May 23, 2010

Courtesy of ECSU

EAU CLAIR, Wis. .--For the first time in 48 career starts, Eastern Connecticut State University sophomore All-America Molly Rathbun (Hebron) did not strike out a batter. What she did do Sunday afternoon was help keep the Warriors alive in the NCAA Division III national softball tournament.

Rathun (29-1) avenged her only loss of the season by limiting DePauw University (40-9) to four hits and one run over six innings, and all-region outfielders Ashley Sullivan (Trumbull) and Priscilla Alicea (Stratford) combined to reach base seven times with six hits and a walk, score four runs and drive in two as the Warriors won their second straight tournament game after an opening loss.

Eastern (38-5-1) is scheduled to play its third elimination game in two days Sunday night at 8:30 p.m. ET against the winner of a 3:30 p.m. ET game between Luther College and Christopher Newport University. Without Rathbun (flu) in its tournament opener Friday evening, Eastern was shut out by Christopher Newport , 8-0 - its worst national tournament loss ever in 57 games. The Warriors have won their last three national titles coming through the losers' bracket.

Two months ago, Rathbun also pitched a four-hitter against the Tigers but lost what would be her only game to this point when DePauw scored two unearned runs in a 2-0, eight-inning win on the spring trip at Clermont, FL. The Tigers entered Sunday's game with a .345 team batting average and had struck out an average of only three times per game.

Sunday's victory was Rathbun's 26th straight this season, and although she did not strike out a batter as a starting pitcher for the first time ever (and for only the second time in 63 career appearances), she retired 15 hitters on popups - including seven straight after sophomore rightfielder Holly Paris stroked a two-out solo home run which hit the top of the left field fence and bounced over in the fourth to make it 4-1. Eastern's defense, ranked No. 2 nationally, backed Rathbun by making several impressive catches on foul balls in the first three innings, and also got a sliding sno-cone grab by junior leftfielder Katie Dinihanian (Stratford) to end the sixth inning.

Paris' home run ended a program record streak of 48 2/3 scoreless innings for Rathbun, who has given up runs in only two of her last 18 appearances and in only ten of 34 appearances this season.

Batting leadoff for the second straight game (second time in her career), Sullivan reached safely all four times with her fourth home run with two outs in the fourth, two singles and a walk. She walked to start the bottom of the first and scored the first run, drove in the third run of the game with a single in the second, homered in the fourth to answer Paris' in the top of the inning, and singled to greet relief pitcher Kristin Barrow and scored in the sixth. Alicea, the team's regular leadoff hitter, had a sacrifice bunt to build the first run of the game in the first, singled to drive in pinch runner Courtney Weber (Groton) to make it 3-0 in the second, singled in the fourth and collected her 98th hit in only her 80th career game and scored in the sixth.

Batting third, Rathbun raised her team-leading batting average to .419 by reaching three times with two singles and a walk. She drove in Sullivan with the first run of the game in the first inning. Cleanup hitter Katie O'Toole (Waterbury) plated two runs with a single in the first and a ground ball in the sixth.

Stopped on four hits by DePauw senior Megan Soultz (29-7) in Florida, Eastern had eight hits in five innings this time against Soultz, the three-time Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference Pitcher-of-the-Year who ends her career ranked among Division III's all-time leaders in a number of career categories. By winning, Rathbun also ties Soultz for the most wins by a pitcher in Division III this season.

In three national tournament games, Sullivan and Alicea are a combined 12-for-16 with five RBI and four runs. Both have six hits, Sullivan adding five RBI and four runs scored. In 11 post-season tournament games (four in the Little East Conference), the Warriors have commited only two errors and are batting .306. Now 27-2-1 in its last 30 games, Eastern is within one victory of tying the program season record for wins, set during the 1985 national championship season.