New London - Long before Mitchell College won its New England Collegiate Conference softball tournament opener Wednesday, the Mariners scored a more significant victory.
First-year coach Jillian Ortega won over her players, convincing them that they're a program to contend with in the NECC.
The Mariners became believers, earning the second seed in the tournament. They took a 12-game winning streak into Wednesday's game.
Playing with confidence and determination, Mitchell beat No. 7 Becker College 3-1 at Alumni Field to advance in the double elimination tournament. The Mariners (20-13) play No. 3 Daniel Webster (21-17) at noon Friday at Wellesley College.
The Mariners have evolved into a program with a winning mentality.
"It's been a long process," Ortega said. "They bought into the idea that we're a good program and we've got good players and they can trust one another, and that's big."
" ... I knew from the start that we had a really solid core of seniors coming in but my goal was to make them believe that they were more than just a mediocre program."
Junior Meghan Burke credits Ortega for the transformation.
"She brought a lot of spirit to the team," Burke said. "She trusted in us before we trusted ourselves, so that gave us a boost. Once we trusted ourselves, we've been on the ball.
"I feel if we continue the way we're playing, we have a good chance to win the whole thing."
Burke had the key hit against Becker (10-29), sending a rocket over the left field fence for a two-run home run in the second inning that scored Nikki Hoxie, who singled, and handed the Mariners a 2-1 lead. It was her second home run of the season.
Freshman Dylan Riccardi followed with a solo home run that landed about the same spot as her good friend's blast.
"I was way overdue for that," Burke said. "I believe the last one was in the beginning of the season. I felt like that brought the team together and we knew we had it."
Senior Marissa Thomas, a St. Bernard graduate from New London, did her part, pitching a four-hitter while striking out six and walking one. She had to escape two jams.
In the fourth, Thomas induced Megan Cordon to hit into an inning-ending double play. Shortstop Stacey Suplicki of New London, second baseman Hoxie and first baseman Tiffany Person combined on the nice defensive play.
After a single and Thomas's error put runners on first and second with one out in the fifth, she struck out the next two batters.
"It made me realize that I need to step up and get the outs," Thomas said of her mentality after the error.
Mitchell cruised to the finish line.
Up next is a Daniel Webster team that Mitchell swept during the regular season, winning 11-2 and 8-0 on April 20.
Top-seeded Lesley (25-10), which swept Mitchell back on April 1, is the team to beat. But since that day, the Mariners have become a more dangerous team.
"They're realizing that they're better than they ever thought they were and that's a really, really big thing because now they're focused," Ortega said. "The confidence that the girls have is absolutely priceless. They believe they can. They know they can win. And they're ready to (win)."