SALEM, Va. — Plattsburgh State University's third trip ever to the NCAA postseason ended with a second straight loss on Saturday afternoon, as the Cardinals fell to Tufts University, 7-1, at the 2012 Division III Softball Championships.
Both schools had lost 1-0 games in the opening round on Friday, dropping them in to the loser's bracket.
The Cardinals yielded a decisive sacrifice fly against Montclair State in the bottom of the 7th inning, while Tufts surrendered the only run of their game against Roanoke College in the 6th. Plattsburgh managed just two hits against Montclair; the Jumbos scratched out one vs. Roanoke.
It was a different story Saturday as Tufts pounded out 11 hits, including three doubles against Plattsburgh.
"We hit the ball, which was a big difference from (Saturday) — a little bit more what we're capable of," Jumbos coach Cheryl Milligan said.
Senior Heather Loughran got the assignment for the Cardinals and was in the pitcher's circle to start the game Saturday instead of Ashley Marshall, the junior who threw a complete game against Montclair State the day before.
Plattsburgh State coach Stephanie Zweig called Loughran (10-5, 3.27 ERA) the team's "secret weapon," this season, although she had started almost as many games as Marshall (22 vs. 24).
Tufts more than doubled its hit output from Friday four batters in to the game. A two-out double by Jo Clair fell between Cardinals left fielder Dana Mandery and centerfielder Megan Price, as neither seemed to call off the other. Singles by Emily Beinecke and Kris Parr helped the Jumbos to a 2-0 lead before Plattsburgh State batted in the bottom of the first.
"(We) had seven more innings to fight back," said Zweig, who made it to the final eight in Salem as a PSU player in 2007. "We kept on fighting. I like winning, I hate losing."
Returning to the Blue Ridge Mountains was a major motivator for Zweig.
"Right from the start I wanted to get back here," she said. "I really knew that this senior group was going to do something special by the end of their career."
It wasn't going to be easy for the Cardinals to come back against starting Tufts pitcher Allyson Fournier, who came in to the championships with a 22-1 record, starting 19 games and sporting a tidy 0.36 ERA. The freshman had also struck out 275 batters in just 156 innings. (Her ERA had "jumped" to 0.39 after yielding a run to Roanoke College on Friday).
Zweig made the switch to Marshall in the pitcher's circle after Lizzy Iuppa singled for Tufts with one out in the second. Shortstop Brittany Marshall, Ashley's younger sister, was shaken up but stayed in the game when taking the throw at second as Iuppa was promptly thrown out on a steal attempt.
"Every championship game that we won this year we started Heather and (then) brought in Ashley," said Zweig. "That was our game plan. She did a great job."
Plattsburgh State's Michelle Iannone singled for the Cardinals' first hit in the home half of the second inning but pinch runner Kayla Rabideau was left stranded after a sacrifice bunt put her in scoring position.
Tufts added insurance runs in the fifth inning, loading the bases with no outs on two singles and a fielder's choice where PSU couldn't convert a force play at third.
Lena Cantone's double to center plated two Jumbos base runners and a fielder's choice netted another for a 5-0 Tufts lead.
"When we get those runs it's like we're running on all cylinders," Milligan said.
In their half of the fifth the Cardinals did get a runner in scoring position (batter hit by pitch, single) but pinch runner Melanie Hayes was out when Megan Price's line drive to center was caught and fired back to second base to complete a double play.
PSU scored the only run of the two games it played here in the sixth inning, courtesy of an Allison Smiddy double and Iannone's second single. Two singles and a double helped Tufts (41-6) come right back with the final two runs of the game in the bottom of the inning. PSU went down 1-2-3 in the seventh.
Plattsburgh (35-11) had five hits against Tufts and six in the two games. Loughran (10-6) took the loss Saturday.
"We hit the ball well but the (scoring) opportunities didn't go our way," said Zweig.
Senior catcher Erin Florkiewicz said that playing in the D3 championships — after never even making it to the NCAA regionals in previous years —was "everything we've ever worked for. It was going to be a year of new things. It's been a great experience."
Those new things for Florkiewicz included beating Cortland State for the first time — twice.
Fellow senior Smiddy transferred from Potsdam State, a bottom feeder in the SUNYAC, to Plattsburgh as a junior. Her career-ending trip to Salem was a pleasant surprise.
"I didn't think we would make it all this way," admitted the second baseman, "I was like, wow — we're pretty good."
With her 10 strikeouts of Cardinals hitters yesterday, Fournier (23-2) has racked up 24 K's in two starts at the D3 Softball Championship.
"The spin on my ball (helped Saturday). I tried to work on that in the offseason," she said.
The preparation apparently worked out just fine.
"Her rise ball was crazy," added Smiddy.
Just 25 and in her third year as head coach, Zweig appears to have a bright future — as do the Cardinals that return next season.
"Even though today was a low point, we have to remember what our whole season has been like," said Zweig. "Seventh in the country — that's phenomenal."
Tufts 7, Plattsburgh State 1
Tufts 200 030 2 — 7 11 0
Plattsburgh 000 001 0 — 1 5 1
Fournier and Clair. Loughran, Marshall (2) and Florkiewicz. WP- Fournier. LP- Loughran. 2B- Cantone 2 (T), Clair (T), Smiddy (PSU).