The newly crowned North Atlantic Conference champion Husson University softball team will travel to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to take on host Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the first round of the NCAA Division III Tournament on Friday afternoon.
Husson is 24-9, while MIT, ranked 21st in the country, is 27-10-1. The regional opener pits 30-12 Rowan University of New Jersey against 28-13 Eastern Nazarene College from Massachusetts.
Game times for the double-elimination affair have yet to be released.
MIT played in the College World Series last season and in 2016.
The Eagles played in the regional at Williams College last season and they feel the experience they gained will be valuable. Husson lost to No. 12 Williams 6-0 and then dropped a 6-5, 11-inning elimination game to Western New England (Massachusetts).
There are 12 players on this year’s roster who played for the Eagles a year ago.
“We will be more ready this year,” Husson junior second baseman Bri Brochu of Pittston said. “Now that we’ve been there before, we will be more relaxed. The nerves won’t be as high.”
“Preparing for this year’s tournament will be a little bit easier,” senior catcher Kylie Cunningham of Bangor said. “We know what to expect at the regional level.”
Ace junior pitcher Jen Jones of Acton said the 2018 tournament was eye-opening and that this Husson team is better.
“Teams outside the NAC are very different than us. We can beat any team we play, although we may not have performed [up to expectations]. This year, we’re so much better off. Our lineup is so much deeper.”
After getting touched up for six runs in seven innings of the NAC tourney-opening 9-6 win over the University of Maine at Presque Isle, Jones pitched eight perfect innings against Thomas College of Waterville. She retired all nine hitters she faced in relief in a 7-6 winners’ bracket victory over the Terriers and all 15 in a title-clinching 8-0, five-inning triumph over Thomas in the championship game.
It was the first Husson perfect game involving just one pitcher in 17 years.
“The team behind me played so strong, and [Cunningham] behind the plate is always a rock. It was a perfect mix of everything,” Jones said.
Jones said since the Eagles have more pitching depth this season, she is fresher than she was last year.
She has pitched 119 innings this season after throwing 178 2/3 a year ago. She is 13-5 with a 1.59 earned run average and 128 strikeouts to go with 36 walks.
Senior Arika Brochu Augusta, who was studying in Ireland last year and didn’t play softball, has pitched 66 2/3 innings and is 8-2 with a 2.21 ERA.
Senior center fielder Olivia Smith of Calais was the NAC Tournament Most Valuable Player as she went 5-for-7 with two home runs and 10 runs batted in. She is now hitting .427 with eight homers, 12 doubles and 38 RBIs.
Husson has won 12 of its past 13 games and seven in a row.
“We had a hard time finding our groove but, over the past 12-15 games, we’ve started to mesh together, and we’re producing when we need to, which is awesome,” Cunningham said.