Colleges: Despite NCAA tourney loss, Amherst softball made its mark

  • Amherst college catcher Jess Butler makes a diving catch during action over the weekend in the NCAA Division 3 Tournament in Amherst. The Mammoths went 2-2 on the weekend but fell to Virginia Wesleyan, 9-2, in an elimination game on Sunday. KRIS DUFOUR/AMHERST ATHLETICS

Staff Writer 
Published: 5/15/2022 6:02:04 PM

AMHERST – Up 1-0 in the top of the seventh inning with the tying run on second and the go-ahead run on first Saturday, Amherst College pitcher Talia Bloxham caught the eye of her catcher, Jess Butler. 

“After that runner got on second, I looked at Talia and we just kind of smiled to each other, like ‘This isn't gonna happen. We're gonna stop them right here,’” Butler said. 

That was exactly what the duo did. The two took the game into their own hands when Butler caught a pop-up behind the plate for the first out, then Bloxham struck out the next two batters to earn a 1-0 victory over Husson, her second win of the day. Bloxham’s dozen strikeouts against Husson were a career-high, shattering her previous count of nine strikeouts that she threw last year in a game against Wesleyan. 

The Mammoths’ run in the NCAA Division 3 softball tournament came to a close on Sunday with a 9-2 loss in the regional final to Virginia Wesleyan, but Saturday’s pair of impressive victories highlighted what was an outstanding season for Amherst.

Bloxham was lights out for the Mammoths in a pair of wins on Saturday. Before she threw a shutout against Husson, she threw a four-inning no-hitter against the University of Rochester before Audrey Orlowski came on in relief. The two combined on the no-hitter in a 10-0 blowout victory over the Yellowjackets.

Bloxham started again against Husson, throwing 5.1 no-hit innings before Husson got its first hit of the game in the top of the sixth. 

“Before the first game we had talked about just playing free today. We were calling it free softball,” Butler said. “I just knew the first inning of that first game when we went out there, I was like ‘Talia’s gonna be special today.” 

It wasn’t just her play in the circle that contributed to the win. Though the first game against Rochester was an offensive showcase for Amherst, the second  game against Husson was a pitcher’s duel between Bloxham and Husson’s McKenna Smith. The two pitchers went toe to toe on Friday in the opening round of the four-team regional bracket, and in that contest, Smith held Amherst to a single hit, striking out five batters and handing the Mammoths into the elimination bracket of the double-elimination tournament. 

Saturday’s game looked like it would be much of the same. Though the Mammoths managed a hit in the top of the first, a single from Megan Taketa, Smith kept them scoreless through four innings. In the top of the fifth, Amherst finally managed to break through. Butler singled and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt from America Rangel. Butler took third on a wild pitch, and Bloxham managed to reach thanks in part to a poor throw, plating Butler in the process for the game’s only run.

 “We preach seeing a lot of pitches and staying within our strike zone. It's OK to take that borderline strike. And I think taking those borderline strikes really took a toll on their pitcher,” Amherst acting head coach Will Loredo said. “From the first game that we played [Husson], [Smith] worked really fast. But then all of a sudden you started seeing her slowing down in between pitches.” 

Despite the breakthrough in the fifth, the Mammoths still had to fight to stave off a comeback attempt. The Eagles got all three of their hits in the sixth and seventh innings – Husson had two runners on base before a groundout ended the sixth, and had two runners on with no outs before Butler and Bloxham managed to shut them down.

It extended the fairytale run that the Mammoths had been riding all season. Loredo was impressed at the trust and commitment that he saw from his players this spring.

“This team, they just trust each other. They're playing for each other. They understand that – I trust you, I got your back, I'm gonna support you no matter what the outcome is. They're playing with this bond, this family bond,” Loredo said. “It's very gratifying and I'm definitely very appreciative to be part of it. To be honest, I'm just going along for the ride.” 

Virginia Wesleyan, which used a six-run second inning on Sunday to pull away from the Mammoths, advanced to play Christopher Newport in a best-of-three Super Regional next week.


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