NCAA SOFTBALL TOURNAMENT PREVIEW: St. Joe's vs. Keene State
STANDISH, ME – Saint Joseph's (33-6, 23-3 GNAC) will face Keene State (25-10-1, 10-4 LEC) in the opening round of the NCAA DIII Softball National Tournament on Thursday. The game will be played at 12:00 PM on the campus of Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts.
The double-elimination tournament begins at 10:00 AM on Thursday when top-seeded SUNY-Cortland (38-8) plays #8 Keuka (21-12). Following the Monks – Owls contest, #3 Amherst (34-4) faces #6 Husson (33-11) at 2:00 PM and #7 University of New England (26-12) takes on #2 Plattsburgh State (31-9) at 4:00 PM.
How they got here:
St. Joe's, the #2 seed in the 2012 Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) Tournament, defeated top-seeded Emerson College by a 6-2 score in the championship game on Sunday, April 29th. The Monks opened the tourney with a 2-0 win over #3 Simmons College and defeated Emerson, 6-1, in a semifinal matchup to advance to the GNAC Championship.
Keene, the #2 seed in the Little East Conference (LEC) tourney, remained in the winners' bracket with victories over fifth-seeded Western Connecticut and #4 Plymouth State, but fell into the elimination round with a loss to eventual LEC Champion Eastern Connecticut and bowed out of the tourney after losing to Western Connecticut.
Despite the disappointing outcome in the conference tournament, the Owls were rewarded for their outstanding season with an at-large berth into the 2012 NCAA Softball DIII Tournament. Keene is one of 18 teams across the country to earn a "Pool C" qualifier – berths awarded to programs that did not capture automatic bids by way of conference championships - into the national tourney.
Recipe for success – Saint Joseph's:
Featuring outstanding pitching, a well-balanced lineup, and sound defense, Saint Joseph's has proven to be a well-rounded club this spring.
The SJC pitching staff, led by sophomore hurler Rae-Marie Copan (Newton, Mass.) - who enters tourney play with a miniscule 0.88 ERA, ranks eighth in the nation with a 1.49 team ERA. Not only talented but also deep, the Monks' staff features four highly-capable starting pitchers: Copan, sophomore Theresa Hendrix (Scarborough, Maine/Cheverus), senior Maddie Kluna (Standish, Maine) and junior Kayla Vannah (Waldoboro, Maine).
Offensively, the Monks' lineup features seven batters hitting .300 or better, including three batting at least .390. Senior center fielder Emily Leverone(Hampton, N.H.), the program's all-time leader in nearly every hitting category and four-time First Team All-GNAC selection, leads the way with a .435 (54-124) average and also paces the Royal Blue in doubles (15), home runs (9) and RBI (40) this spring.
Other top hitters include Hendrix, a four-time GNAC Rookie of the Week honoree who is hitting .422 (46-109) with a team-high .798 slugging percentage, and sophomore shortstop Lindsay Moore (Barrington, N.H.), who goes into the NCAA's batting .390 (46-118) with 45 runs, 13 doubles, six homers and 38 RBI.
Most top-notch defensive clubs feature excellent defenders up the middle, and Saint Joseph's is no different. Anchored by Moore, who has committed only four errors in 158 chances this season, the Monks' defense includes senior catcher Maria Labbe (Lewiston, Maine), sophomore second baseman Connie Grovo (Limington, Maine), and Leverone in center. Freshman Kim Jordan (Bangor, Maine) has proven to be one of the most athletic third basemen in the region and junior right fielder Danyelle Shufelt (Sutton, Vt.) has not made a fielding error in 37 attempts this spring.
Recipe for success – Keene State:
With a senior-laden roster, Keene State is built to win this year. Three of the Owls' top hitters - twin-sisters Laura Chandler (Wakefield, Mass.) and Haley Chandler (Wakefield, Mass.) and shortstop Katie Bradford (Lebanon, N.H.) - and both starting pitchers – Sara Stocklinski (Newton, N.J.) and Emily Albin (Bethel, Conn.) - are participating in their final collegiate campaign.
Bradford leads the KSC offense, hitting .413 (45-109) with 30 runs and 22 RBI while Haley Chandler, the Owls' first baseman and leadoff hitter, paces the team in runs (43), home runs (7) and stolen bases (21). Laura Chandler, the team's center fielder, is currently batting .376 (44-117) with 31 runs, six homers and 21 RBI and junior catcher Nicole Dupuis (Fitchburg, Mass.) ranks as the team-leader with 31 RBI through 36 games.
Stocklinski and Albin have split pitching duties and have posted similar numbers for Keene in the circle this spring. Stocklinski sports a 1.77 ERA with a 10-5 record and 92 strikeouts in 87 innings, while Albin is 11-4 with a 3.37 ERA and 95 K's in 99.2 innings this season.
Attitude reflects leadership:
St. Joe's Head Coach Jamie Smyth '92, now in his 15th season, is the program's winningest skipper with a 355-243 (.594) career record. He has guided the Monks to six conference championships during his tenure and earned seven yearly coaching accolades, including the 2012 GNAC Coach of the Year honor.
Coach Smyth has led the Monks to unprecedented success in GNAC play, as the team has posted an extraordinary 102-22 (.823) record versus conference opponents since joining the league in 2008. Saint Joseph's has appeared in the GNAC Tournament all five seasons and has served as a first-round host in each of the past four years.
The Keene State leader, Dr. Charlie Beach, has accumulated a 643-386-8 (.625) record over 27 seasons as the Owls' skipper and ranked 11th in NCAA DIII Softball history in victories prior to the start of the 2012 campaign.
Dr. Beach, the 17th NCAA DIII coach to produce 600 or more victories, has guided the Owls to four LEC titles, seven NCAA Tournament appearances and three ECAC Tournament championships during his esteemed coaching career.
The last time we met:
Saint Joseph's and Keene State have met just two times with the Owls coming out on top in both meetings. Keene defeated St. Joe's, 4-0, in the ECAC Tournament on May 7th, 2008 and advanced to the tourney title tilt that spring, falling to Brandeis College by a 6-5 margin.
2012 season synopsis:
St. Joe's, currently ranked seventh in the Northeast in the NCAA Regional Rankings, opened the year with three consecutive losses in the Gene Cusic Classic in Fort Myers, Florida but has lost just four games since. Overall, four of the Monks' seven setbacks have been by just one run.
Keene State, the #4 team in New England according to the latest NCAA Regional Rankings, has played a difficult schedule this spring with five of the team's 10 losses coming at the hands of eventual NCAA Tournament qualifiers. The Owls have lost three games to LEC-rival Eastern Connecticut, the #2 team in the most recent NFCA national poll, and opened the year with a loss to Emory, the #1 team in the country.
The Monks will be making their second appearance in the NCAA Tournament in as many years, as the Royal Blue advanced to the "Big Dance" after winning the GNAC Championship last spring. St. Joe's enjoyed an impressive run as the #6 seed in the 2011 Providence Regional with wins over #3 Endicott College and #2 Coast Guard Academy before falling out of the tourney with losses to Eastern Connecticut and Rhode Island College.
Keene State will be making its seventh NCAA Tournament appearance when the regional commences this Thursday. The Owls, winners of three straight ECAC Tournament Championship, advanced to the national tourney for the first time in 1994 (DII) and went on to play in the NCAA's in 1999, 2000, 2003, 2005 and 2007. Keene advanced to the regional finals in 1999, 2000 and 2003.