The Journey: CCSU Softball

Three years ago when I first came to Central Connecticut and heard about the student run newspaper, The Recorder, I didn’t know what to do. I was a new journalism major and knew I had to right, but was scared. I have always loved sports, but writing wasn’t really my thing until I decided to give journalism a shot. I could finally write about topics that interested me and I enjoyed it.

In the spring of 2011 I emailed Brittany Burke, the sports editor of The Recorder at the time and asked if I could write about baseball, my pastime. She told me that there was someone already who did baseball (Kenny Barto), but I could do softball. The memories of the one high school softball game I ever went to began to run through my head. It was the worst, most boring game I had ever seen and didn’t think college softball would be that great either.

I talked to the sports information department and they set me up with an interview with head coach Jeff Franquet one day for a preview of the 2011 season. I was nervous, had no idea what to ask him and I’m sure I don’t want to read that story ever again. I did a couple stories for the paper throughout the season and even did a feature on Kat Knowles, a senior catcher from Washington. That was a cool story, because I also got to take pictures on the field during senior day for my photojournalism class.

In 2012 I was ready for the season to start. I got some stories under my belt and had successfully established CCSU softball as my beat. In addition to writing the season preview, I met with coach Franquet every Monday in his office and we talked about the past weekends games. I had to do this because I worked all weekend and could rarely make it to the games. Not an ideal situation for a journalist writing timely stories, but I made it work. I would leave the office and work on the story, usually mine being one of the last edited and placed on the page during Monday night layout.

Last season I also wrote a feature on Laura Messina. If you follow any part of the program you should know that name by now, but I wrote the story first. I met her in one of the study rooms in the athletes study hall and talked to her for 20 minutes or so about her high school career and what it meant to be breaking records already as a freshman. From that day forward I knew she didn’t care about setting school records unless it meant that the team was winning. 2012 was a great team, but injuries in the middle of the season derailed the hopes of making the conference tournament, even though another single-season win record was broken.

This year felt like the year from the very beginning. Franquet finally had a solid core of his players and the last three years he had been preaching “get better everyday” and “buy into the system” and that’s exactly what happened. From the opening trip to Florida when the team went 2-3 against some very tough opponents to the 12-game winning streak they went on to begin Northeast Conference play, the Blue Devils knew they were the best team in the conference and that confidence carried them all the way to the first NEC title in program history.

I wrote my stories and I even made it to a few weekend games where I was allowed to go on the field after the game and do some interviews like a real reporter. 2013 was special for me as well.

I would have loved to go to Moon Township, Penn. for the tournament, but I couldn’t, I had to work on Saturday. So instead, I watched the game live on NECFrontRow.com on my phone while I cashed people out at Lowe’s. NEC Front Row is probably the best streaming video service in college sports in the country and they came through huge for me this past weekend.

At 4:31 a.m. on Sunday morning I received a text message from coach Franquet, “10pm tonight is the ncaa selection show. We will all be in the coaches suite [at] 915. Please come by and enjoy the celebration.”

Of course I accepted the invition and got this in return, “You are a part of this journey”

I fell in love with this team and almost felt like a part of them. If they won, I was happy, if they lost, it affected my mood (for a short time). It was just awesome to watch and to be acknowledged like that by the coach meant a lot to me. I drove from East Hampton to New Britain just to be a part of the celebration; it was a once in a lifetime event and something I will always remember.

A little after 10 p.m. this image showed up on the television and the team erupted…http://instagram.com/p/ZPFuBvrcLu/

CCSU will travel to LSU for the Baton Rouge regional this weekend.

So, I would like to thank Kenny Barto for being the baseball writer in 2011 and forcing me to write softball and Brittany Burke for suggesting I try writing a softball story. The last three years covering this team has meant so much to me and made my entire CCSU career worth while.

 

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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.

LIU-Brooklyn vs. CCSU tourney preview

Before the Blue Devils take on the LIU-Brooklyn Blackbirds at 10:30 a.m. lets take a look at the matchup.

Back on March 24, the first weekend of Northeast Conference play, the Blue Devils opened with their New York City trip. Two against Wagner College and two more vs. LIU.

Long Island won the NEC tournament last year and is always a tough opponent.

When I talked to coach Jeff Franquet last week, he told me that even though the Blackbirds are the fourth seed and were swept by Central in the beginning of the season, they are always tough at the end and you can’t compare Friday’s team with the one back in March.

LIU plays probably the toughest non-conference schedule in the league which included three nationally ranked teams and a number of others from big conferences such as the Big East, ACC, Big Ten and SEC. And just as I heard on the NEC Front Row broadcast today, LIU takes a little while to “learn how to win again” once they begin their conference schedule, but the top tier teams prepare them for tournament play.

