What is wrong with CCSU?

If I actually knew, I would tell you, but I don’t, so here is what I think.

First, Matt Hunter is ineligible.

His first season in New Britain was fun. He filled the stat sheet every night and even set an opponent scoring record at Assembly Hall vs. then #1 Indiana. He looked to have a huge season this year and was doing it all again before becoming academically ineligible for the second half of the season, leaving 10 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals and a block on the bench. This was a huge loss for the Blue Devils who don’t have another player as dynamic as him to pick up the slack, but that’s not all.

Not soon after, junior “superstar” Kyle Vinales broke a finger in a weight room accident. This was probably the biggest loss Howie Dickenman could have dreamed up…and it happened. Vinales was again leading the team in scoring, minutes and even assists per game this year. Howie didn’t start him for a couple of games early in the year to show that he wanted him to become more of a team player and it seemed to be working before the injury.

Both of these losses seem to actually have helped the Blue Devils mature. Faronte Drakeford has begun to pick up the scoring along with Malcolm McMillan. The junior college transfer is averaging 16.6 ppg in Northeast Conference play while the captain and point guard is averaging 13.1 and 3.7 assists. Matt Mobley is a freshman who has really come into his own. He is the third averaging double-digit points in conference play.

What does this mean for Vinales’ return?

I hope he just adds his usual production and the Blue Devils can hold some of these leads they have had and possibly sneak into the playoffs. Obviously he is going to take away playing time from guys like Mobley and Khalen Cumberlander, but if they can all play well together and the bigs continue to rebound, this team can only get better.

It looked as if Brandon Peel had regressed some, but he is starting to rebound at his ability again and giving CCSU a presence down low, something they have missed greatly. Juwan Newman is another guy that has shown signs of “greatness.” If he can put it all together, the Blue Devils will be competitive in the NEC, but it’s looking more and more like “wait ’til next year.”

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Blue Devils, Behind the Power of Malcolm Defeat Monmouth for First Tourney Victory

Before the game started, the season long awards were given out and Kat Malcolm collected some hardware.

The sophomore center fielder was named First Team All-Conference, Most Improved Player and Player of the Year and when the game was over, she was NEC Front Row’s Player of the Game.

With no outs in the bottom of the first, Malcolm came to the plate with Arielle Bruno on first. She blasted her 10th home run of the year high on the hill in center field to give the Blue Devils a quick 2-0 lead.

This lead would be important if you look at history. Back on April 14, when these two teams met in New Jersey, the pitching match-up was the same and would tell the story. Lauren Sulick and Laura Messina would combine for 19 1/3 innings, 10 hits, 3 walks, 18 strikeouts and ONE run. That lone run came in the bottom of the tenth off the bat of Kaitie Schumacher of Monmouth.

Sulick, brought the fourth best ERA in the conference to today’s game against the winningest pitcher in the conference in Messina; a pitcher’s duel was expected.

Monmouth collected a hit in the second, but Messina struck out the other three batters and then in the bottom of the inning CCSU got runners on first and second, but couldn’t extend the lead. Both teams went down in order in the third.

It seemed like Sulick had settled in until the bottom of the fourth when the Blue Devils put together three hits and a walk on their way to three more runs. Stephanie Chotkevys singled to begin the inning and was pinch run for by Katie Schmidt. With one out, Bruno walked and Malcolm followed with a run scoring single up the middle, her third RBI of the day. Springer continued the inning with a RBI single of her own to right center scoring Bruno. Malcolm came around to score on a sacrifice fly to center off the bat of Kelsey Barlow.

Each pitcher faced the minimum over the next two innings and it looked like Messina would get her 12th shutout of the year until the Hawks mounted somewhat of a rally in the top of the seventh.

Vanessa Cardoza reached on a pop up that fell just out of the reach of Bruno running towards the right field line. Kayla Weiser followed with a single of her own and the run came when Shannon Fitzgerald singled up the middle chasing Cardoza home from second. Messina retired the next three batters in order to claim her 24th victory of the year and the first tournament victory for the Blue Devils in their history.

Messina finished with seven strikeouts in seven innings while allowing only five hits and one walk.

Malcolm’s home run tied the CCSU single-season record which she now shares with teammates Nicole Springer and Kelsey Barlow.

The Blue Devils will play Friday at 10:30 a.m. against the winner of #2 Robert Morris University and #4 LIU-Brooklyn being played right now.

Blue Devils Set Records on Way to NEC Tournament

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.

CCSU’s Vinales to Transfer

What was shaping up to be one of the best basketball careers at Central Connecticut State took a surprising turn Tuesday night when Kyle Vinales announced he would be transferring from the school for his final two years of eligibility.

“I’ve been thinking about it, me and my family, for a couple of weeks, going back and forth and came to the decision yesterday,” said Vinales Wednesday night.

Around 7:30 p.m. Vinales tweeted his sudden decision.

“I appreciate everyone at CCSU [that’s] supported me [and] helped me over the past 2 years but I am deciding to play my remaining 2 years elsewhere,” tweeted Vinales.

