Elizabethtown surges past Endicott
Blue Jays win first NCAA tournament match in program history
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. -- Elizabethtown secured its first team victory in NCAA tournament history on Friday afternoon, coming from behind to knock off Endicott (Mass.) 5-2 in a first round match. The Blue Jays also broke the school record for dual wins in a season with their 18th, and will continue on to Saturday's second round against the host Williams, who are ranked No. 1 in the nation.
The Blue Jays (18-2) nearly came out of doubles play ahead in the match, but a turnaround at flight three allowed Endicott (14-2) to hold a 2-1 advantage heading into the six contested singles matches.
Emilie Cloutier and Amy Heacox of the Gulls turned a 7-6 deficit into a 9-7 win against E-town's freshman duo of Christine Evangelista and Kaitlyn Pellegrino for the doubles edge. Endicott's No. 1 team of Kate Cioffi and Emily Annis held off the Jays' Madison Pipkin and Allison Burkhardt, 8-6, for a 1-0 lead to start the match.
E-town leaned on its No. 2 pairing of Alena Marani and Kristi Noecker to knot things at one for a brief period. Marani and Noecker led most of the way against the Gulls' Laura MacLeod and Natalie Egbert. An 8-4 win for E-town's pair was its 17th in 18 matches together this season.
"NCAA Tournament play is really a mystery for the most part," commented 10th-year head coach Matt Helsel. "A lot of our lineup had the experience of two previous matches in the tournament, but you don't get a lot of time to scout teams you don't know much about when you get to this point."
"Doubles play today was such a roller coaster of emotions," Helsel added. "We were down early, then we were up and then back down again, but we just kept fighting."
All season Elizabethtown's strength has been in numbers. Matt Helsel rolls out a lineup that is tough to match up with top-to-bottom and such was the case Friday.
Noecker, last weekend's Commonwealth Conference Championships MVP, finished off Annis, 6-1, 6-3, in straight sets at No. 4 singles to bring the Blue Jays back even at 2-2. The win allowed the Mohrsville, Pa. native to reach the 20-win mark in a season for the second time in her career.
Two more straight set wins registered for the Blue Jays soon after Noecker started it off. Burkhardt defeated Heacox, 6-3, 6-3, at No. 3 and Sarah Poulle was a 6-3, 6-4 winner against Gina Pinciaro at No. 6, putting the Jays a win away from advancing for the first time in four national tournament appearances.
Evangelista, E-town's new school record holder with 24 wins in a season, would not let opportunity pass her by a second time Friday. She controlled Endicott's 12-match winner, Egbert, at No. 5 singles in the opening set, taking it 6-1. Egbert fought hard in the second, though, tying it at six. Evangelista won the tiebreaker 7-3, the match 6-1, 7-6 (3), and put the Jays through to the second round.
Due to Evangelista's win giving the Blue Jays the necessary five match wins (nine contested) needed to advance, the No. 1 and No. 2 singles matches went unfinished. Marani dropped her first set 6-2 to Cloutier, but won the second 6-1 and had a 3-1 lead in the third when play was halted.
Pipkin followed the same route at No. 1, losing 6-0 to Cioffi in the first, and winning the second set 6-3. The junior from Landisville was down three games in the third when her match was stopped.
Helsel commended his team's poise throughout singles play, and let it be known how significant he believed it was to today's win. "Our girls were remarkably calm and composed after the doubles matches, even though we were down a point. It was almost shocking to me how calm we were, but it really paid off. Everyone coming through in singles, and then Madison [Pipkin] and Alena [Marani] fighting back to even their matches, a No. 1 and No. 2, gave us that sense of confidence that we could pull this off."
The Blue Jays were eager to collect their first win in NCAA play.