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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Springer Powers Central to First Tourney Final

The Blue Devils have shown all year that their lineup can hit from top to bottom and if one person struggles, someone else will pick them up and that’s just what Nicole Springer did today.

The senior third baseman broke a 3-3 tie in the fifth inning with her second home run of the day en route to a 5-4 victory and giving CCSU its first Northeast Conference tournament finals appearance in history.

Springer said in her post game interview on NEC Front Row that she was “swinging out of her shoes.”

With Arielle Bruno and Kat Malcolm struggling today, Springer picked up the slack early and often. In the first inning, with two outs and the bases empty, Springer lined her first long ball of the day out to right field. Kelsey Barlow walked and Tessa Brown singled down the left field line to put two more runners on base before the super freshman Evie Rentzel could drive in another. She dropped a bloop single into center and Barlow scored from second.

For the second straight game, CCSU scored two runs in the first and Laura Messina came back in the second to strike out the side.

Brittany Ernst, who had a rough first game, reached base to lead off the second with a bunt right in front of the plate. She moved to second and then third on sacrifice hits, then Springer came to the plate. She singled to center field for her second two-out RBI hit of the day and CCSU led 3-0 after two innings.

LIU came back in the third to tie the game when their top hitter, Lauren Morizi drove in Ariana Lopez who reached on an error when Bruno couldn’t get the ball out of her glove at second. Nichole Toven followed with a single of her own to left allowing Morizi to score; Toven reached second on a throwing error. Nicole Archer singled home Toven to tie the game. All of the runs scored in the game up to this point were scored with two outs.

Springer’s second home run came leading off the fifth. This was her 10th of the year, tying her own single-season record and 20 for her career.

Brown single to left, but was retired at second when Rentzel grounded out 4-6. Eileen Purcell came up and lined a double down the left field line scoring Rentzel for what would be the winning run.

The Blackbirds got one back in the sixth when Whitney West drove in Lopez, but failed to score anymore.

Messina retired the side in order in the seventh to send the Blue devils to their first ever NEC championship game. Central is now 2-2 in tournament games overall.

Monmouth defeated Robert Morris in the second game of the day and the first elimination game 5-2. Monmouth then had to play LIU for a spot in the finals vs. CCSU. The rain began falling and the game was called in the top of the second. Play will resume tomorrow at noon and the championship game will be played at 2:30 p.m.

Northeast Conference Pride

I’m kind of disappointed I did not fill out an NIT bracket this year. Not because I care about the NIT, because no one does, except for the players on the court and even then, they all believe they should be playing in the NCAA Tourney. I wish I had filled out an NIT bracket for night’s like tonight.

I go to Central Connecticut State University and am a huge fan of their entire athletic department, but even when they don’t qualify for postseason tournaments, I root for the conference. Robert Morris University won the regular season NEC title, but failed to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament after falling to Mount Saint Mary’s in the semifinals of the conference tournament. In winning the regular season tit;e, they were granted an automatic bid to the NIT.

Defending national champion Kentucky faltered after losing their super freshman Nerlens Noel with nine games left in the season to a knee injury and failed to make the big tournament, but were granted a #1 seed in the NIT. Robert Morris was an #8 seed and would play Kentucky in the first round.

The game would normally be played at the higher seed, but because Rupp Arena is hosting 1st round NCAA games, it was not available  The game would have to be played at The Chuck in Moon Township, Penn. The game sold out almost immediately and the players started tweeting about it.

@VeltonJones2: “Why can’t I breathe right now tho?”

The 3,500 seat arena was going to be absolutely packed…and it was.

I was in class during the game, but my boy Scott pulled up a stream on his computer and I had the GameCast going as we enjoyed cartography class.

Robert Morris came out hot and didn’t give up. I don’t know if they ever trailed, but it doesn’t matter, THEY WON.

They defeated the defending national champions in their own gym. That has to be an absolutely amazing feeling. The RMU Crazies stormed the court after arguably the biggest win in NEC history. I tried to imagine what it would be like if CCSU were in that position and I really have no idea. I would love to be in that situation as a student.

The hashtag for the Northeast Conference all year has been #NECPride and tonight, more than any night yet, it showed. All the schools in the conference tweeted their congratulations to the Colonials and I retweeted almost every Robert Morris tweet I came across. I never thought I would be such a fan of one of the smallest conferences in the country, but I am and I love it. This is why I love sports and why we play the games. I hope in my journey’s as a sports writer I encounter a few stories like this one. That’s what drives me to be the best sports writer I can be.

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…