QUINCY, Mass.- The top-seeded Eastern Nazarene College softball team strung together three crucial victories to claim the program's first-ever New England Collegiate Conference Tournament title Saturday at Mitchell/McCoy Field.
Facing elimination, the Lions breezed by Lesley 13-0 in five innings to reach the NECC Tournament championship series. In game one of the championship series, Eastern Nazarene edged New England College 3-1 to force a winner-take-all showdown. The Lions rallied from a 2-0 deficit to score 11 unanswered runs en route to claiming an 11-2 win in five innings to seal the NECC crown.
The Lions improve to 28-13 on the season with Saturday's victories and earn the league's automatic qualifying bid to the NCAA Tournament.
"Our team showed a lot of determination today to come back after a tough loss last night to win three must-win games. I'm super proud of this group and we're excited to represent ENC and the NECC in the NCAA Tournament," commented fourth-year head coach Dani Bishop.
Junior Elisabeth Schaffer (Benton, Pa.) was named the NECC Tournament's Most Valuable Player after firing five complete games and finishing with 37 strikeouts in postseason play. Dominique Santos (Lancaster, Calif.) and Lauren Clements (Garrison, Texas) joined Schaffer on the NECC All-Tournament Team.
In its first contest of the day, Eastern Nazarene cruised past Lesley 13-0 in five innings.
The hosts jumped ahead 4-0 in the first inning. Kiley Ozaki (Ewa Beach, Hawaii) roped a double down the left field line to drive in Santos. Kori Bow (Shaftsbury, Vt.) laced a double to right to knock in Ozaki before Olivia Warren (Webster, N.Y.) scorched a single up the middle to score Clements and Bow.
The Lions tacked on a run in the third to stretch the margin to 5-0. Bow crossed the dish as Rebecca Hayner (Halfmoon, N.Y.) reached on an error.
Eastern Nazarene erupted for seven runs in the fourth to widen the gap to 12-0. Bow slapped a single up the middle to drive in Rebecca Ashman (Havre de Grace, Md.) and Santos. Hayner hoisted a sacrifice fly to right to plate Clements. With the bases full, Jenessa Huerta (El Monte, Calif.) tripled down the left field line to clear the bases, scoring Warren, Schaffer, and Bow. Santos capped off the scoring with a two-out single to knock in Huerta.
The Lions added a run in the fifth to push their advantage to 13-0. Ozaki tagged up and scampered home on a sacrifice fly by Schaffer.
In the first game of the championship series, Eastern Nazarene clipped New England College 3-1 to force a winner-take-all title match.
The Lions seized a 1-0 edge with a run in the bottom of the fourth inning. Santos rounded third and motored home as Ashman's bunt single rolled all the way to the outfield grass.
Eastern Nazarene chalked up two runs in the sixth to extend its lead to 3-0. Hayner roped a two-out single to left-centerfield to drive in Bow and Ozaki.
The Pilgrims got on the board in the top of the seventh inning to cut the deficit to 3-1 as Daelyn Ross scampered home on a wild pitch.
In the final tilt of the NECC Tournament, the Lions prevailed 11-2 in five frames to clinch their first-ever conference championship.
New England College grabbed an early 2-0 edge as Destiny Helmedach belted a two-run homer in the top of the first inning.
In the bottom of the first, Eastern Nazarene responded with a pair of runs to level the game at 2-2. Clements launched her team-leading 11th home run of the spring to plate Santos.
The Lions produced four runs in the second to vault ahead 6-2. Santos doubled down the right field line to knock in Huerta. After Ashman drew a walk, Ozaki clobbered a three-run shot for her second home run of the season.
Eastern Nazarene tallied three runs in the fourth to push its advantage to 9-2. Bow singled to plate Ashman before Clements crossed the dish as Hayner reached on a fielder's choice. Warren drew a bases-loaded walk to drive in Bow.
The Lions walked-off with the victory after scoring twice in the bottom of the fifth inning. Ozaki crushed her second homer of the game to score Ashman and clinch the NECC crown.
Bow finished the day with seven hits, five runs scored, and four RBIs in the three games. Santos notched seven base knocks, five runs scored, and a pair of RBIs. Ozaki racked up six RBIs, five hits, and five runs scored.
Eastern Nazarene will learn its NCAA Tournament destination and opponent when the NCAA Tournament Selection Show airs Monday, May 6.