May 21, 2013
Red Dragons dream ending denied
EAU CLAIRE, Wis. — Not all fairy tales have happy endings, as SUNY Cortland discovered on Monday afternoon.
A bid to capture the first national softball title in school history was denied by Tufts University, whose Jumbos rallied to pull out a 6-5 victory over these upstart Red Dragons in an NCAA Division III World Series championship round showdown at Carson Park.
After starting the day with a dramatic season-saving rally when five runs in the bottom of the seventh pulled out a 7-6 victory over Salisbury, Cortland certainly had the appearance of being destiny’s darlings.
And soon after beating No. 1 ranked Salisbury for the second time in this eight-team, double-elimination tournament — having opened the World Series with a 2-1 win over those same Sea Gulls back on Friday thanks to a pair of seventh inning scores — here were these remarkably resilient Red Dragons in the championship round with a two-run lead and fully convinced they could actually pull this off.
“You just keep thinking, I think we’re going to win. I think we’re going to do it. I think this could happen,” said Coach Julie Lenhart of watching her team grab an early 5-3 lead against Tufts.
“We’re really in the championship game. You’ve got to realize this is it,” she added. “It’s something everyone hopes for because you never know if you’re ever going to go back. There’s always that hope,and I just thought we were going to win it.”
Cortland would have had to beat Tufts twice to win the title, but at this point no one doubted that was a possibility.
Remember, this was a team that had an 8-10 record back on April 5. This was a team just plugging along after losing top slugger Meaghan Kohler to a broken arm and still searching for an identity.
This was a team that needed to win the SUNY Athletic Conference playoffs to even advance into the NCAA tournament — and did so by out-lasting Plattsburgh twice in extra-innings before nipping Geneseo 8-7 in the title game.
The Red Dragons then earned this trip to Wisconsin by winning an NCAA Division III Regional in Ithaca, and arrived to the World Series having won 14 of their last 15 games.
Though the final goal of a national title proved to be just out of reach, Cortland finished 35-17 and its second place World Series showing was the best in school history. This was Cortland’s eighth visit to the World Series.
Cortland had senior Lucia Meola, junior Alicia Hibbard and senior Cassie Kardias named to the World Series All-Tournament team. Pitcher Allyson Fournier from Tufts was named the Most Outstanding Player over four days of play.
“I’m honestly, so proud of this team, so proud of my seniors,” said Kardias after the loss. “Starting off again we didn’t know where we were going. To get here, this team is just amazing. I’m so happy for Tufts. I’m glad someone from the Northeast finally brought it home. Again, second place, we made history for our school and it’s been the best senior year.”
Tufts 6, Cortland 5: The Red Dragons carried over the momentum from the Salisbury win into the championship round when freshman Diane Cork led off the game with a homer, her 11th of the season.
Tufts (46-3) out of Massachusetts, however, tied the game, on a Jo Clair solo homer in the bottom of the first and took the lead on a Kris Parr solo homer in the second. The Jumbos extended their lead to 3-1 in the third. Bri Keenan was hit by a pitch, Clair doubled, Emily Beinecke was intentionally walked and Keenan scored on a wild pitch.
Cortland got a run back in the top of the fourth, but missed a chance at a bigger inning.
Erin Wolstenholme led off with a double and scored on a Courtney Kadish single to left center. Kadish took second on the throw home, and Briana Barca was hit by pitch to put runners on first and second with no outs. However, a popped up bunt, a strikeout and a fly out ended the inning.
The Red Dragons re-gained the lead with three runs in the top of the fifth.
Cortland loaded the bases with no outs on consecutive singles by Hibbard, Kardias and Nicole Gallo. The next two batters struck out, but Barca hit a two-run double that just eluded a diving right fielder in right center, and Jamie Bucci bunted for an RBI single.
That success off Tufts ace Fournier (25-1) was certainly unexpected, Cortland having been held to five hits in a 6-0 loss the Jumbos over the weekend.
“I don’t think we’ve see her give up five earned runs in a game, so that was certainly a testimony to how bad the other side wanted it as well,” said Tufts coach Cheryl Milligan. “It was quite a battle. If you’re going to have your toughest game, this is where it should be.”
Tufts had an answer in the bottom of the fifth to knock out Cortland starter Amber Corrigan. The first two batters reached on a walk and an error. After a force out at third for the first out, Michelle Cooprider hit a two-run double to left center to tie the game at 5-5.
Cooprider moved to third on an illegal pitch by reliever Sarah Salamone and scored on a Gracie Marshall RBI single to left center to give the Jumbos the lead. Parr and Kayla Holland each singled to load the bases. Tiffany Sampere entered to pitch and got two lineouts to end the inning.
The Red Dragons managed a one-out single by Hibbard in the sixth, but two flyouts ended the inning. Corrigan re-entered to pitch in the bottom of the sixth and held the Jumbos scoreless despite a walk and single. Tufts starter Allyson Fournier retired Cortland in order in the top of the seventh to end the game.
Cortland lost despite out-hitting the Jumbos, 12-8. Kardias finished 3-for-4, Hibbard was 2-for-4 and Barca went 1-for-3 with two RBI. Corrigan finished the season 20-7. She gave up five hits and five walks in 5-1/3 innings, striking out three.
Fournier, who entered the game with a 0.38 ERA for Tufts, allowed 12 hits and five runs, all earned, and struck out eight.
Cortland 7, Salisbury 6: Barca’s two-run double capped a five-run rally in the bottom of the seventh inning as Cortland shocked top-ranked Salisbury for the second time at the World Series.
Cortland entered the bottom of the seventh trailing 6-2 versus Salisbury first-team All-America pitcher Rachel Johnson.
The Red Dragons started their winning rally with a walk to Hibbard. Kardias singled up the middle to move pinch-runner Makaylee Dowd to second and Nicole Gallo doubled to left center to score Dowd.
After Wolstenholme was hit by a pitch to load the bases, Kadish hit a ball that went through the shortstop’s legs and two runs scored to cut the Salisbury lead to 6-5. Barca then hit her walk-off double to left center to drive in Wolstenholme and Kadish with the tying and winning runs.
Barca finished 3-for-4 with two doubles and two RBI and Kardias was 3-for-4.
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