Softball: Norwich downs Emmanuel 7-2 in GNAC Tournament First Round

Makenna Wade - Univ. of St. Joseph - Softball action

NORTHFIELD, Vt. – The Norwich University softball team downed No. 7-seed Emmanuel College 7-2 in the Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) Tournament First Round on Tuesday afternoon at the NU Softball Field. 

Norwich (15-19-1) avenged a 5-0 loss to Emmanuel (15-20) in last year's GNAC Tournament Second Round with the victory for its first home playoff win since 2014 when the Cadets beat Albertus Magnus 5-4 in the first round. 

Norwich also stretched its winning streak to seven straight, tying the longest win streak since the 2014 season. The Cadets will now face No. 3-seed Suffolk University on Thursday, May 4 at 3 p.m. at Saint Joseph's (Maine). With a victory, NU would play again at 5:30 p.m. vs. Saint Joseph's (Maine). With a loss, Norwich would dip into the loser's bracket and play on Saturday at Johnson & Wales. 

Sophomore pitcher Rachel Johnson (Stockbridge, Vt.) stayed hot in the circle, striking out 12, while giving up just three hits and one earned run. She improved to 10-7 with the victory, which was her fourth straight. 

Freshman shortstop Makenna Wade (Pensacola, Fla.) provided the offensive highlight of the day with a grand slam in the bottom of the third inning as part of a five-run third that stretched the NU lead to 7-0. 

Wade greeted freshman pitcher Megan Kieselback, who came on in relief of starter Jill Kilcoyne by blasting a towering home run over the left field fence on the first pitch she saw to bring everyone home. Justina George (Wallingford, Conn.) started the inning by reaching on an error and then back-to-back walks by Naomi Rinaldo (Middlefield, Conn.) and Emily Oliver (Sagamore Hills, Ohio) prompted Emmanuel head coach Kelsea Cheney to pull Kilcoyne. Wade wasted no time, smacking the first pitch over the fence for her second collegiate home run. 

NU also added another run with Madison Miller (Long Lake, N.Y.) scoring on a wild pitch to cap the Cadets' inning. 

Emmanuel cut into the deficit a little bit in the top of the fourth with Olivia Burgos scoring on a passed ball and then Casey Sheehan launching her seventh home run of the season to narrow the lead to 7-2. However, that's as close as the Saints would get. 

Norwich pounced on Kilcoyne early, scoring two runs in the bottom of the first inning with four of the first five batters reaching base. Sarah Perry (New Bedford, Mass.) started off by smoking a line drive single back up the middle and then advanced all the way to third base when the ball skipped under the glove of Burgos in center field. George then walked and advanced to second on a defensive indifference. 

Kilcoyne got Rinaldo to ground out back to her before Oliver provided the game's first runs with a two run double into the left centerfield gap to score Perry and George. 

Wade also reached with a single to put runners on first and third, but NU was unable to push any more runs across in the first with Kilcoyne getting the next two batters to strike out. 

Coming into Tuesday's game, Kilcoyne had Norwich's number, sporting a 5-1 record with a 1.44 ERA and 43 strikeouts in 31 innings pitched. The Saints were also coming off making the GNAC Tournament Championship game one year ago. 

Rain started falling midway through the game and eventually led to a 25-minute rain delay in the middle of the fifth inning. 

Norwich now advances to the double-elimination portion of the tournament and will face No. 3-seed Suffolk at 3 p.m. on Thursday. The Cadets have finished tied for fifth place in the GNAC Tournament in 2016, 2014, 2013 and 2012.