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Norwich, Simmons Both Earn GNAC Softball Tournament First-Round Victories


Sixth-seeded Norwich University and eighth-seeded Simmons College both earned first-round wins on Tuesday to advance into the double-elimination portion of the 2017 GNAC Softball Tournament. Norwich handled seventh-seeded Emmanuel College, 7-2, and Simmons used extra innings on the road to take down fifth-seeded University of Saint Joseph (CT), 6-4.

Simmons will take on No. 4 Albertus Magnus College Thursday at No. 1 Johnson & Wales University, while Norwich will travel to No. 2 Saint Joseph's College of Maine to face No. 3 Suffolk University. Both contests are scheduled for a 3:00 PM first pitch. 

NORTHFIELD, Vt. – The Norwich University softball team downed No. 7-seed Emmanuel College 7-2 in the Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) Tournament First Round on Tuesday afternoon at the NU Softball Field. 

Norwich (15-19-1) avenged a 5-0 loss to Emmanuel (15-20) in last year's GNAC Tournament Second Round with the victory for its first home playoff win since 2014 when the Cadets beat Albertus Magnus 5-4 in the first round. 

Norwich also stretched its winning streak to seven straight, tying the longest win streak since the 2014 season. The Cadets will now face No. 3-seed Suffolk University on Thursday, May 4 at 3 p.m. at Saint Joseph's (Maine). With a victory, NU would play again at 5:30 p.m. vs. Saint Joseph's (Maine). With a loss, Norwich would dip into the loser's bracket and play on Saturday at Johnson & Wales. 

Sophomore pitcher Rachel Johnson (Stockbridge, Vt.) stayed hot in the circle, striking out 12, while giving up just three hits and one earned run. She improved to 10-7 with the victory, which was her fourth straight. 

Freshman shortstop Makenna Wade (Pensacola, Fla.) provided the offensive highlight of the day with a grand slam in the bottom of the third inning as part of a five-run third that stretched the NU lead to 7-0. 

Wade greeted freshman pitcher Megan Kieselback, who came on in relief of starter Jill Kilcoyne by blasting a towering home run over the left field fence on the first pitch she saw to bring everyone home. Justina George (Wallingford, Conn.) started the inning by reaching on an error and then back-to-back walks by Naomi Rinaldo (Middlefield, Conn.) and Emily Oliver (Sagamore Hills, Ohio) prompted Emmanuel head coach Kelsea Cheney to pull Kilcoyne. Wade wasted no time, smacking the first pitch over the fence for her second collegiate home run. 

NU also added another run with Madison Miller (Long Lake, N.Y.) scoring on a wild pitch to cap the Cadets' inning. 

Emmanuel cut into the deficit a little bit in the top of the fourth with Olivia Burgos scoring on a passed ball and then Casey Sheehan launching her seventh home run of the season to narrow the lead to 7-2. However, that's as close as the Saints would get. 

Norwich pounced on Kilcoyne early, scoring two runs in the bottom of the first inning with four of the first five batters reaching base. Sarah Perry (New Bedford, Mass.) started off by smoking a line drive single back up the middle and then advanced all the way to third base when the ball skipped under the glove of Burgos in center field. George then walked and advanced to second on a defensive indifference. 

Kilcoyne got Rinaldo to ground out back to her before Oliver provided the game's first runs with a two run double into the left centerfield gap to score Perry and George. 

Wade also reached with a single to put runners on first and third, but NU was unable to push any more runs across in the first with Kilcoyne getting the next two batters to strike out. 

Coming into Tuesday's game, Kilcoyne had Norwich's number, sporting a 5-1 record with a 1.44 ERA and 43 strikeouts in 31 innings pitched. The Saints were also coming off making the GNAC Tournament Championship game one year ago. 

Rain started falling midway through the game and eventually led to a 25-minute rain delay in the middle of the fifth inning. 

Norwich now advances to the double-elimination portion of the tournament and will face No. 3-seed Suffolk at 3 p.m. on Thursday. The Cadets have finished tied for fifth place in the GNAC Tournament in 2016, 2014, 2013 and 2012.  

Courtesy of Norwich Athletics Communications.

#8 SIMMONS 6, #5 USJ 4 - 8 INNINGS
WEST HARTFORD, Conn. — First year relief pitcher Bridget Garach (West Hartford, Conn.) threw four innings of two-hit ball and first year second baseman Lauren Del Vacchio (Murrieta, Calif.) was 3-5 and knocked in the go-ahead run to lead the number eight seed Simmons College softball team to a 6-4 victory over host fifth-seeded University of Saint Joseph in the opening round of the Great Northeast Athletic Conference Championship Tournament this evening at USJ Softball Field in West Hartford, Conn. The Sharks improve to 15-23 on the season and advance to take on number four seeded Albertus Magnus College on Thursday, May 4 at 3:00 p.m. at tournament host Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I. The Blue Jays fall to 20-17.

The win was the first GNAC Tournament victory for SC since a 5-3 decision over Johnson & Wales on April 27, 2014 to send the squad to the Championship game.

Del Vacchio finished with a run batted in and a run scored for Simmons, while senior third baseman Brianna Rastello (Salem, N.H.) went 2-5 with two RBI and a run scored. First year center fielder Molly Hennessey (Charlton, Mass.) and sophomore left fielder Sam Curran (Concord, N.H.) each collected a pair of hits as well. Garach improved to 3-1 on the season for the Sharks. Sophomore starting hurler Tori Gomes (Taunton, Mass.) gave up four runs on eight hits and three walks in four frames, while striking out one.

