MIDDLETOWN, Conn. – For the first time since the 2013 season, the Wesleyan University softball team will be back in the NESCAC playoffs, as the fourth-seeded Cardinals from the West Division will take on No. 15-ranked and top-seeded Tufts from the East Division on Friday at 5 p.m. from Amherst College.
"We know that we need to play our best to beat Tufts," said senior co-captain Julie McDonald. "We will need to capitalize with runners on base and have quality at-bats from the first inning on. We have the energy and drive to be successful, but we will need that energy to translate to our physical game to guarantee a victory."
The NESCAC changed its postseason structure this spring, as now the top-four teams from the East and West Divisions qualify for the single-elimination conference tournament, which will be held in Amherst, Mass., on Friday-Sunday, with the winner earning an automatic bid into the NCAA Division III Championship. Previously, only the top-two teams qualified from each division, and the event was played in a double-elimination format.
The Cardinals (14-15, 2-8 NESCAC West Division) edged Hamilton for the final seed in the West Division, as the squad took two out of three from the Continentals (2-10 West Division) during a three-game series in Middletown, Conn., on April 20-21. Wesleyan also proved it could compete with upper-echelon talent, taking then-No. 12 ranked Amherst to the brink during a 3-2 setback on March 31, and going down to the wire with then No. 14-ranked Babson in a 3-2 loss on March 17.
"As a team, we know that we are capable of beating anyone on any given day, and competing with tough teams to the very end, like we did against Amherst and Babson" said freshman pitcher and shortstop Danielle Rinaldi. "These experiences undoubtedly show us and other teams that we should not be taken lightly, and going into this weekend if we play with the same intensity, we will be successful."
Wesleyan is making its sixth all-time appearance in the NESCAC Tournament, as the Cardinals hold an 8-9 record in the conference playoffs. The group won its first-ever NESCAC title in 2010, and earned runner-up honors in the tournament during the 2008 and 2009 seasons under 17th-year head coach Jen Lane.
Tufts (28-7, 9-2 NESCAC East Division) has compiled a great deal of postseason success, as the unit has won 10 NESCAC Championships, including four straight from 2012-15 under head coach Cheryl Milligan. The Jumbos also hoisted three consecutive national championships from 2013-15.
AT A GLANCE: NO. 4-SEEDED WESLEYAN
- The Cardinals have relied on McDonald and Rinaldi this season on the mound, and both standout athletes have been tremendous.
- McDonald, who hails from Commack, N.Y., has compiled four complete-game wins, and her 71 strikeouts rank No. 1 on the team and eighth in the NESCAC. The senior also leads the team in ERA (2.33), while checking in at 12th in the entire NESCAC.
- Rinaldi, who earned NESCAC Pitcher of the Week accolades on April 23, leads the team in total wins (six) and complete-game victories (five), to go along with 70 strikeouts, which is tied for the ninth most in the conference. The Ewing, N.J. native has maintained a 3.19 ERA over the course of 63 2/3 innings. The rookie star was also outstanding in the Cardinals' lineup, compiling team highs of 36 hits, 19 runs and four doubles, to go along with the 14th-best batting average in the NESCAC at .379.
- Senior captain Rielly Wieners has been phenomenal on offense, and anchoring the Cardinals' defense from behind the plate. The West Springfield, Mass. native has totaled 178 put outs – the sixth most in the NESCAC, to go along with 20 assists, and she has only been charged with three passed balls and three errors in 29 games, equating to a .985 fielding percentage. The senior co-captain leads the team in batting average (.386), on-base percentage (.485), slugging percentage (.494) and home runs (two), as the batting average is the 12th highest in the NESCAC.
- The group has also received strong production from junior Olivia Gorman, who has registered a .318 batting average, to go along with 28 hits and 12 runs scored. Freshman Brenna Monroe, who was named NESCAC Player of the Week on April 23, leads the team with 16 RBIs, and rookie Marina Williams has belted 30 hits and scored 14 runs, while batting .345.
AT A GLANCE: NO. 1-SEEDED TUFTS
- The Jumbos have an extremely deep and talented lineup, headlined by senior Samantha Siciliano, who leads the unit with 38 hits, to accompany a team-high .626 slugging percentage – the ninth best in the NESCAC. Senior Raven Fournier leads the NESCAC with a .536 on-base percentage, while ranking fifth with a .400 batting average and ninth with 29 runs.
- The Cardinals have 14 players who have 12 or more hits, while junior Kirsten Caporelli leads the group with 23 RBIs to go along with a .333 batting average, 22 hits and 13 runs.
- Sophomore Jamie Stevens has carried a big load for the Jumbos, going 27-for-88 at the plate (.307) with 27 hits, 25 runs, six doubles and 17 RBIs.
- On the mound, freshmen Kristi Van Meter (14-3) and Kristina Haghdan (10-3) have carried the bulk of the load, combining for a 24-6 record, as the two star athletes rank No. 1 and 2, respectively, in the NESCAC with 0.95 and 1.54 ERAs.
- Van Meter ranks second in the conference in strikeouts (113) and wins, and fourth in innings pitched (103), as she threw a one-hitter during a 4-0 win at Wheaton on May 1.
- Haghdan, who hails from Pelham, N.H., posted 78 strikeouts in 68 1/3 innings, and averaged 7.99 strikeouts per seven innings, which is the second-best mark in the conference ranks.
- The Jumbos lead the all-time series with a 16-5 record, including winning three straight matchups and six of the last seven.
- The last meeting between the two teams occurred on May 3, 2013, in the NESCAC Tournament with the Jumbos edging the Cardinals, 3-1.
- Wesleyan's last win in the rivalry took place on May 7, 2010, in the NESCAC playoffs by a score of 13-3, and then the Cardinals rode that momentum to their first-ever NESCAC title that spring.
- The squads have met seven times in the conference tournament, as Tufts holds a 5-2 record in those meetings.