PROVIDENCE, RI – Seventh-seeded Lesley University (29-7) came within two innings of its first NCAA Tournament victory ever, but No. 2 Coast Guard (37-2) scored three runs in the fifth and three in the sixth to survive a serious scare in NCAA Division III Softball Tournament play.
The Lynx first four batters scored all of Lesley's four runs in a wild contest featuring three errors, two hit batters, a runner missing a base and over 25 illegal pitches, over 20 of the illegal tosses coming from Bears All-American Hayley Feindel.
Molly Sarson (Sanford, ME/Sanford) went 1-for-3 with a run, and Nicole Mercurio (Wakefield, MA/Wakefield) went 1-for-3 with an RBI, but six runs in Coast Guard's final two at-bats spoiled Lesley's upset bid over the No. 2 team in the region and No. 6 team in the country.
The game started with a sidebar that would be a sign of things to come, as Lynx leadoff hitter Gabrielle Brixey (Coalinga, CA/West Hills CC) walked on four illegal pitches from Feindel. A batter later, Brixey advanced to second on Feindel's fifth illegal pitch, and after a Sarson pop-out, Brixey advanced to third on Feindel's sixth illegal pitch. With 2-0 count to Alyson Durben, illegal pitch No. 7 sent Brixey home to put the Lynx on top, 1-0.
Instead of clean-up batter Jennifer Dorval (Franklin, NH/Franklin) striking out, Feindel's illegal 1-2 offering to Dorval advanced Durben, who drew a walk, to second. After Dorval struck out legally, Durben moved to third on Feindel's tenth illegal pitch, this to Mercurio. Like she did with Dorval, Feindel disposed of Mercurio looking, leaving Durben stranded at third after one run on no hits and 10 illegal pitches.
Unfortunately for Cassandra Knox (Sea Cliff, NY/North Shore) the illegal pitch was a two-way street, but the Lynx starter also got some help from her defense in what would be a short outing for the New England Collegiate Conference Pitcher of the Year.
After a four-pitch leadoff walk and then two illegal pitches to Coast Guard's Maddie Buchert with runner Devin Fellman on third, Buchert flew out to Lynx right fielder Maria Nazzaro (North Reading, MA/St. Mary's). Fellman attempted to tag on the shallow fly ball, but Nazzaro delivered a laser to home plate to Sarson, who tagged out Fellman, keeping the Bears scoreless.
Now with two outs in the first, what looked like a double for Coast Guard's Amanda Frederick was called back and Frederick was called out for not touching first base. However, she was then placed back in the batter's box on another illegal pitch by Knox. She then doubled – legally – on a line drive to deep left-center and quickly advanced on yet another illegal pitch.
With a runner on third and clinging to a 1-0 lead, Lynx head coach Jen Benway pulled Knox in favor of Dorval, who promptly struck out Holli Bastnick to end the inning.
Things got even stranger in the second. Dorval plunked the leadoff batter, Stacia Sarwinski, and after a Megan Cook single to center, a Catherine Walker sacrifice bunt was thrown up the third base line by Lynx infielder Ashley Cunningham, allowing Frederick to score. With two outs, Fellman popped a single to shallow center for what looked like a go-ahead RBI, but Walker was called out for interfering with Lesley shortstop Sarah Apgar to end the inning tied at 1-1.
Lesley answered, loading the bases with one out in the third. Sarson got hit by a pitch, Durben walked and Dorval singled to right before the illegal pitch again became a factor. Another illegal ball, unofficially Feindel's 15th, scored pinch runner Rian Powers (Portland, ME/Deering) to put the Lynx on top 2-1.
On the pitch after Feindel set the NCAA single-season strikeout record of 417 with a whiff of Mercurio, catcher Frederick's pickoff throw attempting to nab Durben leading off third sailed up the left field line, scoring Durben to increase Lesley's lead to 3-1.
Lynx fielders helped Dorval provide a much-need shutdown inning in the third. Brixey chased down a long fly ball in foul territory along the left field line for the first out and Nazzaaro made a nice sliding catch in foul ground in right for the third out.
Lesley's Jenna Fralick (Woburn, MA/Woburn) grounded out in the fourth, but was put back in the box on another illegal pitch. She advanced to second and then third on two more illegals, but Feindel struck out Nazzaro and got Brixey to ground to first without incident, leaving Fralick stranded with a 3-1 lead.
Dorval worked around leadoff and two-out walks in the bottom of the fourth, and the Lynx got the two-out RBI they missed an inning prior in the fifth. Sarson singled on a liner to left to lead off the inning and Durben bunted her to second. Another illegal pitch sent Sarson ahead a base, and Mercurio knocked an off-speed offering into left to up the lead to 4-1.
Lesley needed the insurance, as back-to-back walks that opened the bottom of the fifth preceded a Frederick RBI single, still with nobody out. Holli Bastinck followed with an RBI single to center, and Frederick came around to score all the way from first after the ball went under the glove of a charging Durben, tying the game at 4-4.
With Bastinck on second with no out as the potential go-ahead run, her mental lapse on a fly ball to left led to an easy Lynx double play that helped get out of the inning without firther damage. However, with two RBI singles and a run-scoring error, the damage was done, and the momentum Lesley had for almost five innings was now gone.
After Feindel retired the Lynx in order in the sixth, the Bears again got the lead-off runner on base, this time via a hit-by-pitch. After a Coast Guard sac bunt, Fellman struck again, driving in Ward on an RBI double to right-center. She came around to score on another piece of insurance, a line-drive, two-out, RBI double from Bastinck, as the Bears went up 7-4 after six.
After consecutive strikeouts to start the seventh, the Lynx put the tying run on deck with two outs after Durben's second walk. Dorval dribbled back to the mound to end it, capping a wild affair in Lesley's first trip to the NCAA Tournament in four years.
Lesley will face No. 3 Endicott College (35-7) tomorrow at noon, while Coast Guard will face No. 7 St. Joseph's (ME).