Vinales led the Blue Devils to a 13-17 record in the 2012-13 season (9-9 in the Northeast Conference) and the seventh seed in the conference tournament where the Blue Devils fell to Wagner College 72-50 in the first round. The Detroit native scored a program record 649 points last season and became the 35th player in school history to reach the 1,000 point mark; and the fastest at that. It took him only 52 games to do so.

As a freshman, Vinales was named NEC Rookie of the Year and this past year he had one of the best season’s in CCSU history, averaging 21.6 points per game; named first team all-conference. The high point of the year for Vinales and the Blue Devils home crowd may have been in the waning seconds of what looked to be another loss to in-state rival Quinnipiac. “KV3” took the game into his own hands, dribbled in front of his bench and then with about six seconds left, pulled up from 28 feet and sank a dagger, defeating the Bobcats for the first time in the last nine meetings.

On February 14, Vinales dropped a CCSU Division I record 42 points in a 101-82 loss to Wagner on Staten Island. That marked the seventh time in his career he went over 30 points in a game and the first and only 40 point game he would have for CCSU.

The sophomore, who had said in recent interviews he would not leave New Britain made the surprise announcement to be released from his scholarship at the end of the year, joining Adonis Burbage and redshirt freshman Erik Raleigh on the most recent NCAA transfer list.

“I think everybody was shocked, because throughout the season I never said anything about leaving,” said Vinales, who has nothing but praise for his coach and teammates.

“I always enjoyed playing for Coach D. and all my teammates, that’s why it was so hard. I’m going to miss my teammates and the coaching staff a lot,” said Vinales.

Vinales has not yet decided on a new school and cannot be in contact with other programs until the paperwork to be released from his scholarship is finalized. He will have to sit out a year if he transfers to a Division I program.

Sportsmanship: Fans Perspective

I was sitting in the bleachers at the Central Connecticut softball game on Wednesday as they took on Holy Cross when I found myself almost in the middle of an argument/fight between two CCSU students and a Holy Cross parent.

I’m not sure if it’s all Northeast Conference games or just women’s sports, but I have heard announcements made before games asking the fans not to make any derogatory remarks and be respectful to the opposing team. This wasn’t exactly the problem Wednesday, but it still hit a nerve with me.

As I took my seat behind a couple Holy Cross parents, on the same bench as the Central students who were talking amongst themselves, I was ready to enjoy a softball game, even though it was cold and the wind was blowing. The game started and so did the chatter. Both parties were cheering for their classmates or daughters on the field, but it got ugly quick. As the husband of the woman in front of me stood at the bottom of the spectator area, the students began their ignorance.

A Holy Cross player stood in the on-deck circle and started cheering for her teammate at-bat, the boy next to me yelled, “Shut Up!” I couldn’t believe it, but I felt like it wasn’t my time or place to say anything. I’m pretty soft-spoken anyway and they wouldn’t listen to me. The woman gestured to her husband to come up and sit with her and didn’t look to happy. Once he sat down I could tell that she was explaining what happened, but I don’t know exactly what she said.

Maybe an inning later he stood up and left for a few minutes and while he walked away, a Central player popped up a ball to the left side of the infield and the two boys yelled in an attempt to distract her. The mother finally had enough, as they had said some other things and said, “You know, that’s pretty rude.” One of the kids apologized and the other responded with, “What is?” like a typical college student being a dick.

Later in the game one of the boys got up and left and as he walked down the steps, the husband turned to the wife and asked if that was the one with the mouth? Keep in mind that they said a couple other inappropriate things during the game while also rooting for the Blue Devils and asking a former softball player they were sitting with, the rules of the game.

And here is the point I am trying to make…I have been on both sides of this playing baseball and tennis growing up. Yes, they are very different sports, but the fans should act similar. I remember a state tournament tennis match I was in where the doubles team from North Branford we were playing had a few more fans than we did and they would cheer as loud for errors made by my partner and I than winners by the other team.

Baseball is a louder sport where there is a lot of talking by both teams and fans, but the same rules should apply. I have no problem with the fans rooting for their team or their player, but once you start cheering and razzing the other team for the mistakes they make, it gets hairy. The players learn to tune it out, but the fans don’t and they want to start an argument, because they are sticking up for their kids. The mother in the softball situation motioned to her husband on more than one occasion that she wanted to punch the kid for making those comments. I don’t blame her, but if a fight were to have broken out, I would have had no idea what to do.

The other point I am trying to make is, why are you insulting and mocking other players when you don’t even know the sport. I know I am a bigger baseball and softball fan than most people and know the game in and out, but at least know the game before you say anything. Some might say that they were taking the time to learn the game, but I disagree, they were on spring break at school and had nothing else to do, so they watched a few innings of CCSU softball and caused a problem.

There is nothing worse than generic taunting by fans who really have no idea what is going on. I hope that this does not happen again and I hope that the fans can become more educated in the sport and what they say, because think about it. If they were at an away game and CCSU was the visitor and the students from the other school were making fun of their classmates, they would feel the same way as the parents visiting CCSU did that day…

…by the way, that tennis match, we won and it was a huge upset, it felt good to shut up the other fans, but we did it on the court and not with our mouths.

