Gillen’s blast powers Fordham to third straight Atlantic-10 crown

Rachel Gillen put the exclamation point on her playoff performance and another conference title for Fordham University.

The Rams red-shirt junior blasted a grand slam to dead centerfield in the top of the seventh inning to increase her team’s lead and ensure third-seeded Fordham’s 8-2 victory over No. 1 Dayton in the Atlantic-10 softball final at UMass’ Sortino Field on April 9.

“I just tried to see a good pitch and took it where I could,” Gillen said. “I knew right off the bat.”

The crown is the Ram’s third straight and fourth in the last five years. They travel to Harrisonburg, Va. to face North Carolina State in the opening round of the NCAA tournament on Friday. Fordham takes and 11-game win streak with them.

“We thought it was a really good draw,” Gillen said. “I think this could be really special for us.”

Her homer, just her fifth of the season, turned a tight 4-2 game into a rout. It capped at day that saw her go 2-for-4 at the plate and score twice. She also scattered five hits, walked two and fanned seven to earn the win the circle. Gillen was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. It was extra special after sitting out because of an injury for the first title and playing a limited role in last year’s crown.

“She’s stepped up her game a ton,” Fordham coach Bridget Orchard said. “She was coming back from injury last year, so I think she is at full force now. It’s been great to have her.”

Fordham (36-18) grabbed control of the game with a four-run fourth inning. Michelle Daubman delivered an RBI-single and Brianna Turgeon brought home a run with a ground out. Sydney Cannessa’s two-run double to right with two outs gave Fordham a 4-0 lead. Amy Van Hoven added two hits.

Dayton’s only scoring came on a two-run homer by A-10 Player of the Year Tiffany Ricks in the six to trim the Rams lead to 4-2.

While it was another championship season for Fordham, this one script was certainly different. The Rams had been one of the conferences’ top team in those seasons. This year it started 4-4 in Atlantic-10 play before getting red hot late and winning 13 of its last 14 in conference play. Orchard said all along that while finishing in the top two would have great, how the team was playing going into the post season was much more important.

“We have had different people stepping up at different times we don’t have the one person leading us,” she said.

Her team failed to win a game in the NCAA tournament last season despite close losses to Florida State and South Carolina. The Rams last NCAA victory came against Marist in 2013. They believe this year draw could produce its next. Fordham lost to North Carolina State 5-0 and beat Binghamton 6-4, in March. Host and No. 15-seeded James Madison earned it first national seed in program history.

“Just making the regional isn’t the goal any longer,” Gillen said. “It’s winning games there and making it through to that championship day and competing for a berth in supers.”

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