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    Friday, August 19, 2022

    Woods, Michon help pace Eastern softball to Division III World Series

    Mansfield — Cassie Woods and Alexis Michon both played elsewhere in the Little East Conference and watched the Eastern Connecticut State University softball team from afar.

    Both transferred to Eastern exactly for this moment.

    Eastern, with a 4-0 win Saturday over Randolph-Macon in the championship game of the best-of-three NCAA Division III Super Regional, is one of the last eight teams standing and headed for the double-elimination World Series which begins Thursday in Salem, Virginia.

    Woods, a 2017 Fitch High School graduate, and Michon, a 2020 product of Montville, are both keys to the team's success, with Michon, a sophomore pitcher, earning back-to-back victories Friday and Saturday to be named the tournament's Most Outstanding Pitcher. Woods meanwhile, singled in the seventh inning to tie the program's single-season record with her 71st hit.

    Third-ranked Eastern, a five-time national champion, is 43-5.

    "When I first played Eastern when I was at Plymouth, I knew I wanted to transfer right away," Michon said. "I told my dad right away. ... And we're going to a World Series, so that explains it all. I live at home so it's really nice, I get to see my family and my teammates every day."

    Woods, a graduate student who has another year of eligibility after this one due to the pandemic, previously played at Southern Connecticut and Keene State. She was asked if she chose Eastern just as a "nice" place close to home to close out her career or if she expected more.

    "I wasn't really interested in the 'nice to close out my career,'" said Woods, Eastern's leadoff hitter and center fielder. "I wanted winning and competition and to play for coach Pep (Diana Pepin), coach Mark (Correia). ... Three years ago I was sitting up there (in the stands) watching them and I'm like, 'This is what I want.' It is the most incredible thing to be a part of."

    Michon, who earned the win in eight innings Friday, came back and pitched a three-hitter over six innings Saturday, getting some relief help from Alyssa Vilchez. Michon (23-1) won her 20th consecutive game. She struck out a combined 14 hitters in the two games of the Super Regional, throwing 157 of 211 pitches for strikes.

    "I felt about the same throughout the whole game," Michon said, asked whether she tired at all as the day wore on. "I like pitching in the heat. My teammates were giving me water every inning, giving me a towel every inning so I was cooled down before I went back out every inning."

    When Vilchez went out to pitch the seventh, Michon walked out to the mound with her.

    "I know Lys had my back," Michon said. "I had hers if she needed it at all. I went out there with her because I told her she's got this. She's a beast."

    Woods, meanwhile, finished the day hitting .486 (71-for-146). The left-handed hitting Woods had the game-winning single for Eastern in Friday's 1-0 win over Randolph-Macon in eight innings. Her 71st hit of the season tied the program record held by Woods' former coach at Fitch and current Coast Guard Academy head coach Arielle Cooper, a 2013 Eastern grad.

    "I was looking for the text on my phone (from Cooper) 10 minutes ago saying congrats," Woods said with a laugh. "I didn't get one. I'm going to have to have a little chat with her."

    Woods continued, addressing her success at the plate.

    "Honestly, coach Pep's mentality and coach Mark's hitting structure just helped me a lot," she said. "Being around my teammates, I don't have to get on base all the time. It's like, 'no pressure.' I'm having fun, I'm loose, I'm surrounded by great people. ... I just started crying when we won. A whole group of people have never wanted something more than to go and kick ass in Salem."

    "Cassie is an anomoly for sure," Pepin said. "It doesn't faze her. She has an unorthodox swing, but in her head she goes up there and she just attacks the ball. She gets mad at herself when she doesn't get on but she's batting .500, like, relax, you got it. I think her mentality is just she's going to compete and that's why she's so successful."

    Eastern scored three runs in the top of the first inning to give Michon a cushion. After Woods was thrown out trying to bunt for a base hit, Alexis Tyrell laid down a bunt single and Brooke Matyasovsky followed with a two-run homer. Julia SanGiovanni doubled, took third on a wild pitch and Michon singled to drive in the run.

    Said Pepin: "I think that this team really competed. They had a lot of heart."

    v.fulkerson@theday.com

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