OKLAHOMA CITY, OK. -- There are great days to be an Eph. Most days in fact.
Saturday was a GREAT day to be an Eph, especially if you were one on the Williams College softball team.
For the second straight day, the Ephs won a game at the NCAA Div. III National Championship Finals. That they were able to fashion a comeback and defeat rival Amherst 4-1 to stay alive made it that much sweeter.
The Ephs finished the season series winning five of six games against the Mammoths. Amherst saw its season conclude with a 34-12 mark.
Williams improved to 38-12 and advances to play St. John Fisher (43-6) Sunday at 3:30 P.M. EST. The Ephs will need to defeat the Cardinals twice to advance to the best two-out-three championship series which begins Monday.
"It was a lot of fun," Ephs' head coach Kris Herman said. "This was the sixth time we've played them this year. It's a testament to our conference, and pretty awesome, to have us both be here at the end of the day and have such a great game. I have a ton of respect for their team.
"All of our pitchers had had success against them so we felt pretty good coming in, but more importantly, we just stayed where our feet are and didn't worry when we got down."
On the other side of the bracket, Virginia Wesleyan will take on Texas-Tyler, with Virginia Wesleyan needing to defeat the defending national champions twice.
Saturday's Amherst-Williams VI was a typically taught contest with each team having several chances to score. Amherst stranded eight runners and had one thrown out at home and Williams stranded nine runners in the contest.
Amherst put a runner on second in each of the first two frames, but Eph starter Rebecca Duncan registered an inning-ending strikeout both frames. Likewise, Williams put two runners on in both the first and second but could not score as Mammoth starter Gina Pagan worked her way out of jams each time.
The Mammoths broke through in the third with three straight bunt, two which went for hits and one which led to an error. With the bases loaded and no outs, Eph third sacker Riley Salvo made a heads up play, fielding a slow roller along the baseline, tagging the Mammoth runner as she went by and firing to first for a double play. However, back-to-back walks, the second to Julia Turner, forced in the first run of the game and Amherst led 1-0.
The Ephs loaded the bases in the bottom of the fourth still down 1-0 as Casey Pelz ripped a single down the left-field line, Salvo singled up the middle and Kristina Alvarado beat out a beautiful bunt. But Pagan escaped without a run when second baseman Sammy Salustri made a diving stop of Jessica Kim's liner and Lexi Curt's frozen rope to left was caught for the third out.
"I thought we were doing really well offensively, even when we weren't scoring runs," Eph first year Riley Salvo said. "I felt a lot of positive energy in the dugout and up at bat, everyone really making adjustments as the game went on. I felt like we eventually were going to score based on the energy alone."
In the top of the fifth, Duncan recorded the first two outs before walking Katie Kopatic. Herman brought in Mackenzie Murphy to face Alena Marovitz, but Marovitz roped a double to right. However, a perfect relay from Eph right fielder Margo Beck to second baseman Brenna Martinez to Curt at home cut down Kopatic at the dish to end the frame.
Williams broke through in the fifth. Murphy led off with a single and Ashley Wirth pinch ran for her. Duncan sacrificed Wirth to second and on ball four to Beck, Wirth scampered to third on a wild pitch. After Beck stole second, Pelz drew walk to load the bases. Martinez followed with a single into left that tied the game. Beck then raced home on a passed ball, and Salvo brought in the third run with a sacrifice fly to right.
Murphy retired the side in order on six pitches in the top of the sixth, and Duncan's clutch two-out, RBI-double to right in the bottom of the inning made it 4-1 Williams.
Amherst put its first two runners on in the top of the seventh. But with runners on second and third, Murphy induced a short fly to center which held the runners, a grounder to short which held the runners and then struck out the final batter swinging to close out the win.
Williams had 10 hits in the game. Duncan was 2 for 3 with an RBI and Kim was 2 for 4 with a run scored. Murphy improved to 14-4 by allowing three hits over 2 1/3 innings, not walking a batter and striking out one.
Salustri was 2 for 4 for Amherst. Pagan (23-6) took the loss, allowing eight hits and three runs over five innings while walking four and striking out two.