Lesley made New England Collegiate Conference history this year by becoming the first institution to win both baseball and softball championships the same year.
Topping it off, baseball head coach Billy Cather was named the NECC Coach of the Year.
Softball: '60-foot vision'
Head coach Heather Ross says the softball team started off with a challenging preseason in Florida, and the Lynx didn’t hit their stride until mid-season. From there the team powered through to the NECC, earning a seventh title on May 7 in a 3-0 shutout over Newbury College. Senior outfielder Mekenzi Golden took home All-Tournament Team MVP honors with a .632 batting average. First year Sarah Bushman and sophomore Abby Henderson were named to the All-Tournament Team as well.
Along with Golden, fellow seniors Allyson Nisbet and Carlyn Barker finished their four-year careers with bookend championships. The trio won the conference title as freshmen in 2014.
"For them to come back and win it their senior year capped off a really good career for them," said Ross.
The NECC win and the trip to the NCAA Regionals was something the team took "one day at a time."
"We call it our 60-foot vision," the coach said, alluding to the distance between softball bases.
The team ended its outstanding season at the National Collegiate Athletic Association Regionals with double-elimination defeats by Babson College and Framingham State University. Although the Lynx lost both games, the conference championship and NCAA tournament appearance marked a great start for Ross in her first year at Lesley.
Looking ahead, she said the makeup of the team will be much different next spring, with at least five new players.
"I’m excited to build what I feel like will be my own team," she said.
Baseball: Ready for the next step
The Lynx baseball team took home its first NECC title in the program’s seven years on May 8 and earned a spot in the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regionals.
"This was the hardest-working group that I’ve ever had," said head coach Cather, who has run the program for four seasons.
Underdogs going into the final NECC game, the fourth-seeded Lynx took down the first-seeded Mitchell College in a 10-6 coup, with a walk-off grand slam by the team’s lone senior Mike Slaby. Only needing one run to win the game, Slaby pulled a 1-1 pitch over the leftfield fence for just his second career homerun and earned All-Tournament Team MVP honors in the process. Junior right-handers Tom Muratore and Nick Iadevaio also were named to the All-Tournament Team.
The players next took to York, Pa., for three games in the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional Tournament. Eighth-seeded in the NCAA tournament, the Lynx fell to Johns Hopkins University with a brutal 15-2 loss on May 18, but followed up with an exciting overtime game against Rochester Institute of Technology the next day. The score was tied from the 10th to 14th innings until Vincent Taliercio scored the winning run on Ryan Pumphret’s sacrifice fly. The Lynx finished 6-5, sending them to their third game in as many days. But the game against second seed Shenandoah University would be Lesley’s last: The matchup ended with a 4-1 loss for the Lynx, who ended their season with a 22-19-1 record.
Cather said the team played well against stiff competition and has come a long way from its initial no-win season seven years ago.
"It was a great learning experience for our guys," he said of the NCAA tournament. "Now the guys really understand what it takes to take that next step."
Cather made sure every member of the team got out of the dugout and onto the field for at least one of the games, so he could give them a taste of the competition.
"The bar is going to be set very high next year," said the coach.
For Slaby — who was at the tournament during Lesley’s May 20 Commencement, but received a long-distance shoutout from the stage from President Jeff Weiss — the season was proof of how far the program has come.
"I’m just so proud and excited for this team, from where this team was my freshman year to where they are now. It’s day and night," he said in a press conference following the Shenandoah game. "I’m excited to see where the team goes."
Coach of the year
In addition to the team’s firsts, Cather was named NECC Coach of the Year. Fellow coaches in the conference voted for Cather, who found out about the award the day after his team became NECC champs.
"It’s just great that it happened in such a good year," he said. Cather added that he’s part of a fantastic coaching staff who made his win possible.
Before coaching at Lesley, Cather served as assistant coach at his alma mater, the University of Maine.