Category Archives: Softball

Swept

by Sean Begin

The Central Connecticut softball team, following the weekend, has played in three Northeast Conference double headers. All of them have been swept.

But this weekend’s games against LIU-Brooklyn on Saturday and Wagner on Sunday did not see the Blue Devils celebrating at the end of both days.

The Blackbirds (13-24, 2-2 NEC) took both games from Central (15-11, 4-2 NEC) on Saturday, blanking the Blue Devils in game one 4-0 before winning in extras — 4-3 — in game two.

Central had edged LIU-Brooklyn in the NEC preseason poll by a 5-4 vote to be named number one heading into the season.

Central responded against Wagner (13-17, 0-4 NEC) on Sunday, however, taking game one 2-1 before putting together a shut out of their own; winning 4-0 in game two.

“We didn’t really put it together,” said acting head coach Breanne Gleason of the team’s performance on Saturday. “We had a few good innings. Our defense was great. Laura threw well. We just couldn’t put it together on offense.”

The Blue Devils were held to just five hits in game one by LIU’s Cassie Vondrak who earned the win in both games on Saturday. Central had runners on second and third in both the first and third innings but failed to capitalize on the opportunity. Junior Kat Malcolm led the team with two hits.

LIU jumped out to an early 1-0 lead in the first inning of game two. Central took the lead on a two-run home run from Malcolm in the bottom of the third inning. LIU took the lead back with two runs in the top of the fifth.

But an RBI single from senior Tessa Brown that scored sophomore Evie Rentzel in the bottom of the inning tied the score, leading to extras. LIU scored the winning run in the top of the eighth and Vondrak pitched a 1-2-3 inning to finish the sweep.

“Against a really good team like LIU, if you don’t put it together, you’re not going to win. It just wasn’t our day,” said Gleason.

Junior Laura Messina took the losses in both games. She struck out six in the first game but gave up a home run and only fanned three in the second game.

The Blue Devils came back Sunday looking to right the offensive ship against the Seahawks of Wagner.

In game one on Sunday, Messina shut the Seahawks down, making the two runs the Blue Devils scored more than enough. Messina struck out 12 Wagner players in the contest. The only run came on a Wagner home run in the seventh to the first batter of the inning. Messina got the next batter to line out and she struck out the final two to seal the 2-1 Blue Devil win.

Freshman Alexis Debrosse knocked in senior Arielle Bruno in the first for the game’s first run. Rentzel scored the eventual winning run on a double in the sixth to score Malcolm.

Central opened the scoring early again in game two. Debrosse started things off by singling in Bruno.  Sophomore Eileen Purcell followed that up with a single to left that scored Rentzel.

The two runs proved more than enough for Messina who struck out eight to bring her total on the day to 20. She allowed six hits while holding the Seahawks scoreless.

“I feel like she — because LIU scored four runs in both games — as a pitcher she took a lot of brunt for that loss on herself,” said Gleason of Messina’s approach to Sunday’s games.

“So I think she came out today thinking if she can hold them to one or no runs that we have a way better shot. And with that mentality you can’t stop her.”

Central added a run in the fifth, on a single from Brown that scored Bruno, and another in the sixth, when senior Ashley Black scored on an error.

“We talked about stepping up and we talked about being in the box with a runner on two or three and saying ‘I’m going to get this RBI, I’m going to get this run in,’ instead of thinking that the person that’s on deck will do it,” said Gleason.

“I think they did a better job of stepping up and being the one to get that runner in today.”

Central will now hit the road for NEC play, after hosting their first three series of the year. Named preseason number one, the team now finds itself in fourth place in the conference, looking to improve.

“We’ve just got to hit one through nine. Right now, the top of our order looks pretty good; they’re getting on a lot,” said Gleason. “But we need everybody to hit. So we’re definitely going to look to spark the offense a little bit before we get to the weekend.”

Central will spend the next two weekends on the road, starting this weekend against Fairleigh Dickinson on April 12 and Bryant on April 13, both double headers.

