck out the next two batters looking, but Walitner roped her RBI double to the fence in center field for a 1-0 Maroons lead. It was the first earned run allowed in the post-season by Fournier.
Sophomore catcher Jo Clair (Glastonbury, Conn) reached on an error for Tufts to lead off the bottom of the seventh. Pinch runner Bri Keenan (Portsmouth, N.H.) reached second with two outs, but Higbie finished off her shutout with a strikeout for the win.
Higbie allowed just an infield single to Tufts sophomore LF Sara Hedtler (Wrentham, Mass.) in the bottom of the third. She improved to 29-8 while striking out three, walking three and recording 13 ground-ball outs.
Fournier was impressive as well, striking out 14 in her seven innings. She allowed four hits and walked two while her record dropped to 22-2.
Roanoke had its lead-off hitters on base in both of the first two innings. Fournier walked CF Leona Rainey to start the game. Rainey is 41 for 41 on steals this season, but she was doubled off first when she took off for second on a bunt that was popped up by Alea Bier. Maroons SS Stephanie Clark led off the second with a single up the middle and then stole second with one out. However, Fournier struck out the next two batters to strand Clark at second.
Higbie retired the Jumbos on three ground outs in the bottom of the first, which would become a pattern. Clair led off the second with a walk, but was erased on a double play.
Fournier, seeming to find a rhythm, dominated the third inning by striking out the side swinging, giving her five straight K's. In the bottom of the inning, Tufts first-year RF Gracie Marshall (Palo Alto, Calif.) worked a four-pitch walk and went to third on a two-out infield single by Hedtler that was accompanied by error. Hedtler stole second, and then senior CF Lizzy Iuppa (Paramus, N.J.) lofted a line drive over the bag at second that Clark snagged on a fine play to end what would be Tufts' best threat of the game.
The Maroons had two base runners in the fourth. Bier lined a single just out of the reach of Tufts junior 2B Emily Beinecke (Concord, Mass.) to lead off, but was called out for leaving early when she attempted a steal. Warlitner followed with a walk and a steal, but Fournier got the next two on strikeouts .
Higbie again got all three outs in the fourth on the ground and retired nine total that way through four innings. Fournier reached double-digits for K's with two more in the fifth, when she retired the side. Jumbo sophomore DH Kayla Holland (Attleborough, Mass.) walked with one out in the fifth, but Tufts couldn't do anything with it and the game went to the sixth tied 0-0.
Roanoke would break the stalemate and win the very important opening game of the NCAA double-elimination bracket. Tufts will have to take the long road through the loser's bracket to get back into contention.