SALEM, Va. -- The final game of Day 2 of the NCAA Division III Softball Championship will have a main-event feel to it, thanks to the teams who will be getting on the field on Friday night.
Two-time defending national champion Tufts, which improved to 47-0 with its 3-0 win against Alma in Thursday’s first round will be going for its 50th consecutive win.And what better of an opponent than Salisbury, which played a significant role in that streak.
The Sea Gulls, who advanced earlier on Thursday with a 2-1 win against DePauw, was the last team to beat the Jumbos. That happened in the two-teams’ first meeting in last year’s tournament.
Then came a battle so good, it looked like it would never end. They were scoreless going into the 14th inning, which Tufts finally broke through with a six-run inning, and went on to win 6-0.
That turned out to be the first of 49 consecutive wins for the Jumbos, who the next day beat Salisbury again 6-0 -- this time in seven innings, to win their second consecutive title.
Now to reach No. 50, the Gulls are again in the way.
Some of the players who played a key role in that final are back. Salisbury pitcher Rachel Johnson, who was the hard-luck loser in the last two games, has thrown every postseason inning so far this year for the Sea Gulls.
On Thursday, she gave up a solo home run in second inning against DePauw -- just the third earned run she’s surrendered in the postseason -- but saw her team come back to win.
And Allyson Fournier, who delivered 21 scoreless innings for the Jumbos in the last two games of 2014, is also back. She’s appeared in the circle in all but three innings since Tufts started its postseason on May 1.
Thursday’s win improved her record to 31-0.
But there are changes.
For Salisbury, the resolve it had last year to win a national championship has increased, say its players.
“We lost some key players from last year, but we also got a lot of key players,” said Salisbury shortstop Kim Dorsey, who had an RBI hit in the win over DePauw. “It’s the same mentality as last year. We’re trying to win it all.
“We came in third two years ago, second last year and we know the feeling of losing that championship game. Now we just want to get back there.”
On Tufts’ side, Fournier has led her team on it run while working with a new catcher. In the two national-championship years, the Jumbos’ pitcher had catcher Jo Clair behind the plate all season long. This year, two freshmen -- Raven Fournier and Sarah Finnegan -- have completed Tufts’ battery at times.
Fournier has been the starter throughout the postseason. They’ve been able to tap into the experience of Clair, who used up her eligibility last year, but has stuck around in 2015 to work as a coach.
“We’re a different team we were last year,” Tufts coach Cheryl Milligan said. “In some ways, we’re a stronger team. We have a bunch of freshmen working behind the plate. … And Allison is no teddy bear.
“But the addition of the freshman class has been a huge attribute for us.”
Fournier added that the personality of the team’s leaders are generally different than in the previous seasons, which has helped give this year’s Jumbos their own identity.
“We have a very consistent lineup this year, which I hope we’ll be showing throughout the week,” Fournier said. “We feel like everyone in the lineup is able to get a hit.”