WILLIMANTIC, Conn. – The Eastern Connecticut State University softball team swept both ends of a doubleheader six times in the regular season. If the Warriors can make it seven on Sunday in the national tournament, they will have the opportunity to play for a national championship for the eighth time in program history.
Behind sophomore righty Morgan Bolduk's (Vernon) seventh complete game in eight NCAA starts and junior shortstop Sara Pisanelli's (Wallingford) sixth-inning suicide squeeze Friday afternoon, eighth-seeded Eastern (36-12) reached the finals of the elimination bracket with a 1-0 win over second-seeded Illinois Wesleyan University.
The victory, Eastern's second in three national tournament games, moves the Warriors into Sunday competition against unbeaten and third-seeded Emory University (38-12). The teams meet at 3:30 p.m. An Eastern victory in the first meeting ever between the programs forces a second game against the Eagles Sunday night. At stake in that game is a berth in the best-of-three championship series beginning Monday against either seventh-seeded Trine University or fourth-seeded Texas Lutheran University.
While the Warriors must win four games beginning Sunday to claim the sixth national title in program history, a spot in the best-of-three championship series would allow a loss in their quest for a national title.
Two games in the best-of-three are scheduled for Monday. A split would dictate a winner-take-all contest, if needed, Tuesday afternoon.
Ranked 18th nationally and second in the Atlantic Region (behind 2017 and 2018 national champ Virginia Wesleyan College), Emory is competing in its 16th NCAA tournament in the program's 21-year history in search of its first title.The Eagles have finished as high as third once and fourth once.
Emory's road to the nationals included winning the Demorest, Georgia Regional (Emory was originally earmarked as the host site before it was moved the Tuesday before the regionals) by defeating host Piedmont College twice in the championship round after being shut out by the hosts in the second round, then capturing its second Super Regional title in four years by winning two straight against host University of Lynchburg after an opening victory.
The Eagles have beaten, at least once, every team but two that they faced this year in the regular season. The team won the University Athletic Association (UAA) regular-season title with a 16-4 record and earned an at-large bid to the NCAA (the UAA does not have a post-season tournament and the regular-season winner is not granted an automatic berth in the NCAA).
At Tyler, Emory has beaten the sixth (Randolph-Macon College) and seventh (Trine University) seeds to move to within a win of a spot in the championship series, while Eastern has knocked off top seed University of Saint Thomas, 2-1, and second-seeded Illinois Wesleyan University, 1-0, Saturday. As a tournament unbeaten, the Eagles did not compete Saturday while Eastern were battling to remain alive in the tournament against Illinois Wesleyan.
At left: In NCAA play, the Warriors have ridden the right arm of All-America sophomore Morgan Bolduk and the glove of freshman third baseman Julia SanGiovanni, who has handled 25 chances perfectly in eight games. (Photo by Erin Winsor)
While Eastern has started Bolduk in all eight games in the NCAA tournament, Emory, like most of the other tournament teams, have relied upon two pitchers with near identical statistics. Senior righty Toko Miller is 9-3 with four saves and a 2.92 ERA in 124 2/3 innings over 31 appearances, sophomore second-team All-UAA righty Madison Schaefer from Newton, MA is 20-4 with two saves and a 2.94 ERA in 128 2/3 innings over 29 appearances. Also contributing this year has been senior righty Madeline Maday, who is 8-4 with two saves and a 3.25 ERA in 71 innings.
Schaefer has been credited with both of her teams wins in Tyler, pitching five innings of one-run softball in relief of Miller in the 7-5 victory over Randolph-Macon Thursday and going the distance with a three-hit gem Friday in a 2-1 win over Trine. Freshman first baseman Mattie Ryan's two-run fourth-inning home run was the difference in that victory over Trine.
Five Emory players were voted to this year's All-UAA team: first-teamers senior shortstop Cassie Baca, junior outfielder Sami Feller, and senior outfielder Jenna Wilson, and second-teamers sophomore third base Natalie Arreguin and
Schaefer. Baca is batting .387 with 17 extra-base hits, 45 RBI and 45 runs. Wilson, the leadoff hitter, is batting .373 with 33 stolen bases.
Eastern has won 11 of its last 12 and has lost only four times in 20 games playing at a neutral site.
In eight NCAA games, Bolduk is 7-1 with a 1.77 ERA in 51 1/3 innings and is batting .346 with a team-high six RBI and team-high five runs scored. She has tied the program record for NCAA tournament pitching wins in a season, matching four-time All-America Molly Rathbun in 2010 and Eastern Hall of Famer Donna Poyant in 1991. Junior centerfielder Sabrina LeMere (North Branford) is batting a team-leading .417 with four doubles in NCAA games, and freshman first baseman Brooke Matyasovsky (Orange) at .292 with two doubles and a home run. The Warriors are fielding at .977 in the post-season, with only six errors on 260 chances.