Softball Wins First Big East Title in Program History


Courtesy of @VUSoftball/Twitter

The ‘Cats beat UConn twice on Sunday to clinch the Big East title.

Colin Beazley, Co-Sports Editor

Despite dropping the first game of the tournament, Villanova softball won four straight elimination games to clinch the Big East Tournament title, punching a ticket to the NCAA Championships later this month. The Wildcats beat Connecticut twice on Saturday to win the tournament, beating the Huskies 5-1 in the first game before winning the rubber match 6-1.

The trip to the title was not straightforward for the Wildcats. A stellar 15-2 Big East record was only good enough for the second seed in the tournament, meaning they faced 12-9 three seed UConn in the first game of the tournament instead of 6-11-1 fourth placed Butler. The Wildcats rallied from three runs down to tie the game at three in the bottom of the fourth inning, but UConn’s Devon Casazza had an RBI double in the top of the seventh inning to seize the lead for the Huskies. Junior shortstop Megan Kern singled to lead off the bottom half of the inning, but the next three Wildcats were retired to end the game, sending Villanova to the loser’s bracket with the 4-3 loss.

After Butler upset DePaul on the other side of the bracket, Villanova faced the three time defending champion Blue Demons in an elimination game. The Wildcats were not phased, winning 9-1 behind a seven run seventh inning. After two quick outs, the Wildcats looked to be going into the final frame with just a 2-1 advantage. After two walks and an error, however, the bases were loaded for Kern. Kern only needed one pitch, sending it deep into the Connecticut night and blowing the game open with a grand slam. After two more singles, junior designated hitter Ryan Henry added a three run shot, and the Wildcats had erased any doubt left in the contest.

Senior pitcher and Big East Player of the Year Paige Rauch pitched seven innings in the win, after pitching six innings in the UConn game just hours before. Rauch allowed just five hits against DePaul. 

Friday brought a new challenge in #4 seed Butler, in another win-or-go-home game for the Wildcats. The game followed the same script as the DePaul game, as Villanova broke a 4-4 tie in the fifth inning with five runs in the sixth and five more in the seventh to win 14-5. Kern homered for the second straight day, finishing a triple shy of the cycle, and senior first baseman Julie DaCosta led off the sixth with a solo shot to put the ‘Cats ahead for good. Senior second baseman Angela Giampolo also homered, driving in four runs to lead Villanova to the championship game for the fourth time in program history, and for the second straight tournament.

However, Saturday was the biggest test yet for the Wildcats, as a rematch with UConn beckoned. With the tournament’s double elimination format, two wins would be needed to win the title for the Wildcats, while the Huskies needed just one to send Villanova home empty handed.

The Huskies started quickly, scoring in the first inning, but the Wildcats loaded the bases off of two walks and a hit batter. However, the Wildcats were unable to push anything across. Two more runners were stranded in the second, but sophomore catcher Ally Jones got the Wildcats on the board in the third, tying the game with a solo shot. Rauch kept posting zeroes from the circle, but Villanova could not get runners across until the bottom of the sixth, when Giampolo hit a grand slam to take the lead and to add some insurance, putting the ‘Cats ahead 5-1. Rauch retired three of the four batters she faced in the top of the seventh, clinching the win for Villanova, and setting up a winner-take-all final game for the championship.

Rauch started her fifth straight game for the Wildcats in the title game, but she was immediately greeted with back to back doubles in the top of the first to plate a run for the Huskies. Head coach Bridget Orchard made the bold decision to pull Rauch before the third inning, bringing in senior pitcher Anissa Amarillas with the title on the line. After a single, hit by pitch, and walk, Amarillas had loaded the bases, but she emerged unscathed after a pop out and a ground out, both to sophomore Chloe Smith at third. 

In the fourth, Smith helped her out offensively. After DaCosta doubled with two outs and advanced to third on a wild pitch, Smith singled her in, scoring what proved to be the game winning run. Smith added an RBI double in the sixth inning to put the Wildcats up 3-1, and Rauch clinched the victory and the title with a three run blast in the top of the seventh.

After the initial struggle in the third, Amarillas was flawless the rest of the way. She earned the win with five innings of shutout pitching, striking out three while allowing just two hits. The final out of the game was recorded on an Amarillas strikeout, and she was mobbed on the mound as the Wildcats celebrated their first tournament title in program history.

Rauch, Giampolo, Kern and DaCosta were named to the all-Tournament team, while Rauch was named Most Outstanding Player of the Championships, adding to a crowded trophy case.

With the win, the Wildcats qualified automatically for the NCAA Championships. The rest of the field will be announced Sunday, with 64 teams split into 16 double elimination regional competitions, starting Friday and wrapping up Sunday. If the Wildcats were to advance from that stage, they would face the winner of another Regional in a Super Regional, with a trip to the College Softball World Series in Oklahoma City on the line.