In the first game of the double-header back on March 24, CCSU used seven runs in the top of the sixth to win the game 9-1 after the mercy rule was applied. The offense was led by Arielle Bruno who had four RBIs including a 3-run home run off of Cassie Vondrak, who currently holds a 13-20 record with a 4.08 ERA. She pitched LIU to their game one victory on Thursday. The Blackbirds have possibly one other pitcher they could use vs. CCSU in Nicole Archer, but it’s unlikely and we will most likely see Vondrak vs. Messina in this winners bracket game.

Archer pitched six innings in the second game a month and a half ago, but came in in the second after Heather White gave up home runs to Bruno and Tessa Brown in the first inning. CCSU went on to win that one 5-0.

In the two games, Messina pitched 13 innings, struck out 12 batters and gave up one run. Look for the sophomore to be ready to go today.

Both teams can hit the ball deep, so I look for at least one home run on the day and Lauren Morizi of LIU has one of the top batting averages in the league (.396), but Messina will come right after her and the rest of the order.

The Blue Devils offense is rolling and conference Player of the Year Kat Malcolm leads the charge. With a home run yesterday and three RBIs, the center fielder will be right in the middle of the Blue Devils scoring opportunities again today, along with Bruno in the lead-off spot.

LIU-Brooklyn defeated Robert Morris University 7-3 in the second game of the opening round on Thursday.

The game begins at 10:30 and is live on NECFrontRow.com, that’s where I am watching and I am tweeting from @DCTViper89 throughout the game.

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.

Softball and such

Hmmm, what I have been doing lately?

Last Thursday I got to the office about 15 minutes before Joe showed up, which has happened a few times, so I sat there looking over what was going on for the day. When he walked in he told me that there wasn’t much happened and told me to go to the Wesleyan softball game. That sounded like a good idea to me, especially since I have been following the CCSU softball team for a few years now.

I left the office and drove up Washington St. to the field, grabbed my game program just as Allee Beatty lined a triple down the right field line to lead off the bottom of the first for Wesleyan. I had no idea who any of the players were or knew anything about the team, but I quickly figured out why the Cardinals were atop their division in the NESCAC. I introduced myself to the SID behind the plate keeping score and he told me it was no problem talking to whoever I wanted after the game.

I walked down the third base line towards left field and watched a majority of the game there. In the sixth I went back towards home plate to watch the end of the game and made sure the SID saw me and would let me go on the field afterword.

After the coaches were done talking with their teams, I talked to the Western Connecticut State coach first and then made my way over to the Wesleyan side and got a shot interview with the coach and winning pitcher, freshman Susan Pardo. She had just thrown her third complete game shutout of the year and held a 9-0 record.

I drove back to the office and wrote the story. I thought I had a good lead written about how WCSU knew they had to keep Beatty off the bases, but didn’t account for the best pitcher they had seen all year in Pardo. Joe liked it, but wanted something different, so we went back and forth for a while on it and came up with the one in the story I linked above.

Friday

It rained all day.

The Rock Cats game got postponed in the morning so I couldn’t go to that and almost every CIAC event got postponed due to the weather, so I had to come up with something to do. I thought about doing a college notebook and when I walked in, that’s exactly what Joe said. I worked on that for the entire time I was in the office, which was only a couple of hours, but it was fun to see these local athletes doing great things in college.

At the end of the night Joe was going over the internship guidelines and realized that I only had two weeks left. We both were surprised and I almost got a little sad. I will write a reaction to that soon, but we talked about a final feature for me to write. I have been looking into that this week and should have something good for next week.

Spring Sports Bombardment

The last couple of weeks at the Middletown Press, for me at least, have been pretty slow. Basketball season ended and we didn’t have all the scores coming in every night, well, that changed tonight.

I put all the spring sports schedules in my Google calender to begin the day and it showed me just how many games we had to cover every day. Then there was a little bit of downtime before the results started to come in. The one call I took was from the Mercy golf coach. The Tigers lost their first match of the season 224-228 to Cheshire.

A lot of the springs sports coaches email in their results which is nice, but when you start to see them all pile up, it’s a bit intimidating. I wrote up some tennis and golf today along with Joe doing the other stuff. The worst thing I may have heard was that today was a slow day, just wait until tomorrow.

I looked at the Shoreline Conference baseball schedule the other day and was hoping I would be able to go to the Haddam-Killingworth vs. Cromwell baseball game for a number of reasons. Cromwell is the reigning Class S state champion and H-K was the Class M runner-up last year. Cromwell has one of the best pitching staffs in the state and H-K has a couple good hurlers as well, not to mention Brian Moskey, my friend Kellie’s brother who I have heard can bring it, but haven’t seen him play yet.

Joe told me that Jimmy Zanor is covering the game, but I could go. Then he almost changed his mind and had me go to the Middletown vs. Vinal Tech baseball game, which I would have no problem covering, but the other game is way more appealing.

Cromwell and H-K softball teams are playing at the same time also at Cromwell High School, so Joe asked me to keep an eye on that game as well. That’s the trade-off I had to make in order to go to the baseball game. I’m sure I will also have a bunch of other games to write about when I get back to the office.

I’m excited for baseball season and hoping I am busy for the rest of the time I am at the Press.

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.