The Boston University Softball team clinched its seventh bid to the NCAA Tournament Saturday afternoon after defeating Bucknell University by a score of 10-5 in the Patriot League Tournament final.
As the No. 2 seed, the Terriers (35-19, 13-5 Patriot League) looked to sweep the conference tournament as they faced off against No. 3 Bucknell (23-26, 10-8 Patriot League) for the fifth time in the month of May and the second time during the tourney. Both the Terriers and Bison met in the first round of the tournament, a game that the Terriers rallied from behind to win, 4-3, in eight innings.
One week removed from her first career perfect game against Bucknell, sophomore pitcher Melanie Russell hunted for her third-straight victory against the Bison. Coming into Saturday’s matchup, Russell was 11-3 with a 1.95 ERA on the year.
“I think from the get-go, we knew we were going to lean on Mel to lead us to the championship,” said BU coach Kathryn Gleason. “She just dug in and did what she needed to do. Bucknell has some great hitters and they do a great job. … We knew they were going to get some runs off of her, but all we ask her to do is get some ground balls, fly balls. … She just dug in and did what she needed to do.”
Bucknell rode some momentum of its own into the weekend matchup as well, as the Bison had won six of their last 10, including a Friday doubleheader sweep that featured the defeat of top-seeded Lehigh University. Over their last ten games, Bison pitchers had only allowed an average of three runs per game. With this in mind, Bison pitcher Amanda Fazio hoped to put a stop to BU’s league-leading offense.
“It was a hard-fought game,” Gleason said. “We knew it was going to be a tough game. They battle. I think they’re similar to us in that it doesn’t matter if the other team scores, they’re battling the whole game.”
Despite Russell’s recent success against Bucknell, the Bison scored quickly. After Russell retired her first two batters, junior Cydnee Sanders singled and then quickly stole second. She was then brought home with a bleeder through the right side from junior Kristen Zahn.
Senior catcher Amy Ekart got the offense going for the Terriers in the top of the second, as she drove home junior second baseman Emily Felbaum with a double down the right-field line. The Bison quickly responded with a run of their own – a sacrifice fly from freshman Jacee Almond – in the bottom of the frame. In the third, a three-run home run to center field off the bat of senior first baseman Chelsea Kehr gave the Terriers the 4-2 lead, but the Bison came back in the bottom of the fourth with three of their own to take a 5-4 advantage.
The sixth inning would prove to be the difference maker in this contest. After freshman center Moriah Connolly fielder singled and advanced to third on a throwing error, driving in freshman third baseman Brittany Younan in the process, senior right fielder Jayme Mask singled up the middle to give the Terriers the 6-5 lead. There was no looking back from there. Russell was able to shut the door after the three runs she allowed in the fourth, as the Terriers tacked on four insurance runs in the top of the seventh for the final score of 10-5.
“They make things when they get on base and cause chaos,” Gleason said when asked about Connolly and Mask’s RBIs that gave the team the lead. “Every day we say it’s somebody different. Today Amy had a huge hit; Chelsea had another big three-run homer. We’ve been driving in runs up and down [the lineup].”
The victory secured BU its 10th overall conference title and first in the Patriot League. Kehr, who crushed two three-run homers in the final two games of the competition, received Patriot League Tournament MVP accolades. The Terriers have now won 16 of their last 20, and Gleason says the team hopes to continue its success as BU head for the NCAA Tournament.
“We’ll just continue to do what we do and that’s one game at a time, one pitch at a time, one inning at a time,” Gleason said. “The team has really bought into that. They play for each other, and they play for the team… they play together… We’ll learn our opponent and where we’re going tomorrow night and we’ll just get ready to play them.”