TYLER, Texas -- Tufts scored six unearned runs after two were out in the top of the sixth inning and went on to earn a 9-3 victory against East Texas Baptist University in its opening game at the NCAA Championship Finals on Thursday.
The Jumbos, who are defending their 2013 NCAA Championship, twice hit back-to-back home runs in the game to power their way to victory. Jo Clair and Cassie Ruscz did it in the fourth and Gracie Marshall and Clair teamed up in the sixth.With her two home runs in the game, Clair now has 22 on the season and 65 in her career. That's the third most in NCAA Division III history for a season and pulls her within three of second place on the NCAA Div. III career list.
The Tigers were the first to get on the scoreboard, scoring in the bottom of the third. Alyssa Romero, who drove home all three of ETBU's runs in the game, singled home Mallory Westbrook, who had walked and took third on a Jumbo error. With runners on first and second and one out, Allyson Fournier got out of the jam by recording a pair of outs in the air.
Tufts answered immediately, as Clair led off the fourth with a home run to left center and Ruscz followed with her 11th of the season to center. The Jumbos led 2-1.
Clair and Ruscz came to the plate with runners on first and second in the fifth, but Tigers starter Shelby Parker was able to retire both and keep it a 2-1 game.
Romero would turn the game around with two outs in the fifth. With Jayme Perez on by a walk, Romero launched a home run to left that gave ETBU a 3-2 margin. Jessica Bowden and Lacey Lindsey would follow the round-tripper with two-out singles, but Fournier recorded the final out on a line drive.
Down to six outs left entering the sixth, the Jumbos made two quick outs in the inning before the rally started. Shelby Lipson sparked it with a pinch-hit single and Bri Keenan followed with a single up the middle. A ball hit by Christina Raso rolled all the way to the fence after an error by the shortstop and both runners scored. With Tufts up 4-3, Sara Hedtler singled home Raso and then Marshall and Clair followed with their back-to-back blasts and it was suddenly 8-3.
Fournier allowed just one base-runner in the final two innings, and Tufts tacked on another run with a infield single by Raso in the top of the seventh for the 9-3 final.
Fournier improved to 24-0 with the victory. She allowed four hits and three runs (two earned) with three walks and eight strikeouts.
Tufts had 12 hits in the game as Clair led with a 2-for-4 effort with two runs and two RBI. Keenan and Raso both went 2-for-4 with a run, while Hedtler was 2 for 5 with a run in the lead-off spot.
Romero had two of the Tigers' four hits in the game. Parker took the loss, giving up the 12 hits and eight runs (two earned) with five strikeouts and no walks.
Tufts has now won 20 consecutive postseason games, including conference, NCAA Regional and NCAA Finals dating back to last season.