Evie Rentzel vs. SHU (3-29-14) (Devin Leith-Yessian))

Softball Sweeps Sacred Heart to Open NEC Play

Messina:Debrosse vs SHU (3-29-14) (Ernestina Souza)

 

by Sean Begin

The Central Connecticut softball team was looking for a fast start to conference play this season. Thanks to a sweep of Sacred Heart on Saturday, and some timely weather postponing all other Northeast Conference games, the Blue Devils now sit firmly in first place.

“It’s huge,” said acting head coach Breanne Gleason. “In this conference, with us dropping two teams, every win is going to count. I told the girls we have to go at every single team.”

“We want to host it here, we want to play here, and we want to make it to the tournament,” added senior Laura Messina. “And that means we have to win every game. No let up.”

Messina pitched both games for the Blue Devils (12-9, 2-0 NEC), shutting out Sacred Heart (9-10, 0-2 NEC) in the first game 5-0 and holding off a Pioneer rally to win 4-3 in the second game.

“We did a great job of coming out with a lot of energy,” said Gleason. “That first game we played really well; we were solid. That second game we were a little shaky but Sacred Heart came out swinging.”

The Blue Devil’s big hit in the first game came in the third inning, off the bat of freshman Alexis Debrosse who hit a two-run home run to right field that scored senior Tessa Brown.

“She swings hard every single time,” said Gleason of Debrosse. “As a freshman, to step up like that is huge. She’s not up there thinking ‘I’m a freshman, someone else can do it,’ she wants to get it done.”

Debrosse scored the previous inning, coming home from third on a sacrifice bunt from freshman Sami Duffy. A Sacred Heart error on a grounder from senior Arielle Bruno allowed sophomore Hannah Cooper to score the fourth run of the game.

Brown started the scoring for the Blue Devils in the bottom of the first when she doubled home Bruno, who had opened the inning with a single.

Messina held the Pioneers to just two hits over seven innings, fanning eight in the shutout.

“I think our team looked amazing,” said Messina of the Blue Devil’s first series at home. “It’s nice to come back after a bad weekend and know that our team is going to come up big with runs and plays.”

Central held off a fifth-inning rally from Sacred Heart to take the second game, as well.

Messina opened the inning with a walk before getting Jenn Robillard to fly out. Andrea Sidor followed up the out with a double to set the Pioneers up with runners on second and third and one out.

A sac bunt secured the second out but scored the runner from third, pulling the Pioneers within two. Messina walked and hit the next two batters to load the bases. Her third walk of the inning pulled Sacred Heart within one.

“That first game she came out, she looked rested, she looked good,” said Gleason of Messina’s day. “That second game she got in a little bit of a jam but I think that’s a credit to the Sacred Heart hitters. They made adjustments and our defense had to make the plays and they did.”

Messina ended the threat by getting Kelyn Fillmore to ground out and finished the game without allowing another base runner. Messina finished the game allowing three runs on four hits, walking and striking out three.

“Just trusting my pitches and trusting my defense,” said Messina of how she pitched out of the fifth inning jam. “I know everyone is going to make a play; like Eileen made an awesome play. I know that’s what’s going to happen when they put the ball in play.”

The Blue Devils scored all four of their runs in the fourth. Sophomore Eileen Purcell started the scoring by singling home fellow sophomore Evie Rentzel. Cooper picked up a pair of RBIs to give Central the lead, on a single to right that scored Purcell and Debrosse.

A balk from Sacred Heart pitcher Kaci Wentworth scored Cooper from third for the Blue Devil’s fourth and subsequent winning run of the game.

“That second game we were a little shaky but Sacred Heart came out swinging. And they did a great job. They’re a tough team,” said Gleason. “That second game is what the NEC is going to be all about. We have to practice situations like that for later on.”

Sunday’s double header at Fairleigh Dickinson was postponed, so the Blue Devils will return to NEC action again this weekend when they host two double headers: LIU-Brooklyn on Saturday and Wagner on Sunday.

Softball Shakes Off Rust

by Sean Begin

With two tournaments in Florida and Virginia to open the season, the Central Connecticut softball team used the warmer Southern climates to help thaw out their offense, returning to New Britain Sunday evening with a respectable 5-3 record.

“In Florida we were pressing a lot at the plate,” said acting head coach Breanne Gleason. “Since it was our first games [of the season] we were pretty pumped and I think that showed at the plate that our heads were a little bit all over the place.”

