The CCSU softball said from the very beginning their goal was to win a Northeast Conference title. Well, as I write this, the team is on their way to Moon Township, Penn. as the #2 seed in the tournament beginning Thursday at 11:30 a.m.
The Blue Devils had the best season in their 27 year history at the Division I level. They finished with a 32-13 record, which is the most wins in program history and the 16-4 conference record is the most NEC wins since they joined the conference in 1999.
CCSU heads into the tournament on a four game winning streak after splitting a double-header with Robert Morris University on April 27. If the Blue Devils had won that second game, which ended in extra-innings, the NEC tournament would be in New Britain this weekend. But that aside, Central is most likely the team to beat.
Laura Messina has been as consistent and solid as they come this year in the pitching circle. The sophomore right-hander posted a fantastic freshman season, but was even more dominant this year. In 207.2 innings pitched (Tops in the NEC), Messina struck out 210 batters, breaking her own single-season record and won 23 games, also a new record. Heading into the tournament, Messina holds the CCSU career wins (45), strikeouts (430) and shutouts (16). She is second in complete games with 58 and third in innings pitched at 427.1.
As far as how she compares to the rest of the nation, Messina recorded 12 shutouts just this season, good for fourth in the country. The NCAA has her with 24 wins which would put her at 20th in the nation, although the CCSU statistics show only 23 wins, still impressive. And her 223 strikeouts is 29th nationally.
Messina wasn’t the only Blue Devil putting up big numbers this year, there were some power bats at the plate as well.
Kat Malcolm, the sophomore center fielder, led the team with a .429 batting average, which was also 29th best in the country. The speedster beat out a lot of infield hits on her way to the single-season hit record with 66 and also led the team with 46 runs scored, breaking the team’s single-season record of 44 previously set by Becca Mussatti in 2010.
From day one, the freshman were called upon to perform at a high level and they definitely did their job. Evie Rentzel led the way for the newcomers with a .360 average, 31 RBIs and 25 runs scored. On April 7, in the second game vs. St. Francis (PA), the game was tied at 11-11 heading into extra-innings until Rentzel hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the eighth the keep the Blue Devils undefeated conference record, at the time, alive. In the first game of the conference schedule, Rentzel hit two home runs against Wagner College on Staten Island.
Behind the plate, Hannah Cooper has started all but two games and really showed that the catching spot will be solid for the next three years. She has a .990 fielding percentage and threw out 14 would-be base stealers (44.4%). In the middle of the season, coach Jeff Franquet said Cooper probably has the strongest arm in the conference and I’ve seen it, she has a cannon.
The other two freshman who saw significant playing time were Eileen Purcell and Brittany Ernst. Ernst, used as a pinch runner many times, stole seven bases to share the team lead with Malcolm and also scored 22 runs in limited chances.
Purcell played a lot of left field for the Blue Devils and showed that she could get it done.
Quietly Kelsey Barlow had a great senior year. Coming into the season she was one home run shy of breaking the career record and she did just that, hitting nine long balls in 2013, one shy of her own single-season record that she also shares with Nicole Springer. With one RBI in the final game of the regular season, Barlow set a new career RBI record at 109.
There have been so many records that the team has set this year, but I can’t talk about them all. One last player that deserves mentioning however is the team’s lead-off batter, Arielle Bruno. With 48 more hits this year, the second baseman has 162 in her career, good for third overall. She also set the career runs record currently at 113.
At 11:30 a.m. the Blue Devils will take on the Hawks of Monmouth as the #2 and 3 seeds in the tournament. Monmouth swept CCSU back on April 14 by scores of 1-0 and 5-2 for the only conference sweep of the Blue Devils this season. Franquet told me on multiple occasions that he told his team after that weekend that, “Today Monmouth was the better team, but on May 9-11, we will be the better team.”
CCSU enters the tournament for the second time in history and the first time finishing in the top four. Back in 2011, they finished fifth, but Bryant in the fourth spot could not participate in postseason play yet as they were still in their buffer period since joining the conference. You can watch the entire tournament on NECFrontRow.com…That’s where I’ll be tomorrow and Friday and hopefully Saturday.