WALTHAM, Mass. -- Facing three games in one day for the first time all season, the Brandeis softball team played valiantly, defeating Simmons College, 3-1, in an elimination game, and Endicott College, 5-1, to force a decisive contest for the ECAC Division III New England crown. The Judges could never quite erase an early deficit, however, eventually falling to the Gulls, 7-6, in the title match to close their season with a 27-18 record.
GAME FIVE: BRANDEIS 3, SIMMONS 1
In the opening game of the day, senior pitcher Caroline Miller (Bala Cynwyd, Pa./Harriton) returned to her dominant ways, earning her 16th win of the season by holding Simmons to two hits over the first five innings. Miller struck out 11 Shark hitters, setting the school single-season record in the process. She would finish the weekend with 177 strikeouts.
At one point, Miller recorded nine straight outs by way of the K, fanning the side in the second, third and fourth innings. The third was the only frame in which Miller was tested, allowing a one-out single to Simmons catcher Victoria Luongo and issuing a walk to leadoff hitter Hannah Cunningham, but that was the only Shark runner to advance past first base against Miller. Cailin Pagel singled in the fifth, but was immediately cut down trying to steal by rookie catcher Cori Coleman (Burr Ridge, Ill./Hinsdale).
Offensively, Brandeis got on the board quickly in the first inning. Rookie RF Amanda Genovese (North Haven, Conn./North Haven) legged out a single to second base to lead off and took second when Shark pitcher Laura Backhaus took her time returning to the circle. It was the first of her career-high four hits in the game. After a single to center field by senior 1B Marianne Specker (So. Windsor, Conn./Westminster School), Backhaus retired the next two hitters, but rookie 3B Anya Kamber (Sammamish, Wash./Skyline) again poked a ball to the right side and beat the throw to drive in the run.
Genovese was in position to score again in the third, after beating out a bunt single back to the circle and moving to second on an overthrow. She then stole third, but Backhaus bore down and got the next three hitters on a line out and two strikeouts to keep the hosts at bay.
Brandeis finally broke through in the fifth for two more. Sophomore 2B Leah McWilliams (Billerica, Mass./Billerica Memorial) led off with a double to the gap in right-center, and Genovese finished with her third hit of the day, slapping a single to center. She picked up another steal, allowing Specker to plate McWilliams on a groundout to short and Grimm to bring home Genovese on a bunt single to third base. A hard Lauren Porcaro (Shrewsbury,Mass./Shrewsbury) drive to right field and a successful double steal put two more in scoring position, but the Judges left them there after a pop-up and liner to third.
Simmons scored their lone run in the sixth inning off of reliever Melissa Nolan (Windsor, Conn./Loomis Chaffee), brought in to relieve Miller to save the senior ace for the rest of the afternoon. Doubles by Ari King and Emily Cunningham broke the shutout in the sixth, and Nolan stranded a pair of runners on base in the seventh to close out the win and earn her first career save.
GAME SIX: BRANDEIS 5, ENDICOTT 1
In the first game of the championship series against Endicott, Miller and Nolan combined for a three-hit shutout in Brandeis's 5-1 win. Miller, who tied another single-season record with her 31st appearance of the season – one she would break in the next contest – went six innings, allowing two hits and striking out five. She improved to 17-8 with the win, finishing second on Brandeis' single-season wins list.
Offensively, Brandeis scored all five of their runs with two out. They got on the board in the third inning with an unearned run. Genovese started things with two away, again using her speed to leg out a ball hit to third base. She stole second and third, coming home when senior Brittany Grimm's (Perkiomenville, Pa./Perkiomen Valley) grounder to shortstop was booted. In the fifth inning, Brandeis's rally was sparked by Specker's double to center field. She scored on Grimm's bounder up the middle. After Grimm moved to second on the throw home, Porcaro followed with an RBI single to left center.
