Boston University softball notched its third Patriot League championship Saturday in as many chances, with the 2020 tournament being canceled due to the pandemic. The Terriers’ 9-2 win over Lehigh University earned them their first-ever conference three-peat on their third win of the playoffs and 36th win of the season.
“This was a chance to show that they were the best team in the conference the entire year,” BU head coach Ashley Waters said in a press conference Saturday. “There was always someone chasing us, and they were incredibly resilient the whole entire year.”
BU jumped on Lehigh early, scoring two runs in the first inning thanks to a leadoff single from sophomore infielder Caitlin Coker, which was followed up by another single from freshman outfielder Lauren Keleher and an RBI ground ball from junior designated player Emily Gant.
“Coker and Lauren [Keleher] set the tone,” Waters said. “I thought they did a brilliant job the entire weekend of getting on base, making things happen and starting it right away.”
The Terriers tacked on some more runs in the third inning, this time with two outs. After Coker and Keleher both grounded out, Gant laced a double down the third base line, starting the rally. Freshman catcher Lauren Nett followed that up with a base hit, scoring Gant. Nett then scored on a throwing error by Lehigh, which also allowed junior infielder Nicole Amodio to reach base.
“Working on getting on balls, getting behind balls, generating ground balls, generating line drives, that was going to make something happen,” Waters said. “Our offense just did a really great job having the mindset of, ‘No, we’re gonna put the ball in play, and you’re gonna have to get us out. You’re gonna have to make a play.’ We had some really timely hits.”
BU put that mindset on full display by following up the error with two more hits: the first a single from junior outfielder Aliyah Huerta-Leipner and the second a double from senior outfielder Jen Horita. Each of those hits netted the Terriers a run, bringing the score to 6-0. Sophomore utility player Audrey Sellers then came in to pinch-hit and knocked in Horita with a base hit to right field, bringing BU’s lead to seven runs.
“One through nine in the order, I feel like everybody did something at some point, and I think that’s pretty special,” Waters said. “That’s a really tough team to stop when you have people shooting from all cylinders.”
Lehigh would get on the board with a two-run home run from sophomore outfielder Emily Cimino in the bottom half of the fifth inning, but the seven-run Terrier lead was quickly restored thanks to another BU rally. It started with Keleher’s leadoff triple, which was followed by a walk from Nett. Keleher scored on an RBI groundout from Amodio while Nett came home on a throwing error.
Waters said her younger players who had never seen postseason action were well prepared for the championship game and played well despite the high stakes.
“Lauren [Nett] was the tournament MVP behind the plate, Lauren Keleher had a heck of a weekend for herself,” Waters said. “You sit there, and you hope that you prepare them and they can thrive in these moments, but we never make a game bigger than it is.”
The two runs in the sixth inning brought the score to 9-2, and it would stay that way thanks to strong pitching once again from senior starting pitcher Ali DuBois. DuBois netted her 25th win of the season by giving up just eight hits and two walks while striking out five across seven innings.
One of the biggest storylines throughout the season was the potential impact the pandemic could have on the Terriers’ road to the Patriot League title defense. BU was able to avoid a teamwide COVID-19 outbreak, and Waters said she was impressed by her players’ response to the pandemic this season.
“We approached it as any game could be your last, any weekend could be your last, so you gotta leave it out there, you gotta play hard,” Waters said. “The discipline of these 18-to 22-year-olds to not have a situation where they got COVID, or not get in trouble or not have any scenario that kind of took us out of our groove, the unselfishness of that is just so impressive.”
Looking forward, the Terriers will head to Stillwater, Oklahoma for Regionals in hopes of having success in the NCAA tournament. They begin play against a 33-23 Mississippi State University team on Friday.
“I think the expectations have been lifted, we have a higher standard of, ‘No, making it is not enough, winning the conference is not enough,’” Waters said. “If there’s any year we’re gonna do it, it could be this year.”