SALEM, Va. -- When top-ranked and two-time defending champion Tufts and No. 2 Texas-Tyler begin play in their NCAA Division III softball best-of-three finale on Monday at the James I. Moyer Complex, all that’s certain is whoever comes out on top will be breaking some records.
For Tufts, a third national title is unprecedented in Division III. Right now, the Jumbos share the distinction of being two-time champions with St. Thomas (Minn.) (2004-05) and Eastern Connecticut State (1985-86).
Either way, this will be the Patriots' best finish in four Division III championship appearances.
“I’m proud for them. I know how hard they work,” Texas-Tyler coach Mike Reed said. "For the seniors, this is great because we know how hard they’ve worked to get here. And I’m happy for the program to take that next step. We felt like we had a good team and that we just needed to come out and perform well.”
Here’s a look at what to expect in the series:
For both teams, the pitching has been great thus far, and there’s no reason to expect that will change.
Tufts pitcher Allyson Fournier has given up just two runs since the postseason began for the Jumbos back on May 1. This week in Salem, she has allowed no runs and struck out 29 batters. And as the tournament has progressed, she has become even stingier against opposing batters, giving up five hits in her team's win against Alma on Thursday, three hits in the win against Salisbury on Friday and one hit to Linfield on Sunday.
For Texas-Tyler, Kelsie Batten has allowed 13 hits and three earned runs in the Patriots’ three wins. She held Salisbury scoreless on Sunday until the seventh inning, when the Sea Gulls scored twice. Batten was also relieved with two outs in the seventh by Alaina Kissinger, who finished the game for Texas-Tyler, and was credited with the win after the Patriots rallied with three runs in the bottom of the inning.
“Both pitchers are really good,” said Linfield coach Jackson Vaughn, whose Wildcats lost one-run games to both. “They don't give up any walks. They stay right at you, hammer the strike zone and they make you beat them. It's going to be some tight, low scoring games.”
For the Jumbos, this has been an area of concern all week for coach Cheryl Milligan. The Jumbos scored three times in the third inning of both of their first two games and had a combined 11 hits in those matchups. Against Linfield’s Montana McNealy, the Jumbos managed just three hits, and their run was unearned.
Milligan said the difference this week compared to earlier in the postseason is that while Tufts has been able to take leads, the team has not been able to follow up with insurance runs like it had earlier in the season.
Texas-Tyler has gradually improved offensively as the tournament has progressed. And the Patriots showed against Salisbury what it can do with the bats when they are behind. The last three batters in the order all reached base in the seventh, and all three eventually scored.
“When you’re looking for an edge, pitching wise, you can give it to Tufts," Vaughn said. “For hitting you give it to UT-Tyler -- they're solid all of the way through their order.
“I still anticipate it will be a low-scoring series.”