Lower seeds advance in ECAC Softball semis

WALTHAM, Mass.  —  The lower seeds prevailed in a pair of ECAC Division III New England Softball Tournament semifinal round contests today. In the opener, fourth-seeded Salve Regina knocked off top-seeded WPI, 7-5, on the strength of catcher Genevieve Benoit's five-RBI performance. In game two, #3 Smith blanked #2 Brandeis, 3-0, to hand Pioneer head coach Kelly O'Connell her 150th career victory.

      Brandeis and WPI are meeting in an elimination game at 2:30 p.m., while Salve Regina and Smith face off in the winner's bracket following that game.

      In the second semifinal, the story was Smith sophomore pitcher Gina Martucci (Pompton Plains, N.J./Pequannock Township), who held the Judges to just two hits, both of which came in the second inning. Martucci only allowed three balls into the outfield all game, as she improved to 20-7 with her 21st complete game and ninth shutout of the campaign.

      Smith outhit the Judges, 13-2, but Brandeis pitchers limited their trouble, stranding 13 Pioneer runners in the process. The visitors left runners on first in each of the first two innings. In the bottom of the second, Brandeis junior catcher Cori Coleman (Burr Ridge, Ill./Hinsdale South) singled to right, and sophomore DP Danielle Novotny (Milford, N.J./Delaware Valley) bounced one through the right side to put two runners on, but Martucci got her opposite number in Judge senior hurler Melissa Nolan (Windsor, Conn./Loomis Chaffee) to ground out to second to end the threat.

 Smith broke through in the third against Nolan. Sophomore Joanna Giordano led off the frame with a bloop single to center, then used aggressive base-running advance to third base on a bunt. She scored on rookie Brittney Blokker's (Seattle, Wash./Ballard) single that dropped just over the second-baseman's head into right field. The Pioneers got two more hits to load the bases with two outs, but Nolan got a grounder to second to keep the deficit at one run.

Brandeis got their only other runner into scoring position in the third, when junior centerfielder Amanda Genovese (North Haven, Conn./North Haven) was hit by a pitch with one out and stole her first base in exactly a month – the 107th of her career  - but she got no further as Martucci got a K and a liner to second. The Judges would get only one more base-runner the rest of the way, a fourth-inning walk to Coleman.

Sophomore Joanna Giordano (South Salem, N.Y./John Jay) drove in a run in the fourth with an RBI single to second that plated rookie Sarah Tully (W. Simsbury, Conn./Simsbury), who doubled to lead off the frame. Again the Pioneers packed the sacks, but junior reliever Nikki Cote (Shelton, Conn./St. Josephs) got a strikeout and a fly to center to end the threat.

Smith added one more run in the fifth as sophomore SS Caroline Kushner (Cheshire, Conn./Cheshire) opened with a double, stole third and scored on Martucci's grounder to second. Cote worked out a second-and-third, no-out jam in the sixth with a liner to second and two whiffs, but the Brandeis offense saw the last 10 hitters retired.

      In the opener, it was Salve Regina's Benoit (Swampscott, Mass./St. Mary's) who was the offensive star, driving in the Seahawks' first five runs. In the first, she had a two-out, two run single after the bases were loaded on three walks. In the third, after WPI's Clare Doolin (Newton, Mass./Newton North) gave up a single and a walk to open the inning, Caroline Medino (Pompton Lakes, N.J./Pompton Lakes) came in and got the first two outs, but Benoit delivered a long home run to straight-away center field to give SRU a 5-1 lead. It was her second homer of the season. For the day, Benoit was 3-4 with five RBI, a run scored and a homer.

      WPI didn't go away, as senior catcher Juliana Fekete (Belgrade, Maine/Mesalonskee) bounced a ball off the top of the fence and over in the fourth for her team-leading fifth round-tripper of the season. Sara Nelson of Salve Regina got the run back with a two-out single in the top of the fifth, but the Engineers struck for three in the bottom of the frame, including a two-run homer to left by junior Kate Bumila (Raynham, Mass./Coyle and Cassidy). It was Bumila's third of the campaign. SRU added an insurance run in the top of the seventh to claim the 7-5 win.

Sophomore Nicole Parry (Quincy, Mass./Quincy Nursing) earned the win in the circle for the Seahawks, her 12th of the season. She gave up seven hits and five earned runs in seven innings for her 18th complete game. Parry struck out eight and walked just one. Doolin suffered the loss, despite allowing just two hits, but three of the four walks she allowed scored. Doolin also struck out three hitters. Medino gave up seven hits in five innings of relief for the Engineers, striking out two and walking one.