Softball scores dramatic 10-9 win over ECSU in NCAA Tournament opener

The Judges celebrate Alyssa Renskers's '22 walk-off single
The Judges celebrate Alyssa Renskers's '22 walk-off single

BANGOR, Maine – The Brandeis University softball team scored six runs in the bottom of the seventh inning today, walking off on a single through the left side of the infield by junior DP Alyssa Renskers (Duarte, Calif./Duarte) that gave the Judges a 10-9 victory over fourth-ranked Eastern Connecticut State University in the opening round of the NCAA Division III Tournament Regional at Husson University in Bangor, Maine.

With the win, the Judges improve to 14-1 on the season and advance to the winners' bracket tomorrow. The loss drops ECSU to 30-3 and an elimination game.

Brandeis trailed 9-3 headed into the bottom of the sixth inning. They managed to scratch out one run in the sixth when rookie LF Alex Cohen (West Palm Beach, Fla./The Benjamin School) plated junior 2B Marley Felder (Miami, Fla./American Heritage School), but stranded a second runner in scoring position.

"The team's confidence never wavered," said Brandeis' first-year head coach Dani Bishop. "We had belief in each other throughout the whole game. In the seventh inning, we finally started hitting with runners in scoring position like we knew we could."

After getting through the of the top of the seventh unscathed, the Judges broke through against the Warriors in their final at-bat. After the first two hitters drew walks against ECSU junior Carley Stoker, Warrior coach Diane Pepin brought junior Brooke Matyasovsky into the circle from first base. Sophomore RF Lily Medici (New City, N.Y./Clarkstown North) followed with a swinging-bunt single, just beating the throw to first to load the bases.

Senior CF Melissa Rothenberg (Lawrenceville, N.J./Lawrence) followed with a grounder to third, but the Eastern Conn player threw it into the outfield going for a force, allowing the first two runs of the inning to score and cutting the deficit to 9-6. Felder then singled on a slow grounder to shortstop to make it 9-7 with runners on first and second. Senior SS Jolie Fujita (Honolulu, Hawaii/Punahou School) went the other way with a 1-2 pitch, sneaking it under the second base glove and loading the bases with her third hit of the game.

That brought up Cohen, who took a 1-1 pitch through the right side as well, tying the game at 9-9 and putting runners at the corners with nobody out. The RBI were Cohen's third and fourth of the game, her career-high. Matyasovsky bared down for ECSU in the circle, retiring the next two batters on a strikeout and a comebacker to the circle, setting up Renskers's heroics. Renskers, a lefty who had walked to open the inning, went to the opposite field on the first pitch she saw from Mayatovsky to claim the dramatic walk-off victory.

"We talked with Alyssa about being more aggressive after her previous two at-bats," Bishop said. "It paid off when she went after that first-pitch strike."

The Judges took an early 2-0 lead in this one, as Fujita slugged her third triple of the season with a runner on to open the scoring in the first, and scored on a Cohen single. ECSU took the lead in the third, taking advantage of a misplay in the outfield and going ahead on a safety squeeze bunt by their starting pitcher, Alyssa Vilchez. Brandeis sophomore catcher Tara Striggow (Cape Coral, Fla./Cape Coral) tied things up with an RBI single in the bottom of the third, but the Judges left the bases loaded.

ECSU took advantage in the top of the fourth, scoring four runs, two of which were unearned, to go ahead, 7-3. Another Brandeis error in the sixth led to two more unearned runs and the Judges' largest deficit of the season at 9-3.

Offensively, the stars of the game for Brandeis were Cohen, who finished 3-5 with four RBI, and Fujita, who was 3-4 with an RBI and three runs scored, the fourth time this season that she crossed the plate three times. Fujita's first-inning triple was the only extra-base hit of Brandeis's 13. In the circle, first-year reliever Rebecca Guerci (Roslyn, N.Y./Herricks) pitched 3.2 innings after the Warriors knocked out junior starter Sydney Goldman (Sherman Oaks, Calif./Notre Dame), who did not complete the game for the first time all season. Guerci allowed five hits and three unearned runs to improve to 4-0 on the season. She struck out one, as did Goldman (3.1 IP, 4 H, 6 R, 4 ER, 4 BB, 1 K, 2 HBP), for the Judges' season-low in Ks.

"Rebecca really came through for us," Bishop said. "As a first-year to come into that situation and pitch so well, she stepped up big time."

ECSU was led by its versatile pitching staff, as Vilchez, Stoker and Matyasovsky combined to go 4-11 with four RBI and three runs scored. Vilchez lasted one inning in the circle, giving up three hits and two runs. Stoker pitched the next five innings (5 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 7 BB, 6 K), while Matyasovsky (0.2 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 K) shouldered the loss to fall to 14-3 on the season.

Brandeis will play in the winners' bracket tomorrow with a game against Tufts University, who also came from behind for a 2-1 win over Babson in their opener. ECSU will meet regional host Husson, who defeated Endicott, 12-4 in six innings today, in an elimination game. The Brandeis-Tufts game is scheduled to start at 12 noon, after the 10 a.m. Husson-ECSU game, but game times are expected to be delayed after today's final game – the regional's first elimination game between Endicott and Babson –  was halted in the fourth inning because of darkness.