First year starting pitcher Amaria Sharon (18-10) suffered the loss

 for Saint Joseph, giving up six runs (five earned) on 13 hits and two walks to go with five strikeouts. She also contributed at the plate with a single and a double to knock in a pair of runs. Sophomore second baseman Isabella Russo (Southington, Conn.) was 3-4 with a double and a run batted in and first year catcher McKenna Driscoll (Bristol, Conn.) finished with two hits in three at-bats and added a walk.

Curran led off the top of the eighth with an infield single for Simmons and classmate Michaela Reeves (Reading, Mass.) reached on a mishandled bunt, while both runners moved into scoring position on an errant throw on the play. Following an out, Del Vacchio came through with her third hit of the day, plating Curran with a single through the left side to give the Sharks their first lead of the day at 5-4. Rastello followed with a single through the left side as well to score Reeves and increase the Simmons margin to 6-4. Hennessey drew a one-out walk to load the bases, but Saint Joseph was able to get out of the inning without any further damage.

Garach yielded just one walk in the bottom of the eighth and fielded a pair of ground balls to give her five infield assists in the final six outs of the game to close out the contest and pick up the victory for Simmons.

The Blue Jays put two runs on the board to open the scoring in the bottom of the first. Sophomore center fielder Megan Skoly (Vernon, Conn.) smacked a leadoff single, before junior shortstop Sarah Ercoli (East Granby, Conn.) worked a walk. The runners both moved into scoring position on a wild pitch to set up a sacrifice fly off the bat of sophomore first baseman Rachel Dube (Southington, Conn.) to bring home Skoly with the first run of the game. Driscoll followed with a run-producing single to plate Ercoli to give the home team a 2-0 lead.

The Sharks cut the deficit in half with a run in the second after first year shortstop Ashley Lynch (Shrewsbury, Mass.) and Curran opened the frame with back-to-back singles to set up an opposite field double to the left center gap off the bat of Reeves to score Lynch. 

Saint Joseph tacked on single runs in the third and fourth to take a 4-1 advantage. The Blue Jays loaded the bases without an out when Sharon and Dube singled, followed by a walk from Driscoll. Saint Joseph looked primed to break the game open, but Gomes fielded a come-backer to the circle and turned it into a 1-2-3 double play. Russo came through with a run-scoring single up the middle to salvage a run for the home squad. First year right fielder Taylor Marino (Middlefield, Conn.) reached on a bunt single to open the fourth and later scored on a two-out double to center from Sharon for the Blue Jays' fourth run of the day. 

Simmons rallied for three runs in the fifth to knot the contest at 4-4. Senior catcher Alison Gauvin (Whitefield, Maine) beat out a one-out bunt single and Del Vacchio stroked a single to left, before Rastello knocked in Gauvin with a single to left. Hennessey singled to center to extend her hitting streak to 12 straight games and load the bases with one out. First year designated player Alex Soqui (Acushnet, Mass.) came through with the biggest hit of her young career, driving in a pair of runs with a single up the middle to pull the Sharks even at 4-4.

Saint Joseph looked to reclaim the lead in the bottom of the inning when Driscoll singled and an out later Russo doubled to put runners on second and third. First year left fielder Megan Ricci (Center Moriches, N.Y.) hit sharp grounder to second, where Del Vacchio fielded and threw a strike to the plate to cut down Driscoll for the out. Neither team was able to push a run across in the sixth and seventh innings as Garach handled three straight ground balls in the seventh to send the game into extra innings. 

Courtesy of Simmons Athletics Communications.

First Round - Tuesday, May 2 (single elimination)
Game 1: #8 Simmons 6, #5 St. Joseph (Conn.) 4 | BOX
Game 2: #6 Norwich 7, #7 Emmanuel 2 | BOX

Second Round - Thursday, May 4 (double-elim begins)
Game 3: #8 Simmons vs. #4 Albertus Magnus (at #1 JWU) - 3:00 PM
Game 4: #6 Norwich vs. #3 Suffolk (at #2 Saint Joseph's Maine) - 3:00 PM
Game 5: Game 3 winner at #1 JWU - 5:30 PM
Game 6: Game 4 winner at #2 Saint Joseph's Maine - 5:30 PM 

Semifinals - Saturday, May 6 (hosted by #1 JWU)
Game 7: Game 4 loser vs. Game 5 loser (elim game) - 10:00 AM
Game 8: Game 3 loser vs. Game 6 loser (elim game) - 12:30 PM
Game 9: Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner - 3:00 PM
Game 10: Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 winner (elim game) - 5:30 PM 

Championship - Sunday, May 7 (hosted by #1 JWU)
Game 11: Game 9 loser vs. Game 10 winner (elim game) - 10:00 AM
Game 12: Game 11 winner vs. Game 9 winner - 12:30 PM
Game 13: if necessary - 3:00 PM

Founded in 1995, the Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) is an NCAA Division III association made up of 12 member institutions and over 3,000 student-athletes across the New England region. Each year, the GNAC sponsors and administers 17 championships, while balancing academic integrity, athletic opportunities and community involvement.