Tufts won its first NCAA Division 3 national championship in softball Monday, defeating SUNY-Cortland, 6-5, in Eau Claire, Wis. The seventh-ranked Jumbos (46-3) were making their fourth appearance in the NCAA Finals, and second straight after tying for fifth place in the eight-team field last season.
“A national championship? It’s something we have talked about for a long time,” said nine-year coach Cheryl Milligan, who has been affiliated with the program for 19 years. “It was quite the ride . . . this is very special, this is where I belong, I wouldn’t want to be coaching anywhere else.
“We got close in 2009 and last year, but to have [a national championship] as a goal, you’re going to fail more than you’re going to succeed.”
Sophomore Allyson Fournier, who shut out Cortland, 6-0, on Sunday, had a tougher time in the title game, surrendering a home run to her first batter. But she went the distance, allowing 12 hits and five runs and struck out eight with no walks.
Cortland (35-17) was coming off a stunning 7-6 victory over top-ranked Salisbury (Md.) earlier Monday in the final of the loser’s bracket, having scored five runs in the bottom of the seventh inning. The Red Dragons kept hitting in the title game, and held a 5-3 lead entering the bottom of the fifth.
Cortland starter Amber Corrigan opened the inning by walking sophomore Bri Keenan, and junior Jo Clair — who got Tufts on the board with a first-inning solo homer — reached on an error. With one out, sophomore Michelle Cooprider delivered a two-run double to tie the game. Classmate Gracie Marshall followed with an RBI single.
“We’ve been turning out the bats all season,” said Milligan. “It takes some guts when you’re down in the national championship game. We had some nerves out there. We still had a young team. [Cooprider] and Gracie have come through for us all year.”
After allowing five hits and three runs in the fifth, Fournier was strong to the finish. She retired seven of her last eight batters, with a pair of strikeouts.
Sophomore Kris Parr also homered for Tufts, a solo shot in the second inning for a 2-1 lead.
Tufts is the first New England team to win the Division 3 softball title since Eastern Connecticut State in 1990. Tufts also won the Division 3 national championship in field hockey last fall.