SALEM, Va. – The No. 4 Salisbury University softball team faced off with undefeated and top-ranked Tufts University on Friday evening at the Moyer Sports Complex in a winners' bracket contest of the NCAA championship, but came up on the short end of a 3-0 decision.
The Sea Gulls now cross to the other side of the bracket, and will need to win three-straight games to advance to the best-of-three championship series.
The game was a rematch of the 2014 NCAA Division III softball championship series, and a rematch of two of the top pitchers in the nation. The senior hurlers, Salisbury's Rachel Johnson and Tufts' Allyson Fournier lived up to the billing as runs were scored in just one half inning of the contest, and the pair combined for 14 strikeouts.
The Jumbos (48-0) had the first scoring chance in the bottom of the first inning, registering two singles to center field off Johnson, but came away with nothing to show for it. Christina Raso laced a single to center field with one out, but when she tried to steal second moments later, senior catcher Rebecca Hoey fired a strike to second, and junior shortstop Kim Dorsey applied the tag for the second out of the inning. Another single followed, but Johnson got a flyout to center field to end in the inning.
The Sea Gulls (36-7) would threaten in the top of the second, registering two of their three hits in the game against Fournier in the frame. With two outs, junior Molly Simpson ripped a single to right field and advanced to second when LeAnne Collins walked. Senior Angela Malgieri loaded the bases, beating out an infield single, but Fournier would pick up a strikeout to end the inning.
Salisbury nearly broke through in the top of the third when junior Katie Sebbane singled up the middle with one out and Paige Knussman walked to put two runners on. Junior designated player Annah Brittingham ripped a ball to the right side, but second baseman Michelle Chisdak snared the liner and was able to double off Knussman at first to end the inning.
Tufts would come up with all the game's scoring in the bottom of the third, started by Christina Raso's two-out single through the right side just beyond the reach of a diving Simpson. Raso would come around from first on Michelle Cooprider's double into the left-field corner, for the 1-0 lead.
The Jumbo advantage grew to three when the next batter, Cassie Ruscz sent a two-run home run over the center field fence for the 3-0 lead.
Salisbury would not threaten in the closing innings, with only one Sea Gull reaching base in the final four innings of play.
With the loss, Salisbury's road to a championship gets a bit longer, needing five more wins to grab the title. The Sea Gulls will need one win on Saturday afternoon to remain alive in the tournament, taking on Kean University at 4 p.m. The Cougars lost in their opener in the championship, to the University of Texas-Tyler before defeating Alfred College on Friday.
"We're going to come out and fight," Johnson said. "I think everyone feels that way. We don't like losing. That's a good team and the rest of the teams that are here, they are all good too. I think we're going to do the best we can and we don't want to go home, so we're going to fight."