TYLER, Texas – With two of the best teams in the nation going head-to-head in a best-of-three series for the national championship, it's no surprise that the No. 4 Salisbury University softball team and the defending national champion, top-ranked Tufts University, will need to play the third game of the series to decide the national champion, as the squads split two games on Monday.
Game one: Salisbury 2, Tufts 1
Salisbury picked up the key first-game victory, coming from behind to grab the 2-1 win.
Each team threatened in the early innings, with Tufts getting the lead-off batter on base against starting pitcher Rachel Johnson in each of the first two innings, but the Preston, Md., native would escape each jam, and Salisbury put the potential first run on base in the second on sophomore Paige Knussman's leadoff double.
Neither team would strike until the Jumbos broke through putting together a two-out rally in the bottom of the third inning. Bri Keenan reached on a bloop double to left field, which fell between shortstop Kim Dorsey and the on-rushing left fielder, Angelia McDowell.
Johnson got ahead of the next batter, Jo Clair, 0-and-2 and sent in the third pitch up at the height of Clair's eyes, but the Tufts' catcher went up to get it, sending a line drive, just over the outstretched arm of Dorsey for a double to score Keenan for the 1-0 lead.
Knussman evened the game in the next half inning, turning on a 1-and-2 pitch that was letter high from Tufts pitcher Allyson Fournier, and belting the ball over the left-field fence for a solo shot, tying the game with two outs.
Knussman, who was 5-for-10 in the championship event, with five doubles entering the at-bat, rounded third and came home, stomping on home plate with two feet, igniting the celebration that the Gulls would turn into another run.
Following the home run, Fournier walked Katie Sebbane and Rebecca Hoey before Angela Malgieri hit a slow roller to the shotstop, Christina Raso. Raso fielded the ball, but had nowhere to go as the Gulls loaded the bases with two outs.
Simpson was able to just get enough of a pitch down and in from Fournier, and her soft line drive was just out of the reach of the diving Raso into left field, scoring Sebbane for the go-ahead run.
McDowell got the first out of the bottom of the fourth for the Sea Gulls when Summer Horowitz hit a looper to left-center field. McDowell came charging in and made the diving catch for the first out of the frame to help the one-run lead stand up.
The Jumbos would get four runners on base in their final four trips to plate, but none would get past second base as Johnson struck out five to collect her 29th win of the year, getting the Sea Gulls within one victory of a national championship.
Game two: Tufts 6, Salisbury 0 (14 inn.)
In the second game, Salisbury Head Coach Margie Knight threw a change of pace at the Jumbos, sending senior Kathryn Larson to the circle. The start was the first of the postseason for the Frederick, Md., native, and the move worked perfectly, getting a fresh arm in the game in the hot and humid conditions.
Larson retired the first nine batters before giving up a leadoff single in the fourth. The Jumbos would load the bases in the inning, with two outs, but Larson would get a groundout to end the threat.
Tufts would put runners in scoring position again in the fifth, but to no avail. Michelle Cooprider drove a grounder up the middle for a leadoff single and Larson got a grounder off the bat of Carrie Copacino to Molly Simpson at second base. Simpson spun to try to tag Cooprider who was passing behind her, but could not apply the tag and both runners were safe.
A groundout would push the runners into scoring position, and Larson got a comebacker to keep the Jumbos at second and third. The inning came to an end with a Keenan fly out.
Salisbury would put runners on with two outs in each of the first two innings, off Fournier, but could not get a run across. The Sea Gulls would put at least one runner on in the first three innings before Fournier retired 11 straight. The Tufts pitcher worked all 21 innings in the day, throwing 284 pitches.
With the game still scoreless in the seventh, Salisbury came up with its best chance to score in regulation, as Knussman singled to lead off the inning and move to second on a sacrifice bunt. But a strikeout and a fly out sent the game to extra innings.
Tufts loaded the bases with two outs in the top of the eighth, but Larson finished the inning with a groundout.
Salisbury had its best scoring chance of the game in the eighth inning; Dorsey and pinch hitter Molly Gigioli reached base to start the inning and advanced into scoring position on a sacrifice bunt, but Salisbury could not push the winning run across after loading the bases.
The game remained scoreless until the 14th, when the Jumbos would score six times off Johnson and Larson to claim the win, sending the series to a final day.
The softball team will take part in the final athletic event of the 2013-14 athletic season for Salisbury University, taking on the Jumbos in the winner-take-all third game on Tuesday, beginning at noon, eastern time.