BROOKHAVEN, N.Y.- After suffering a heartbreaking loss in game one, the Merrimack softball team bounced back to defeat Southern Connecticut 2-1 in the NCAA Tournament East Region 1 final at Dowling College. The Warriors improve to 31-21 on the season and will advance to the NCAA Tournament East Region Super Regional. The Owls end the season with an overall record of 35-21.
Tawny Palmieri (Peabody, Mass.) had an offensive outburst in the final series, going 5-for-7 from the dish with four runs batted in while also scoring three times. Kelli Jo Deardorff (Bedford, Mass.) tossed 13 innings on the day with five strikeouts.
In game one, Southern Connecticut struck first with a run in the bottom of the first inning. Jessica Rosa knocked in Jillian Thibault from third with an RBI single to left field.
The Owls added a run in the third frame as Alyssa Downs plated Brittany Bucko with a single to centerfield to take a 2-0 lead.
Merrimack cut the deficit in half in the top of the fifth. Deardorff and Amanda Zanni (Reading, Mass.) drew back-to-back one-out walks. Jessica Fugazzotto (Newton, Mass.) beat out an infield single to load the bases for the Warriors. Kristen LeMay (Shrewsbury, Mass.) drove in Deardorff from third for Merrimack's first run of the game.
Palmieri led off the sixth with a single and Monique Gosselin (Lawrence, Mass.) followed with a base hit to right field and advanced on the throw as Palmieri moved up to third. Jaclyn Giovannini (Plano, Texas) sent one-out groundball to the right side of the infield sending Palmieri sprinting home to tie the game at 2-2.
A two-out single in the sixth inning by Zanni scored Nicole LoPilato from third to give the Warriors a 3-2 advantage.
Fugazzotto opened the seventh frame with a single up the middle. A sacrifice bunt by LeMay advanced Fugazzotto into scoring position. Jamie Millett followed with a walk, giving Merrimack runners on first and second with one out. Palmieri extended the Warriors' edge to four runs as she slammed her second home run of the tournament, a three-run bullet over the centerfield fence.
Southern Connecticut rallied in the bottom of the seventh to score five runs and take the win, forcing a decisive second contest. Bonneville singled with one out and moved up to third on a double by Thibault. Bucko singled to center to drive in a run, inching to within three runs of Merrimack.
Following a walk to load the bases, Downs hit a grand slam to center to propel the Owls to a 7-6 walk-off victory.
In the second game of the series, the Owls once again scored the game's first run. Downs doubled to right to plate Bucko in the first, giving Southern Connecticut an early 1-0 lead.
Merrimack responded in the home half of the inning with a pair of runs. LeMay started the Warriors' offense with a leadoff single. Palmieri raked a one-out double to center to drive in LeMay to knot the score at 1-1. Merrimack took the lead when Palmieri scampered home on a wild pitch.
Deardorff tossed a complete game in the nightcap with two strikeouts and six hits surrendered to improve to 23-14 in the pitcher's circle on the season.
"I was very pleased with the way our team rebounded from a tough loss. They went out there and worked extremely hard to win that game," said head coach Elaine Schwager. "We are very excited to continue our season and we look forward to playing in the Super Regionals."
The Warriors will take on C.W. Post in the NCAA Tournament East Region Super-Regional next weekend. The Pioneers won the East Region 2 bracket with a 4-0 victory over Caldwell in the finals.