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Needham’s Leah Alpert and Holliston’s Tori Jensen star for MIT softball

Alpert, Jensen boost MIT softball squad

Leah Alpert (inset, top) delivered a career year in her final season. Freshman catcher Tori Jensen (inset, bottom), emerged as a force in her first.

The two played integral roles for the women’s softball team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which registered its finest season in 29 years.

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A three-sport athlete back at Needham High, Alpert was named to the Capital One Academic All-America third team after hitting .347 and ranking second on the Engineers in hits (33), RBIs (13), and stolen bases (four). The MIT program’s first All-American since 2008, the senior cocaptain started all 33 games in center field for coach Jennifer Williams .

Jensen, a three-time Tri-Valley League all-star at Holliston High, hit a team-best .387 and led the MIT squad in home runs (two), RBIs (18), and slugging percentage (.613). She also had nine doubles and a triple.

Her numbers — and the team’s victory total — could have been higher, but a sprained thumb at midseason sidelined Jensen for eight games.

MIT finished 19-14 and advanced to the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference tournament for the first time since 2005. The program’s last winning season was 1994 (12-6).

After a freshman season with just four at-bats and a sophomore campaign in which she hit .163, Alpert improved to .281 last season and then went on a tear this spring.

“Leah stepped up in ways I never expected but had hoped for after we spoke a year ago,’’ said Williams. “She had shown flashes of her amazing talent in the past, but during our spring trip it was like the switch flipped, and the mental and physical aspects of her game just meshed.’’

Alpert had thought about playing hockey at MIT, but the program had been dropped and she was admittedly not in game shape when she came to softball tryouts as a freshman.

“It was tough, I didn’t play much,’’ said Alpert, whose sister Hannah, a sophomore at Yale University, is on the Bulldogs’ track and cross-country teams, and whose brother, Daniel, is a Needham High junior who plays soccer and runs track.

Alpert’s comfort level with her MIT teammates, however, ended any thoughts of leaving the team.

Offseason weight training and extended play in a summer league last year in California gave Alpert new confidence. A revamped swing also became part of her repertoire.

Last summer, she interned at Khan Academy, an educational website founded by MIT graduate Salman Khan in San Jose, Calif. Alpert said she will start a full-time job at the company in September, but will find time to play recreational softball.

“It was great to see that our work over four seasons has paid off,’’ said Alpert, 22. “We definitely made some history for our program, and any honor I received is testament to our team and coaches.”

Jensen, the daughter of 1984 US Olympic ice hockey star David Jensen, was projected to play first base. But, as Williams explained, “our catcher left the team last spring and we were caught in a tight spot. So I called Tori in August and asked if she would be willing to try, and she threw herself into it 100 percent with help from our assistant coach, Melissa Schellberg.’’

The 5-foot-10 Jensen, who also played softball with the touring U-18 Phoenix Gold team, said her height made her a great target at first base.

“Catching was a new challenge for me,’’ she said, “and at first I found out I had muscles I never thought I had.’’

Jensen gave hockey a try until she was a third-grader.

“But then I had to tell Dad I loved softball more,’’ said Jensen, whose brother, Ryan, is a Holliston High freshman who plays lacrosse and hockey.

“Tori puts her heart and soul into whatever she does and above all she’s a team player,” said her father, who operates DAJ Skills Training at Foxborough Sports Center and the NHL Alumni Hockey Camps at four locations in Massachusetts. In the classroom, she earned a 5.0 GPA.

Tori said she’s “pumped up’’ about the future of MIT softball.

“We had total team chemistry and trust,’’ she said, “and Leah was a phenomenal captain and person. When I saw her track down a fly ball or throw to a base, I always felt confident she’d make the play.’’

Pitcher Crispi does his part at Columbia

Columbia University freshman pitcher Thomas Crispi(inset) of Needham was part of the best Ivy League season ever for the Lions, who won 16 league games and received an automatic bid to the NCAA Division 1 tournament. Columbia played at Cal State Fullerton on Friday in the opening round.

A captain at Roxbury Latin School last spring, the 6-4, 185-pound lefty appeared in 16 games for the Lions, compiling a 1-3 record and 3.38 ERA. He will suit up this summer for the North Shore Navigators of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League.

“Thomas has been a very strong addition to our pitching staff, and has improved more and more as the season has gone on,” said Columbia head coach Brett Boretti.

Here and there

Belmont High graduate Chris Stadler, a junior at Haverford College who won the NCAA Division 3 indoor 5,000 meters in March, gave it a good shot at last weekend’s outdoor track and field championships in LaCrosse, Wis., finishing fifth and earning All-America honors. Stadler was named Outstanding Performer at the Centennial Conference’s outdoor championships, where he took first place in the 5K and 10K events. . . Shrewsbury’s Jon Massad, a St. John’s High graduate who is a senior starting pitcher at NCAA Division 2 qualifier Southern New Hampshire University, will play for the Division 2-3 squad against Division 1 players in the New England All-Star Game at LeLacheur Park in Lowell. Massad was 6-3 with a 1.46 ERA for Southern New Hampshire.

Marvin Pave can be reached at marvin.pave@rcn.com.

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