ORONO, Maine -- For the first time since 2005, the America East softball regular-season champion is also the tournament champion. Taylor Cowan's fourth-inning home run proved to be the difference as top-seeded Boston University downed third-seeded Stony Brook University, 4-1, to win its second straight conference title on Saturday afternoon at University of Maine's Kessock Field.
Earlier in the day, the Seawolves forced a deciding game with a 2-0 win over the Terriers behind a six-hit shutout from senior right-hander Alyssa Struzenberg. But the Terriers rebounded behind another stellar performance from senior hurler Cassidi Hardy, who earned Most Outstanding Player honors for the second straight year.
With the win, Boston U. also earned an NCAA Championship berth for the second consecutive season. The Terriers, who last year became just the second America East squad to reach an NCAA regional final, will learn its NCAA draw on Sunday at 10 p.m. on ESPNU.
The opening game was scoreless heading to the bottom of the third when Stony Brook (32-21-1) scratched a run across without the ball leaving the infield. Senior Katelyn O'Donnell led off the frame with an infield single and was moved to second on a sacrifice by senior Jade Clare, who got the bunt down with two strikes. Sophomore Suzanne Karath followed with a bunt single, which sent O'Donnell to third. She came home on the Seawolves third bunt of the inning, a suicide squeeze by first-team all-conference shortstop Vicki Kavitsky, which gave them a 1-0 lead.
Boston U. (34-20) threatened by loading the bases with no outs in the top of the fourth. Senior Rachel Moeller, a second-team all-league third baseman, and freshman Whitney Tuthill, an all-rookie choice, both singled to start the inning. Senior Caitlin Rentler followed with a sacrifice bunt and reached on an error to stack the bags. But Struzenberg got Taylor Cowan to pop out to second and Christina Valdes popped into a infield-fly double play as Moeller was tagged out after the ball dropped.
Senior Crista Cerrone, who earned All-Championship honors, added to the Seawolves' advantage with a solo homer, her second of the tournament, in the fifth. The runs were enough for Struzenberg, who completed her third straight shutout, by allowing just one hit the rest of the way. The first-team all-league hurler and All-Championship choice, allowed six hits, walked one and struck out three.
In the deciding game, the Terriers wasted no time getting on the scoreboard. Second-team All-America East first baseman Rachel Hebert doubled to lead things off in the home half of the first. She moved to second on a sacrifice and later scored a grounder to short by sophomore Emily Roesch, also a second-teamer.
The Seawolves squandered a scoring chance in the fourth. Sophomore Bernadette Tenuto singled to start the inning and with two out senior Kendall Blumenthal walked and senior Katelyn O'Donnell was hit by a pitch. With the bases loaded, freshman Taylor Chain was called on to pinch hit, but struck out.
In the home half of the frame, Cowan, an All-Rookie selection who also was named to the All-Championship team, crushed her second homer of the tournament, and just her third of the season, to give Boston U. a 2-0 lead.
Stony Brook got one back in the fifth after Karath and Kavitsky both singled to start the inning. Karath later scored on an RBI groundout by Tenuto, but Hardy got out of the jam and received two more insurance runs in the home half of the frame before cementing the 4-1 win.
Hardy, just the fourth player to win multiple MOP awards, allowed just six hits, walked none and fanned six in earning her 20th win of the year. Also the America East Pitcher of the Year, Hardy compiled a 0.78 ERA and struck out 34 in 27 innings of work during the tournament.
Hardy and Cowan were joined on the All-Championship team by teammates Erica Casacci and Rachel Moeller. Cerrone and Struzenberg were joined by O'Donnell to complete Stony Brook's selections.
University of Maine's Cayleigh Montano and Alexis Souhlaris and University at Albany's Leah McIntosh and Marissa Powell rounded out the All-Championship squad.
Erica Casacci, Boston U.
Taylor Cowan, Boston U.
Cassidi Hardy, Boston U. (Most Outstanding Player)
Rachel Moeller, Boston U.
Crista Cerrone, Stony Brook
Katelyn O'Donnell, Stony Brook
Alyssa Struzenberg, Stony Brook
Cayleigh Montano, Maine
Alexis Souhlaris, Maine
Leah McIntosh, Albany
Marissa Powell, Albany