The softball team opened its season with five games over three days at the University of Southern Florida’s Under Armour Invitational, starting on Feb. 28.

That day the team split a double-header, defeating Campbell University 4-0 before falling 4-1 to Georgia State. The team split another double-header the next day, losing 3-2 to Toledo before blanking Stanford 5-0. They finished with a single game, a 4-1 loss to Oakland, on Sunday March 2.

“We played well for our first time outside in a very long time. We saw some really good things,” said Gleason. “Our whole pitching staff did really well, especially for their first time out.”

“We got the rust off and definitely came home with a lot of stuff to work on.”

The team, as Gleason noted, saw some solid pitching, highlighted by a pair of shutouts from senior Laura Messina, who went 2-1 on the road trip. Fellow senior Julie Marks suffered two losses at USF, despite giving up just two earned runs over 10 innings of work.

“She gets that it’s not always the pitching performance that decides the game,” said Gleason of Marks. “Sometimes you just don’t hit and that happens and that’s not the pitchers fault, it’s softball.”

The rust on offense, coupled with some ill-timed fielding mistakes, proved to be enough to bring Central home with a 2-3 record.

“We did have some errors at some not so great times but it was really more our hitting,” explained Gleason of the early season struggles at USF. “We had to work on stringing hits. We were stranding a lot of people on second or third base, which is not good.”

Inside the three losses the Blue Devils suffered in Florida, they stranded 21 runners on base while committing 13 errors leading to seven unearned runs. The team hit just .192 over those five games.

Thankfully, perhaps, the schedule, not unlike the baseball team, has seen some upheaval due to the last vestiges of winter.

A doubleheader at Coppin State was cancelled, as were the team’s first two games at the Hampton Tournament against Drexel and host Hampton. The lost games gave the team an extra day of practice to work out some of the kinks presented in Florida before heading to Virginia.

“We did have an extra day to practice here, which I was really happy about,” said Gleason. “We got an extra day of hitting in, which I think it showed; it helped with the three games that we played [in Virginia].”

Added Gleason: “We tried to work on staying simple when you’re at the plate, keeping everything just like it is in practice; swing hard and good things will happen. We try to work on having people on, putting that pressure on them in practice so they feel more comfortable with it in the game.”

Whether it was the extra work in practice or the rust falling away, the team exploded offensively in their contests this past weekend in Virginia.

Over three games (a double-header versus Iona and St. Bonaventure on Saturday, followed by a second match against St. Bonaventure on Sunday) the team hit .342 to raise their season average to .275, scoring at least six runs each game and breaking eight twice.

Their pitching remained as strong as in Florida, this time without the badly timed errors. Messina started and won each game in Virginia, going three to four innings in each contest before handing the ball off to the bullpen to finish.

“Laura is a rock,” said Gleason of her ace. “When she throws well good things happen for us. I sat down and we had a talk with her about setting goals for her career: what she wants when she leaves Central and I think that helps her stay focused in games.”

“Every pitcher that we have got a chance to throw this weekend [at Hampton] and they all showed they can compete and get outs, which is huge,” she added.

The pitching staff has seen a nice addition with sophomore, transfer Sarah Gaalswijk, who has pitched six scoreless innings of two hit ball for the Blue Devils.

“From the fall to now Sarah is a totally different person. She has gotten so tough,” Gleason said. “She was in a few situations where there were runners on and she had walked people but then she worked hard to get the outs for us. And that’s all you can ask. She’s doing her job and we feel comfortable with her on the mound.”

Despite the team’s struggles on offense in Florida, the bright spot for the team has been freshman Alexis Debrosse. Debrosse is hitting .381 with two homeruns, eight RBIs and five runs scored so far this season. Her torrid start has earned her consecutive NEC Rookie of the Week honors to start the year.

“We knew how good Lex was when she got here. She’s one of those kids that you would never know she was a freshman when you see her play,” said Gleason. “She’s a presence. She’s done a great job, especially as a freshman, to step up like that.”

Veteran leaders Kat Malcolm, a junior, and senior Arielle Bruno have continued to play the way that earned them Eastern College Athletic Conference All-Star selections last season.

