By Derek Turner
From day one, the CCSU softball team had one goal in mind, to win a Northeast Conference title.
They took one step closer to achieving that goal last weekend, clinching a spot in the upcoming tournament and securing at least a share of the regular season title.
With 16 wins, the Blue Devils have set a new single-season conference wins record this season and with two games to play can, for the third year in a row, break the overall season wins record. Central split the two games on Saturday with Robert Morris by scores of 3-1 and 2-3, but swept Quinnipiac in Hamden on Sunday with two mercy rule victories.
Last Saturday, the top team in the conference came to New Britain with basically the opportunity to host the conference tournament on the line. Robert Morris sat at 10-2 coming into the double-header, one game ahead of CCSU in the loss column.
In the bottom of the first, sophomore Kat Malcolm showed off her speed immediately. With one out, the centerfielder beat out a short groundball to the pitcher, but the ball was overthrown allowing Malcolm to circle the bases for the first run of the game.
In the second inning, all six batters to walk to the plate, three from each team struck out.
In the bottom of the third, CCSU extended its lead. Brittany Ernst bunted for a base hit to lead off and then with one out, Malcolm was back at it. She doubled to right field scoring Ernst from first. Nicole Springer followed with a single through the right side driving in Malcolm.
Robert Morris pitching held the usually potent Blue Devil offense in check, giving up only five hits while striking out eight times.
The Colonials scored their lone run in the top of the seventh, it was unearned.
In game two, Robert Morris jumped to a quick 1-0 lead after Ashley Gerhart led off the game with a home run out to right field.
After threatening with a runner on third in the first, but not scoring for CCSU, nine straight batters were retired in order for both sides, but the Blue Devils got one back in the third.
Springer, playing her last regular season home game at CCSU recorded her second RBI of the day, driving in Ernst from second, who had singled earlier in the inning.
The game would remain tied into extra innings until Lauren Hackett of RMU hit a 2-run double to center, giving the Colonials a 3-1 lead. Kelsey Barlow, another senior, led off the bottom of the eighth with a home run, but it wouldn’t be enough as the Colonials avoided the sweep by a score of 3-2.
Sunday spelled more good news for the Blue Devils as they traveled south to Quinnipiac for their final two games of the conference schedule as CCSU made quick work of the Bobcats.
In the first game, both Arielle Bruno and Malcolm homered in what ended up being a seven run fifth inning, en route to a 9-0 victory in five innings.
Game two was much of the same and CCSU walked away with a 11-2 victory and got to go home early.
“We’re just playing well, it’s fun to watch and to be around,” said coach Jeff Franquet.
Barlow had herself a weekend. She capped the four games set with her third long ball of the day in game two on Sunday, securing Player of the Week honors in the conference. Laura Messina just did what she always does and that’s perform. She recorded another shutout and now has 11 on the year. Her victory in the final game of the weekend gave her 23 this season, which broke her own record of 22 that she set last season.
“It doesn’t matter who we play, if Laura’s throwing well and we’re hitting the way we can, we can beat any of those teams,” said Franquet, on Messina being ready for the tournament. “We’ll be ready, you can bank on that.”
Central travels to Maryland-East Shore on Wednesday for its final double-header of the season before they rest up and prepare for the conference tournament on May 9-11. As it stands right now, Robert Morris will be hosting the tournament because they hold the tiebreaker, which is victories over Monmouth University. CCSU lost both games to the Hawks whereas RMU swept them. In order for the Blue Devils to host the conference tournament and be the top seed, RMU needs to lose one out of four games this weekend against either Sacred Heart or Quinnipiac and all four games will be played in Moon Township, Penn.
“I just want to win these two games on Wednesday, get to 32 wins, break the single-season win record,” said Franquet.
Central would love to host the tournament and if the crowd last weekend was any inclination of how it will be, CCSU will definitely have a home field advantage.
“The atmosphere was phenomenal, there was playoff atmosphere, it really was electric out there on Saturday and that was awesome,” said Franquet. “It was just a great day.”
There is no doubt CCSU will be watching the scoreboard this weekend.