CCSU Ousted By Wagner

I stepped off the fan bus to a cold and windy Staten Island and from the moment I took my seat reserved for CCSU fans behind the Blue Devils bench, I knew it was going to be a long night.

Central Connecticut had beaten Wagner College back on Jan. 17, 73-66, but three and a half weeks later at the Spiro Sports Center, the Seahawks put up 101, the most the Blue Devils allowed all season. Wagner had figured out the CCSU high-paced offense, or Central was getting tired, they led the Northeast Conference in possessions per game with about 77, I believe. They just didn’t have the energy.

While the Seahawks were warming up with defensive drill and putting on a dunk contest of their own, the Blue Devils hung out at their end of the gym shooting around like they were getting ready to play a pick-up game, the energy wasn’t there. When the two teams came back out for their “official” pregame shoot-around, Kyle Vinales and Matt Hunter sat on the CCSU bench for a few minutes, before joining their teammates. The whole team just looked flat and it showed the entire game.

The first half started incredibly slow, CCSU led 6-4 at the 16:21 mark, but that would be the last lead of the game. Wagner was just too long, too athletic and too fired up in front of their home crowd of a little over 1000 at the Spiro Center. Wagner went on a 9-0 run that lasted almost six minutes and you could tell on the faces of the Blue Devils, especially Vinales and Malcolm McMillan, they had no answer.

Central Connecticut pulled to within three with 4:20 left in the first half when Vinales hit a 3-pointer, but then Marcus Burton got hot. The 6-foot guard from North Carolina made four straight free throws and then hit a big 3 to give Wagner a 10-point lead. After two Terrell Allen free throws, Jonathan Williams started his own personal run. Two layups wrapped around a made free throw gave the Seahawks a 13-point lead at the break.

As the clocked was winding down in the first half, Allen got a steal along the sideline, ran the length of the floor and wound up for a huge statement dunk, but was fouled HARD by Williams as the buzzer sounded. Coach Howie Dickenman made his case for a flagrant foul, but no call was made and the two teams entered the locker room.

I think I tweeted that if CCSU was to get back into the game in the second half, they needed to make a run right out of the break…that didn’t happen. They were just as flat and tired as they ever and were literally getting run over. Burton hit back-to-back three’s 39 seconds apart to give the Seahawks a 20-point lead. That’s when I knew the game was over.

Central had run out of gas, no one got a single good look the entire night, Wagner’s defense was too tight. I hadn’t seen Kenneth Ortiz play very much, but there’s a reason he is the 2-time NEC Defensive Player of the Year, he plays as tight as possible and can shoot a little too. Vinales did end the game with 23 points to lead all scorers, but it wasn’t nearly enough, no one else could make anything drop.

The Detrick Gym has gotten complaints lately about how warm it is in there, but I think they do it on purpose, because the Spiro Center was cold and so were the Blue Devils (15-59 FG). Wagner was 27-71, but they had a much easier time shooting over the smaller CCSU squad. They even had a few dunks that caused the home crowd to explode.

The game got so out of hand that both teams put in their rarely used and walk-on players, for CCSU that was Andrew Hurd (much to the delight of the Wagner student section), Erik Raleigh and Greg Andrade.

Central was outplayed in every facit of the game. Wagner was too tall, too long, too athletic and had too much energy, everything CCSU didn’t have last night. It’s back to the drawing board for Coach D. but until then, I’ll make my way over to the CCSU baseball and softball fields…

What Is Viper Live Sports?

Ever since I joined Twitter and with the help of my friend @kmosk3, I have been live tweeting all of the sporting events I have attended. These range from high school baseball to CT Whale hockey at the XL Center to New Britain Rock Cats baseball at New Britain Stadium and all the Central Connecticut State University events I have ever been to. I have tweeted so much that the Sports Information Office at the university hired me to live tweet their sports from the official @CCSUBlueDevils account. Most of my casual followers have enjoyed this transition, because I am no longer filling their timelines with Blue Devil softball tweets all spring.

I have recently began an internship at the Middletown Press newspaper as I complete my senior year of college and work my way towards a bachelors degree in journalism. I began at the paper last week and was immediately sent out with the staff photographer and a reporter to cover the Mercy High School basketball game. I was given the task of live tweeting the game using the hashtag #ctgb (Connecticut Girls Basketball) so my editor could retweet me from back at the office. I enjoyed the fact that many more people were going to be reading my tweets, but when I left the office for the night and looked at my account, one of my friends had asked me why I was at the game? I had to explain that it was for the internship and I don’t normally attend high school girls basketball games, especially if I have no connection, but this got me thinking…

Maybe I need a special Twitter account that I will only use for live tweeting sports, since it has become such a big part of my life. I posed the question to my followers and a few responded to me…

@jonstank: “@DCTViper89 pro: easier for followers to find you con: you’ll have two accounts to worry about. I say go for it.”

So I finally made the account last night (@ViperLiveSports), followed a bunch of local newspapers and sports reporters from around Connecticut and here I am, making a blog that will follow all the live sporting events I will go to and my internship with the sports editor at the Middletown Press.