Softball Wins NESCACs, Earns NCAA Hosting Duties

Softball continued their dominant run this weekend, beating Bowdoin, Trinity, and top-seeded host Tufts in the NESCAC tournament to take home the 2022 NESCAC title, the program’s first. The team clinched an automatic bid to this year’s NCAA Tournament with the win.

Softball Wins NESCACs, Earns NCAA Hosting Duties
The team poses for a photo with their NESCAC Championship Plaque after winning the program's first ever conference title. Photo courtesy of Clarus Studios.

The Amherst softball team will not be stopped. The team traveled to Medford, Massachusetts, this weekend for this year’s edition of the NESCAC tournament, and returned home with three wins in three games, a conference tournament title, and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament in hand. With former player Alyson Plaman ’21 at the helm, the Mammoths beat Bowdoin 6-4 on Friday, May 6, and took down Trinity 2-1 on Saturday, May 7, before downing host-school Tufts 1-0 in a defensive battle in the championship game on Sunday, May 8.

First up for the Mammoths were the Polar Bears, who came into Friday’s contest as the No. 4 seed in the East Division with a 3-9 conference record. However, Bowdoin was no easy foe — the Polar Bears took an early 1-0 lead in the top of the second before Amherst responded. A two-out bunt by America Rangel ’25, who beat an errant throw to first, allowed Sadie Pool ’24 to score from second, putting the Mammoths on the board. Immediately after, a Devynn Wilderman ’25 single scored Rangel, giving the Mammoths 2-1 advantage after two innings. They then made it 3-1 in the third — Autumn Lee ’23 and Dani Torres Werra ’25 roped back-to-back singles to put Mammoths on the corners, and Jess Butler ’23 lofted a sacrifice fly to center to score Lee from third.

But it was the Mammoths’ next run that took the cake. After a week in which she earned NESCAC Player of the Week honors, Randi Finkelstein ’24 stepped up to the plate with momentum on her side. She led off the inning with a hard-hit ball down the right field line that the Polar Bears’ right fielder couldn’t get to, sending her careening into the fence instead. With her teammate down, Bowdoin’s center fielder had to run to get to the ball, giving Finkelstein enough time to round all four bases herself, sliding into home ahead of the throw for an inside-the-park home run. It was her fourth homer of the season.

Bowdoin tried to claw their way back, scoring three in the fifth to narrow the lead to 5-4, but the Mammoths put the game away with an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth to take the win. Torres Werra got the win in the circle, her 10th of the season.

The Mammoths advanced to face the East’s No. 2 seed Trinity the following day, but unlike their game the day before, offense was a lot harder to come by. Talia Bloxham ’22, starting her first game since April 23, was stellar in the circle, giving up only six hits, striking out four, and stranding seven Bantam baserunners in 6.2 innings of work. She was backed up by great defense as well: Highlights included a leaping catch by Lee off a line drive to shortstop and a backhanded snag off of one hop by Virigina Ryan ’22 at first to stop a grounder that looked destined for the outfield.

Behind this defense, and two runs scored in the bottom of the first on RBI singles from Lee and Butler, the Mammoths took a 2-1 lead into the final frame. After Bloxham got the first two outs of the inning, the Bantams loaded the bases via a single and two walks, but Torres Werra, entering in relief, was able to get the final batter to pop out to earn the save and secure a place in the NESCAC title game. Bloxham got her eighth win of the season against the Bantams, and was named NESCAC Player of the Week for her overall body of work both in the circle on Saturday, and in the batter’s box on Sunday with a NESCAC championship on the line.

With so much to lose, the Mammoths’ defense again stepped up when it mattered most, preserving a shutout into the final inning of the title game. And, after stranding runners in scoring position all game, Amherst’s bats found a way in the top of the seventh. After Bloxham led off with a bunt-single, Megan Taketa ’23 bunted to advance Bloxham to second; Bloxham then took third on a wild pitch. With the game on the line, a Mammoth batter bunted for the third time in as many at-bats, with Rachel Lovejoy ’23 laying down a beautiful squeeze along the first base line. Bloxham beat the play at the plate, and the Mammoths took a 1-0 lead.

The Mammoths almost got another run later in the inning, when a Torres Werra single got into the outfield, but a great throw by the Jumbos’ center fielder cut Lovejoy down at home after she tried to plate an insurance run from second.

Taking a precious lead into the final half-inning, the Mammoths got the plays they needed. Taketa made a play at the wall to get the first out of the inning before a double from the Jumbos’ pitcher put the tying run in scoring position. But this weekend was Amherst’s moment, and they were not going to let Tufts ruin it. The Jumbos’ next hitter launched a line drive to third. Pool came up with the biggest play of the day at third base, leaping to snag the laser out of the air for out number two before tossing the ball to Lee, who doubled up the runner at second to seal the game. Gloves flew in the air, the team stormed the field. The Mammoths had just secured their first ever NESCAC Championship and an NCAA Tournament appearance on a game-ending double play.

In an interview with the Amherst Sports Information Department, Ryan said, “[The win] feels incredible … We knew we were going to have to fight like hell to get what we wanted … We were expecting to put our bodies on the line, and we were not expecting it to be easy by any means, but we were expecting this outcome.”

Torres Werra, who recorded a perfect game earlier this season, put together another dominant pitching performance on Sunday. She tossed a complete-game shutout, going all seven innings and surrendering only six hits and one walk while striking out seven to notch her 11th win of the season. She also had an efficient day at the plate, going one for three with a walk in the contest. For her work all weekend, she was named NESCAC Pitcher of the Week for the last week of this season.

Next up for Amherst: the NCAA Division III Softball Championship Regional — their first since 2018 and sixth appearance overall — which they earned the right to host. They are slated to face Husson University in their first game. The NCAA Regional round will last from May 13-15, with teams competing in a double-elimination format: two losses and you’re out. If they emerge from Regionals, they will move on to the best-of-three Super Regionals, and then if they continue winning, the 2022 Division III Women’s College World Series. The Women’s College World Series will consist of double-elimination bracket play preceding a best-of-three Championship Series.

Taketa, commenting on the conference title victory and the team’s road ahead, believes they have what it takes to win in the latter stages of the season.

“We are extremely excited and fired up about our three big wins over the weekend and making Amherst softball program history with our first ever NESCAC title,” she said. “We really demonstrated how solid our defense and pitching staff is and our ability to execute in tight game winning situations. This team has accomplished so much despite every challenge that’s been thrown our way, and that really goes to show how resilient and special this group is. As we head into regionals on our home field, we are just trusting in ourselves, going out to compete, and of course looking to have a lot of fun.”

Their road to the natty will start on Friday, May 13, with first pitch for their game versus the Eagles set for 4:30 p.m.