E. Conn. State
Rathbun

SALEM, Va. -- In the home run derby that has punctuated Eastern Connecticut State's appearance in the NCAA Division III tournament, junior All-American Molly Rathbun had the final say as the Warriors avoided early elimination with a 4-2 win against Messiah College.

Rathbun (24-2), who has surrendered three home runs in 15 tournament innings after giving up three all season long, hit her second home run of the tournament to snap a 2-2 tie to lead the Warriors to their first tournament victory after Friday's loss.

By eliminating Messiah (39-7), the 2009 national champion, Eastern (35-6) advances to play a second elimination game against Linfield College (46-3), which had a 35-game winning streak snapped in a 4-0 loss to Texas-Tyler on Saturday. Linfield, the 2010 national runner-up, is the nation's top-ranked team and had outscored its five previous NCAA tournament opponents 59-0.

After giving up her third tournament home run in eight innings with one out in the top of the first, Rathbun  was nearly untouchable. She allowed only two hits (one never left the infield) without a walk the rest of the way, and unloaded what proved to be the game-winning home run in the fifth - a line drive on a 1-0 pitch which barely cleared the left-center field fence. The homer was Rathbun's team-leading tenth of the season, one shy of the season record, and the 23rd of her career. 

With the Warriors still smarting from an 8-7, eight-inning loss Friday night to Christopher Newport, in which Eastern blew a 7-1 lead in the seventh, Jaclyn Merkel homered off Rathbun with a runner aboard in the first to give the Falcons the early lead.

Third baseman Arielle Cooper -- who has reached safely six times in two tournament games -- homered to lead off the second to get Eastern on the board. Cooper then drove in the tying run in the third with a two-out single to left, and reached on an infield single following Rathbun's home run in the fifth.

Center fielder Priscilla Alicea scored the tying run on Cooper's third-inning single after singling to right with one out in the inning, and moved to second on Rathbun's infield ground ball. Alicea, who has five hits and four runs scored in the tournament, was aboard when Rathbun uncorked her tie-breaking home run in the fifth that chased Messiah starter Jocelyn Hickey (13-5).  With one out, she legged out a hot smash that Messiah second baseman Abi Buchler knocked down with a dive toward first but could not control.

Rathbun, who struck out 12 but walked a career-high eight on Friday, fanned eight Messiah batters to go along with the lone walk. She retired the first batter in every inning after the first and avoided trouble in the sixth by fanning cleanup hitter Jessica Rhoads on four pitches with a runner on first in the sixth.

The top of the Eastern lineup - Alicea, the No. 2 hitter, Rathbun and Cooper - accounted for all six of Eastern's hits.