TYLER, Texas -- On the brink of a season-ending defeat in the bottom of the eighth inning, Tufts persevered until scoring six times in the top of the 14th to earn a dramatic 6-0 victory against Salisbury in Game 2 of the NCAA championship series Monday.
Junior pitcher Allyson Fournier, she of 10 no-hitters, had perhaps the finest performance of her Jumbo career going all 14 innings for the shutout while allowing five hits. She retired the final 17 Sea Gull batters.
Sophomore DP Cassie Ruscz, who had failed to get a hit on four previous occasions when Salisbury had walked senior All-American catcher Jo Clair to face her instead, came through the fifth time. She delivered a two-run double to left-center that broke a 0-0 tie in the top of the 14th and sparked a six-run outburst.
After the pitching on both sides had controlled the first seven innings, both squads had opportunities to score in extra innings. In the bottom of the eighth, Salisbury had bases loaded with one out and could not score to win the game. Fournier induced a ground ball for a force-out at the plate and then caught a soft line drive back at her for the final out.
Salisbury, which had been riding junior stand-out pitcher Rachel Johnson all tournament, decided to start No. 2 Kathryn Larson in Game 2. She was sensational, retiring the first nine Tufts hitters and allowed just five hits before she was relieved by Johnson in the eighth.
Senior LF Sara Hedtler was productive for the Jumbos with three hits in five at bats. She helped produce the game's first scoring opportunity in the top of the fourth with a lead-off infield single. She was bunted to second and took third on a single back at the pitcher by first-year 1B Summer Horowitz, but Tufts could not get her home.
The Jumbos had runners on first and second with no outs in the fifth after junior CF Michelle Cooprider led off with a single and first-year RF Carrie Copacino reached on a Salisbury error. Larson eliminated the threat with a pair of ground outs and a fly ball.
Salisbury didn't put a runner in scoring position until the seventh. Paige Knussman, whose solo home run tied Game 1 at 1-1, singled to center field. She was bunted to second, but Fournier stranded her with a strikeout and a fly ball.
Unlike the regular season, the tie-breaker rule of placing a runner on second base is not used in post-season play. In the top of the eighth, after Jumbo sophomore SS Christina Raso led off with a single up the middle, Clair was intentionally/unintentionally walked for the first time. With Raso on second, Ruscz grounded out to short for the third out.
After the Sea Gulls failed to capitalize on their opportunity in the bottom of the eighth, Johnson came in to pitch and dominated the Jumbos in the ninth. However, the Jumbos would get a scoring chance in the 10th. With two outs, Salisbury walked Clair again to load the bases. Sea Gulls catcher Rebecca Hoey had to make a nice stop on a pitch in the dirt to keep the runner at third before Ruscz grounded into a fielder's choice.
With Fournier seemingly getting stronger as the game went on, Tufts had runners in scoring position in the 11th and 12th and did not score. Hedtler and Clair were on second and third when the final out was made in the 12th.
The game-winning rally in the 14th wouldn't start until two were out. Hedtler had a one-out single before Clair was walked again. This time, Ruscz erased her frustration at the plate and drove the ball into the left-center gap scoring both runners. That opened the floodgates, as Horowitz followed with a single scoring Ruscz. Senior 2B Gracie Marshall then singled through the left side for a RBI, while Cooprider did the same to center field. Copacino capped it off with a two-run single to center.
Fournier wrapped up the win with a 1-2-3 bottom of the 14th. She had suffered her first loss of the season in Game 1, but returned strong . Eight times in Game 2 Salisbury came to the plate in the bottom of the inning with a chance to walk-off with an NCAA championship, and each time Fournier kept them off the scoreboard. For the day, she pitched 19 innings allowing 11 hits and two runs.
The Jumbos finished with 13 hits. In addition to Hedtler's three, Ruscz, Horowitz, Marshall and Cooprider each had two. With the victory, Tufts tied the program record for wins with its 46th (46-4) equaling last year.
Johnson took the loss for Salisbury, dropping to 30-5. She gave up four hits, six walks and three runs with four strikeouts in 5.2 innings.
Tufts is playing for its second consecutive NCAA title, while Salisbury (44-4) is seeking its first.