NCAA Division III Softball Willimantic Regional: #2 Eastern Connecticut Outlasts Coast Guard in Eight Innings, 5-4

MANSFIELD, Conn. – Senior Molly Rathbun (Hebron, Conn.) launched a grand slam to left field in the fifth to help lead top-seeded Eastern Connecticut into the 2012 NCAA Division-III Willimantic Regional championship round as the Warriors defeated the fifth-seeded United States Coast Guard Academy on Sunday.

Eastern Connecticut (44-2) moves on to play Tufts in the championship round of the regional that began shortly after 3:00 p.m. Should the Warriors defeat Tufts, both squads return to the Eastern Softball Field tomorrow at noon for the if necessary matchup. Coast Guard completes the 2012 campaign with a 28-19 record.

The game was tied 4-4 heading into the eighth inning. Junior Arielle Cooper (Mystic, Conn.) opened the extra frame with a single to third. Sophomore Megan Godwin (Manchester, Conn.) moved her to second on a sacrifice bunt before a one-out single by sophomore Stephanie Johnson (Plantsville, Conn.) was misplayed to enable Cooper to cross home plate for what proved to be the game-winning run.

Both teams traded zeroes on the scoreboard through three and a half innings as the clubs combined to strand three runners in scoring position.

Eastern Connecticut left a runner on third in the top of the fourth as Rathbun reached on an infield miscue. Cooper moved junior Courtney Weber (Groton, Conn.), who was pinch running for Rathbun, to second on a sacrifice bunt before an illegal pitch advanced Weber to third. A pop fly ended the threat.

In the bottom of the frame, Coast Guard junior Holli Bastinck (Wayne, N.J.) delivered a one-out solo blast to put the first run of the day on the scoreboard.

Johnson led off the Eastern Connecticut fifth as she singled to right. Two batters later, freshman Sam Rossetti (Shelton, Conn.) singled to center and junior Kelly Paterson (Southington, Conn.) followed with a knock to left to load the bases. Coast Guard senior Hayley Feindel (River Edge, La.) calmly fielded a grounder to get the runner at home. Rathbun then launched a rocket to left field for her fifth home run of the season.

The Bears portion of the sixth opened as free passes were issued to freshman Jessica Richardson (Kent, Wash.) and Bastinck setting the stage for a three-run blast by sophomore Kaitlin Ward (Saline, Mich.) to even the game 4-4.

Each team's center fielders provided stellar defense down the stretch as sophomore Mattie Brett (Waterford, Conn.) made a great catch in the bottom of the seventh and Ward snagged a fly ball with a Warrior in scoring position one inning later.

Johnson and Paterson each went 2-for-3 in the contest to go along with Rathbun's four RBI.

Coast Guard's Bastinck batted 2-for-3 as she drove in one run and scored twice while Ward finished with three runs batted in.

In addition to the offensive fireworks, Rathbun was effective in the circle surrendering four runs on eight hits while striking out eight en route to a Warrior-best 33 wins in 35 decisions.

Hayley Feindel allowed five runs – four earned – on eight hits and struck out three batters in her final appearance for the United States Coast Guard Academy. The All-American holds the NCAA Division-III record for career wins (124) and strikeouts (1,462).