BANGOR, Maine — This time around, the top-seeded Husson University Eagles made it much easier on themselves on the first day of the North Atlantic Conference softball tournament.
A year after losing the first game and getting eliminated on the second day as No. 1 seed, the Eagles made it easy on themselves.
They knocked off No. 4 Castleton State 8-0 in a mercy-rule shortened game in the NAC tourney opener Friday morning and then capped a four-game day by edging University of Maine-Farmington 6-4.
In between, No 3 UMF posted a 7-3 victory over No. 2 Thomas College and Thomas eliminated Castleton State 8-1.
Now Husson waits for the survivor of Saturday’s noon elimination game between Thomas and UMF’s Beavers. The winner will play the 25-14 Eagles at 2 p.m. and must beat them twice to win the NAC title. A Husson loss forces a noon “if-necessary” game on Sunday.
“Winning the first game definitely makes it an easier road through the rest of the tournament,” said Husson coach Amanda Davey.
Pitcher and designated hitter Nicole Sargent made herself an early tourney MVP candidate by hurling a four-hit shutout to win the first game, pitching a 1-2-3 seventh to earn a save in the last game, and going 3-for-7 with two home runs, a single, and six RBIs on the day.
The sophomore from Sullivan (12-4 record, seven homers) said much of it had to do with taking the pressure off early.
“That sets the tone for the entire tournament,” she said. “When you lose the first one, it’s hard because you have that pressure on your back the whole time.”
In the late game, the Beavers jumped on Caitlin LeBorgne with three runs in the first via a three-run homer by NAC Player of the Year McKell Barnes and two Husson errors.
The Eagles got two runs back in the third via one UMF error, a Cassie Berry sacrifice fly and an RBI single by Sargent.
Davey said she didn’t address the team or do anything to rally them after the first.
“I let them do it on their own. I don’t want to always be the one to get them going,” said the NAC’s coach of the year.
In the meantime, LeBorgne was settling down, giving up one more run (unearned) and one hit the rest of the way.
“I think in the first, I was just a little nervous and it takes me awhile to warm up,” said LeBorgne (6-6). “I think I was overthrowing a little at first. It was more my attitude and pitch location as the game went on. My big thing was keeping the ball low.”
Beavers coach Cynthia Pratt said it wasn’t so much LeBorgne’s pitching as it was Husson’s defense that was the difference after the first.
“She changed her pitches and moved the ball around the strike zone well to keep us a little off balance at times, but her defense played much better,” Pratt said. “And they got some big hits when they had to.”
Two big hits, to be specific… Husson tied it 4-4 in the fifth on Dottie Cameron’s two-run homer to dead center and went ahead on Sargent’s two-run shot to left with one out in the seventh.
“It was right down the middle, just perfect,” Sargent said. “I had two strikes and a ball on me and I was expecting a changeup, but she threw me a fastball and I caught it just right.”
In the first game, the Eagles took the lead early and never looked back, scoring three unearned runs in the second with two walks, an error, and just one hit — a two-run double by Cameron.
Five more runs (four unearned) came across in the fourth as Husson had four hits and Castleton committed one more error.
Rachel Voicechovski scored on the error to get things going, Megan Bradstreet scored the next one with a fielder’s choice grounder, and Sargent belted a homer to left to plate three more.
“Today it was the timely hitting that made the difference. We weren’t producing a ton of offense, but we had key hits when we needed them,” said Davey, whose young team has 13 freshmen and sophomores among 15 players. “We definitely look like we’re playing with experience and confidence.”
In the second game, the Beavers were down 1-0 after the first, but scored four in the third on two hits and two Thomas errors to seize momentum for good.
Erin Porter, a senior from Bangor, led the way with a double and two singles as her Beavers piled up 10 hits.
“I think it was just being aggressive at bat,” Porter said. “That’s what carried us to this win, especially when there were two outs.”
The Beavers scored three more in the sixth, all coming with two outs and two coming off Jess Timmreck’s double.