NORTON, Mass.-Freshman Kristine Kahl is well on her way to establishing herself as head coach Donna Koczajowski's next pitching ace. It appears there remains a little post-season magic from years' past that the Coast Guard softball team was able to harness on its way to a pair of victories on day one of the New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference Tournament, hosted by Wheaton College.
In the opener, Kahl logged a complete game shutout against third-seeded Babson (27-11) for a 1-0 victory and followed it up by holding the potent Wheaton (24-15) offense to just two runs in a 3-2 Coast Guard (22-15) victory in the nightcap.
Game One: Coast Guard 1, Babson 0
Freshman pitcher Kristine Kahl fired a five-hit shutout to lead the sixth-seeded United States Coast Guard Academy to a 1-0 upset of third-seeded Babson College in the opening game of the NEWMAC Softball Tournament at Wheaton College on Saturday.
Coast Guard plated the game's lone run with an unearned tally off Babson's junior southpaw Kathleen Conway in the top of the third inning, beginning when sophomore Jessie Richardson looped a two-out single into shallow left center. An error by Babson's freshman first baseman Madison Dinaso, on a grounder by sophomore Erin Lisko then allowed Richardson to move to third, and freshman shortstop Morgan Kingston followed with a hard-hit single up the middle to give the Bears a 1-0 lead.
Babson started the game as well as they could have hoped when a double to left by senior Jackie Enos, a walk to senior Catie Funk, and an infield pop-up by freshman Caitie Benoit fell in put runners on second and third with just one out. Kahl was able to pull the first of her many Houdini acts on the day when she got sophomore Lindsey Schmid to line out to short and senior Ashleigh Phelps to hit a foul pop that Richardson made a diving grab on.
Babson's two best chances to score came late in the game, starting when freshman Maya Lacy led off the fifth with an infield single and Enos reached on a fielder's choice. However, Kahl induced a pop out by Funk and then got an inning-ending double play when shortstop Kingston snared a liner off the bat of Benoit and fired to Lisko at second to double off Lacy.
The Beavers threatened again in the bottom of the sixth, as Schmid led off with a single, took second on a groundout, and went to third when freshman Emily Morris' grounder up the middle was mishandled. Conway then hit a towering fly ball to deep right center, but junior centerfielder Kaitlin Ward made the catch on the edge of the warning track to end the innin.
Kahl pitched out of trouble again in the seventh, retiring Babson's top three hitters in order after allowing a single by Lacy to start the inning.
Both pitchers were outstanding in the contest, with Kahl (14-6) getting the win after allowing five hits and three walks in seven innings of work. Conway (16-5) suffered the tough-luck loss, giving up just one unearned run on four hits, walking one and striking out seven. Kingston and Lacy were the game's lone players with multiple hits, as each finished 2-for-3.
Game Two: Coast Guard 3, Wheaton 2
Getting the nod in game two of a doubleheader against Wheaton for the second time in the span of a week, Kahl completed an incredible afternoon in the circle by pithing sixth-seeded Coast Guard past second-seeded Wheaton College, 3-2.
With their second upset victory of the day, the defending champion Bears (22-15) move to the winner's bracket final of the double-elimination tourney, which will conclude next Saturday and Sunday at top-seeded Springfield College.
Wheaton struck first in the bottom of the third, as sophomore pitcher Emily Berardi and first-year Erin Deneen each drew a walk and moved up on a sacrifice bunt by first-year Emma Hart. Junior Jenna Rocha then drove in both runners with a double to deep right, giving the Lyons a 2-0 advantage.
Coast Guard got one run back in the top of the fourth, as senior Holli Bastinck reached on an error, took second on a single by Ward, moved to third on a sacrifice bunt, and scored on a groundout to second by junior Kelly Grills.
The Bears tied it the following inning when Richardson doubled to right center and scored on a single by Lisko. Coast Guard then had a chance to take the lead when Bastinck reached on an infield single to second, but Dineen fired a strike to the plate to cut down Lisko trying to score all the way from second on the play.
Coast Guard plated the go-ahead run in the top of the seventh, starting when an error allowed senior Summer Dupler to take second base to open the frame. Richardson then sacrificed her to third, and Lisko followed with a line-drive single to right center - her second RBI hit in as many innings - to give the Bears a 3-2 advantage.
Grills made, perhaps, the play of the game for the Bears when she dove to her right and snared a line drive off the bat of sophomore relief pitcher Noelle Christmas. Despite the effort, Wheaton threatened in the bottom of the seventh, as singles by senior Amanda Drury and Hart and a walk to Rocha loaded the bases with two away. However, Kahl induced a fielder's choice grounder off the bat of freshman Marissa Timoteo that enabled Bastinck to get the easy force out at third for the game's final out.
Kahl allowed two runs - both of which were earned - on seven hits, walked four and struck out one in tossing her second complete game of the day. Lisko and Bastinck each finished with two hits for the Bears, with Lisko also knocking in a pair.
Christmas took the loss in relief for Wheaton, giving up one unearned run on one hit while striking out one in two innings of work. Berardi started and allowed two runs - only one of which was earned - on seven hits while fanning one in five innings. Hart paced the Lyons' offense, going 3-for-3, while Rocha added the lone RBIs.
Coast Guard will resume play on Saturday, May 4th when they take on top-seeded Springfield in day two of the NEWMAC Tournament.
Head Coach Donna Koczajowski:
On how she felt about the team's effort:
"I'm ecstatic! We're finally playing Coast Guard ball and I think we're peaking here at the right time."
On the club's timely hitting:
"In good softball, there are only going to be a few hits in a game and the key is to string them together at the right time. We did that when we needed to today and capitalized on our chances with runners in scoring positio."
On the emergence of freshman pitcher Kristine Kahl:
"Kristine is starting to realize her potential and performing to that potential for us. Kudos to both Jessie, (Richardson) for calling a great game behind the plate and to Kristine for executing. I'm really proud of both of them!"
Freshman Pitcher Kristine Kahl:
On her improvement towards the end of the regular season and in the tournament:
"I have been working hard on my form and mechanics. After getting away from some of those things a bit I refocused on them and I'm just more comfortable and throwing the ball relaxed."
On the play of her teammates:
"Today was a whole team effort, I'm really happy with how everyone played. When you have a defense playing as well as ours has been behind you it really takes a lot of the pressure off. It helps a lot knowing that they're going to be there to make plays."