Brandeis added two more insurance runs in the sixth on a dropped throw at first base on a ball hit by McWilliams, plating senior pinch-hitter Ali Theodore (Walpole, Mass./Walpole). Theodore's twin sister Mimi came around to score as a pinch runner on Genovese's third hit of the game, making it 5-0 Judges. Endicott once again got to Nolan, on a one-out solo home run by Colleen Martin, who had doubled in the second inning for EC's first hit of the game. Nolan issued two more walks after that as well, but a K and a foul out ended the game, setting up the winner-take-all final.
GAME SEVEN: ENDICOTT 7, BRANDEIS 6
The Judges and Gulls saved the most entertaining game of the tournament for last, scoring runs in five of the game's seven innings, with the teams trading runs three times.
In the first inning, Miller began to show some signs of fatigue, as she started her third contest of the day. Endicott struck for two runs, taking advantage of a Brandeis error as well. EC sophomore 2B Jesse Bilafer (Concord, Mass./Concord Carlisle) led off with a hard comebacker to Miller which she beat out. Classmate 3B Kelley Michael (Ipswich, Mass./Ipswich) followed with a bunt single to third, with both runners advancing on a throwing error. Sophomore CF Alexandra Moise (No. Reading, Mass./No. Reading) got the scoring started with a sacrifice fly to deep left, and two batters later, junior LF Byrne Katz (Wakefield, Mass./Austin Prep) bounced one through the left side to make it a 2-0 Endicott lead.
The Gulls doubled the lead in the top of the third, after Miller hit Michael with a 1-2 pitch. Two batters later, with runners on the corners and one out. Katz delivered an RBI single to left. Junior catcher Krista Fales (Melrose, Mass./Melrose) then singled up the middle on an 0-2 pitch to plate Martin with two away, chasing Miller and making it a 4-0 lead for the Gulls.
Brandeis answered for the first of three times in the third, with more two-out heroics. McWilliams and Genovese each drew walks with one away. After EC rookie starter Meg Donegan (Atkinson, N.H./Central Catholic) got a fly out on another three-ball count, Grimm doubled to left field – Brandeis's first hit of the game - to produce two RBI.
Both sides went in order in the fourth, but the fifth saw each team tally once. Endicott got an unearned run when Katz's fly ball to left was dropped, allowing Martin to score from second. Nolan induced two pop-ups to avoid further damage. The Judges got yet another two-out rally in the bottom, when Grimm picked up her third RBI of the day. Brandeis went on to load the bases on a Porcaro single, but Donegan got a fly ball to right to quash the rally with the score at 5-3, Endicott.
In the sixth, back-to-back doubles by Bilafer and Michael provided the Gulls with a 7-3 edge, but once again the host Judges responded. After Nolan singled and senior pinch hitter Ali Theodore walked, EC head coach Mark Veilleux summoned sophomore Nell O'Connor (Harwich, Mass./Harwich) from the bullpen. O'Connor had suffered the loss in Game Six of the tournament, but won Game Four against the Judges.
Another Brandeis pinch hitter, rookie Nikki Cote (Shelton, Conn./St. Joseph's) singled in the hole at shortstop to load the bases. O'Connor then got three straight Judges to ground out to third base. The first two by McWilliams and Genovese produced runs, but Specker could not bring in Miller, who had returned to pinch run.
EC stranded a runner in the top of the seventh, setting up a dramatic bottom of the inning. Grimm started it off with a grounder to short that she nearly beat out after it was bobbled by the shortstop. Porcaro followed with a double to right field and moved to third on a come-backer to the circle. She scored on Nolan's single up the middle. Theodore followed by slashing a ball to third base and beating the throw to first to put runners on first and second. A passed ball on the first pitch to Coleman put the tying and winning runs in scoring position. On a 1-2 count, Coleman's grounder to first was bobbled briefly, but not long enough for her to reach, and the Gulls emerged with the 7-6 win.
O'Connor was named the tournament MVP, finishing with a 2-1 record with one save and a 1.33 ERA, giving up just four earned runs and striking out 13 in 21 innings pitched. With the win, Endicott won its first ECAC softball title and their third ECAC crown of the spring season to go with men's lacrosse and baseball.