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Just two days after winning their first Patriot League championship in thrilling fashion, it was business as usual for the BU softball team. During a noonday practice Monday, pitchers were tossing in the bullpen, infielders were taking ground balls, and hitters were swinging. The Terriers had clinched the conference title after scoring six runs in the last two innings of Saturday’s final, defeating Bucknell 10-5. They begin competition in the regional round of the NCAA tournament tomorrow in Tucson, Ariz.
Head coach Kathryn Gleason was urging her athletes to concentrate on the challenge ahead. “We’ve had the same mantra since day one, which is to take it one game at a time,” says Gleason. “They didn’t do anything differently against Bucknell than they’ve done all year, which is fight and compete until the last out has been played. It was a tough win, and anytime you can build on the momentum of the previous game it’s a positive. I think playing that style of game, and our older players’ familiarity with big games, will definitely benefit us going into the NCAA tournament.”
The Terriers face number 11 Arizona in tomorrow night’s game, which will be televised on ESPNU. Louisville and Louisiana State comprise the rest of the regional bracket, and the four teams will face off in a double-elimination format over the weekend, with the winner advancing to the Super Regionals the following weekend.
This is the Terriers’ fourth trip to a NCAA tournament in the last six years. Their last appearance, in 2012, ended with a loss to number one California. The team’s seniors are excited about returning to the NCAA one last time. They also view it as a chance to prepare the team’s underclassmen for what lies ahead.
“It means a lot to compete in regionals one more time,” says Chelsea Kehr (SAR’14), who was named conference tournament Most Valuable Player after slugging three-run home runs in both the semifinals and finals. “As seniors, we want to give the freshmen the opportunity to compete at this level so that when they’re seniors, this type of competition won’t be new to them. It’s our responsibility as upperclassmen to put enough pressure on them to make them realize what it takes to get that next level.”
Bolstered by the significant contributions of Kehr and fellow seniors Jayme Mask (CAS’14), Amy Ekart (SAR’14), and Brittany Clendenny (COM’14), the performance by starting pitcher Melanie Russell (COM’16) was arguably the most important factor in capturing the conference title. The San Diego, Calif., native was named to the Patriot League All-Tournament team after pitching all 21 innings for her squad.
The final against Bucknell was “was an incredibly nerve-racking game,” says Russell, “but I knew my teammates had my back. I thought we were the better hitting team coming into the game, but it was a huge relief that they picked me up like that.”
Despite her heavy workload over the weekend, Russell was back on the practice field Monday to prepare for the Terriers nationally televised tilt with Arizona.
“I’m so excited,” she says. “It’s been an emotional season for me since I was out over a month with a rib injury, but to get back and help the team make it to regionals is just the greatest feeling. Playing a great team in a game that’s going to be broadcast on ESPNU is the chance of a lifetime, and I think everyone’s looking forward to showing the nation what we’ve got.”
The BU softball Terriers will face the number 11 Arizona Wildcats at 11 p.m. EDT at Hillenbrand Stadium in Tucson, Ariz. The game can be viewed on ESPNU. The Terriers will play up to three more games against either LSU, Louisville, or Arizona, depending on results, with the winner of the four-team regional advancing to Super Regionals the following weekend. All games will be televised on the ESPN family of networks.