Malcolm is hitting .385 with a homer and three RBIs, while Bruno, despite a low .231 average, has drawn six walks to produce a .394 on base percentage, allowing her to score a team high six runs — tied with Malcolm.

The team has drawn 24 walks this season to just 34 strikeouts, demonstrating patience at the plate that differs from their usual offensive philosophy.

“We are more of an aggressive mindset, which is kind of contradictory to how many walks we have,” explained Gleason. “But I think the girls are doing a great job of staying mentally focused because sometimes when you’re swinging at balls you’re not focused; you’re all over the place.”

The team leaves Thursday to return once more to USF — this time for USF’s Spring Break Tournament — followed by single games against both USF and the University of Florida. From there, the team will travel to Delaware for the Delaware State Tournament before kicking off NEC play with a March 29 double-header versus Sacred Heart.

“We’ve been really trying to focus on Central softball; not worrying about who we’re playing but worrying about playing our best and getting in the habit of winning,” said Gleason.

“Hopefully, these next two trips can help us get on a roll and continue that into conference.”

 

Through Three Head Coaches, Toke Emerges as Leader

by Sean Begin

When a student-athlete coming out of high school chooses a school to play for, they usually do so expecting to remain there for several years, earning a degree while playing a sport they love for a coach that they think can help improve their ability on the field.

But when you go through three coaches in four years, that growth can sometimes be stifled. In some cases, like Amanda Toke, you work through it, and come out a better athlete and person thanks to the time with those coaches, however brief it may be.

Toke was recruited to Central in Fall 2011 by then-coach Rachel Tringali. After the season, Kelly Nangle was hired to replace Tringali as head coach.

Two years later, Nangle was gone for Liberty University, leaving behind a lacrosse team that had a conference record of 7-2, and made the Northeast Conference tournament for the first time in program history.

“It was hard letting Coach Kelly go,” admits Toke. “Tringali got let go but Kelly chose to leave. And that was hard for us to accept, like ‘you want to leave us? We love you, you love us.'”

Nangle’s departure may have been especially hard on Toke, who said she gained the confidence needed to become one of the team leaders under Nangle’s guidance.

“[Nangle] helped me a lot because she gave me a lot more opportunities to play and prove myself,” Toke said.

The school hired current head coach Laura Campbell to replace Nangle, making her Toke’s third coach since becoming a Blue Devil. But the change hasn’t been too difficult, thanks in part to Campbell herself.

“Coach Campbell has really helped with the transition, like making us comfortable with her and her feel comfortable with us,” said Toke.

During the offseason, Campbell named Toke one of the team’s captains, a move Toke said helped boost her confidence even more, despite the position bringing her some anxiousness.

“When you’re on the field and you’re losing, its hard to get the team’s spirits up when your spirits are down as well,” said Toke of the challenges she sometimes faces as captain. “You can’t think about yourself. You have to think about the team. It can be a little difficult.”

When fellow senior Claire Healy was named co-captain before the start of the season, Toke settled further into her leadership role.

“We complement each other,” said Toke of her relationship with Healy. “Claire has been a huge help because she’s so vocal and very outgoing. [She] brings humor to the team. I’m more quiet.”

The transition from coach to coach could have proved to be difficult, especially from Nangle to Campbell, after Nangle had two years to instill her philosophies into the growing team.

Toke, however, attributes the team’s success over the last couple years to putting aside personal belief in order to embrace those philosophies championed by Nangle — and now the new ones by Campbell.

“We could have been like ‘no,’ I don’t want to listen to you. This is what works for us. We know better,'” said Toke. “But once we really accepted and didn’t reject what the coaches were saying, that’s when we were so successful, and that’s when we started working together.”

“We weren’t playing like individuals, we we’re playing as a team and setting each other up for success.”

Toke began playing lacrosse around the sixth grade. Her mother signed her up for a youth league at random, and began learning the rules with her daughter. Toke’s lacrosse career started while playing soccer and dancing, among other endeavors, but she quickly fell in love with the sport, leaving the others behind.

Her first taste of competitive play came during a summer league, but she soon joined the squad at Voorhees High School near her hometown of High Bridge, New Jersey. There, she was named First Team All-Conference for three straight years and First Team All-Area for two.

