The College of Staten Island scored early, held on in the middle innings, and then broke things open late, scoring a three-peat as CUNYAC Champions with an 8-1 win over Hunter College in the 2015 Pepsi/CUNYAC Softball Championship played at the CSI Softball Complex this afternoon. The win clinched the 17th championship for the Dolphins and merits them a berth into the NCAA Division III National Championship Tournament commencing next week. In the process, CSI continued its program-best win total to 30 games (30-10) and senior Brittany Smith broke the school’s all-time career hits record, notching the 191st of her illustrious career.

To notch a trip to the Final, Hunter College downed Brooklyn College, 3-1, in the opening game of the afternoon, but the Manhattan school found themselves down early to CSI, falling into a 2-0 hole in the first inning. After CSI starter Jacqueline Cautela retired Hunter in the first, the CSI pitcher stroked a triple down the left-field line against Hunter starter Erika Colangelo, and after an out was registered, CSI’s Christina Tufano laced a single through the infield to plate Cautela. One at-bat later, Chyanne Gilliam muscled a triple into the gap in right-center, plating Tufano to make it 2-0.

The Hawks, however, proved that they planned to make the Final a close one, manufacturing a run in the top half of the second inning, to make for a fitting response.  Aleta Terrill would score after earning a one-out walk, advancing to second on a Nicole Fillisetti single and to third on a sac bunt by Kendra McGoldrick.  Taylor Crofts then chopped a ground ball through the middle that Cautela was just able to get her glove on, but the ball went into the hole at shortstop and the CSI infield could not make a play and Hunter scored to make it 2-1.  Cautela rebounded to record the final out, as Hunter stranded a pair of base runners.

From there, both ace pitchers stayed in full control.  A total of just four base runners made their way on leading to the game’s fifth inning.  Then, in the bottom of the fifth, Smith broke the stalemate, recording her 191st career hit, a sharp ground ball through the right side of the infield.  Smith wasted no time on the base paths stealing second, and a pitch later, she caught a distracted HC infield with a late-breaking steal of third base.  Following a HC timeout in the circle, Colangelo skipped a ball into the dirt that got by HC catcher Fillisetti, and Smith came in to score rather easily to make it 3-1.

The energy fueled CSI from there as Cautela mowed down a pair of Hunter batters in the top of the sixth inning before taking their decisive turn in their sixth-inning.

Gilliam started the Dolphins off with a double.  After a groundout that advanced Gilliam to third and another groundout, CSI did major damage.  Colangelo skipped another ball in for another wild pitch while in the process of walking CSI’s Kristy Colangelo.  With Colangelo at first base and the score 4-1, HC replaced their pitcher and in came Danielle Zurek.  Zurek would allow a long single to Samantha Bowbliss, and a streaking Colangelo came all the way around to score on the play, making it 5-1.  Pinch-hitter Elizabeth Travieso was then plunked by Zurek, and then up stepped Cautela.  The sophomore wasted little time, taking a 2-2 pitch and smashing it over the wall in left field for a three-run homerun, making the score, 8-1.

That proved more than enough for Cautela, who despite allowing two base runners, was able to stay aggressive and retire Hunter in the top half of the seventh to make the score stand, giving CSI the championship again.

CSI out-hit Hunter, 9-5, led by two hits each by Cautela, Tufano and Gilliam.  Adding a complete-game win, fanning four, Cautela easily walked away with Most Valuable Player honors.

For the Dolphins, this is the second time they have won three straight championships, as the team ended up winning four in a row between 1989-92.  The win improved the Dolphins to 64-29 all-time in the tournament, and 21-16 against Hunter in postseason action.  Their 30 wins this season are the most in the team’s history, besting the previous high of 28 in 2007, which ironically was the last year CSI won an NCAA Tournament game.  The win today punches CSI’s eighth ticket to big dance on the diamond, where CSI hopes to improve on its 2-14 overall record.

Smith’s 191 hits break the record set by recent graduate and current Brooklyn College assistant coach Kaitlyn Flynn, who hit 190 between 2009-12.  Smith also owns CSI records for at-bats with 505, runs scored with 186 and stolen bases with 123.  Her 35 stolen bags this season ties her own single season record.

CSI will learn their NCAA fate on Monday afternoon, when the national organization will release its entire tournament field live.