Toke describes herself as quick-of-foot on the field, but that she still needs to work on her shot selection and one-on-one defense because, as she said with emphasis, “I hate being beat.”

Besides her physical play, Toke acknowledges she still needs to be more vocal, especially on the field.

“I know people are looking to the seniors to be the vocal leaders. So I’ve got to be vocal. Little by little I try to be more encouraging,” she said.

“If I really notice something, like advice I want to give to a player, I won’t be scared to go up to them and say ‘try to tweak this, see if this works for you’ because that’s how the seniors helped me when I was an underclassmen.”

Those seniors were also part of the reason Toke chose to come to Central in the first place.

“When I came on my recruiting trip I just loved the team. They just made me feel like I was part of the team already,” she said. Those seniors instilled a sense of pride in Central lacrosse in Toke and her young teammates.

Toke and Healy, along with fellow seniors Meaghan McCurry and Cierra Ward (both fifth-year players having redshirted previous seasons) and Ashley Olhausen (who joined the team the same year as Toke and Healy) have tried to do the same thing with the younger players on this team.

Toke majors in biology at Central, and while lacrosse isn’t her future, she isn’t done playing. Next year, she’ll head across the pond to England to play a fifth year of lacrosse while attending graduate school for biology.

Time being, Toke will continue to learn to raise her voice and exert her leadership on the lacrosse field.​

 

 

For Central Softball, Repeating not a Focus

by Sean Begin

For the Central Connecticut softball team, the last few years have been a meteoric rise to the top of the Northeast Conference.

Following a 2009 season that saw the team at the bottom of the conference, Central hired head coach Jeff Franquet, who helped increase the team’s win total each season since Central softball’s first NEC title last season.

That success, however, is something the team has put behind them.

“You know, we’re not really focusing on repeating,” said acting head coach Breanne Gleason. “The work that we did last year means nothing this year. We’re starting back from square one.”

Gleason takes over control of the team this season after Franquet was placed on administrative leave in November for undisclosed reasons, just five months after signing a three year contract extension.

“It’s a whole new team; it’s a whole new year. We’re going to look to earn it again,” added Gleason. “We’re looking to build another season, day by day.”

The team loses six seniors from their 2013 championship team, including power hitters Nicole Springer and Kelsey Barlow, who combined for 19 home runs and 77 RBIs last season–the kind of power that will be hard to replace.

“Those were a lot of homeruns and a lot of RBIs that we have to replace. The whole lineup is going to have to manufacture runs this year,” said Gleason. “We’re going to have to replace that with more doubles, a few more base hits.”

In addition to her contributions at the plate, Springer was also a valuable commodity on the mound, providing some relief throughout last season for then-sophomore Laura Messina, tallying a 6-2 record in 8 starts with a 2.64 ERA.

“You just can’t replace Springer,” said Gleason. “She’s one of those kids you get once in a lifetime. She was a machine.”

But the team is not without talent.

Last season’s NEC Player of the Year (among a bevy of other honors), Kat Malcolm, returns for her junior season following her breakout sophomore year where she hit .420 with 10 home runs and 40 RBIs.

For Gleason, Malcolm’s improvements will come from the intangible side of the game: her leadership both on and off the field.

“As a junior she’s obviously a leader. The girls look up to her because she works so hard,” Gleason said. “I think that in that role she’s going to step up more this year. She’s a great leader by example and she’s starting to use her voice as well.”

Success as a sophomore has the potential to result in too much pressure for a player, but Gleason emphasizes that there is “no pressure” on Malcolm.

“Anyone with her talent is going to feel pressure to perform but because we have talent all over on our team, it takes a little bit of the pressure off so that you’re not a one person team,” said Gleason.

Fellow returning junior, pitcher Laura Messina, and senior outfielder Arielle Bruno, are just two of the returning players from last year’s team that will help lead the Blue Devils into the 2014 season.

Bruno finished last season with a .344 average, belting 10 home runs and driving home 32 runs to provide a solid bat in the middle of the order, as well as solid leadership on the field.

“She was up to bat when we were against LSU [in the NCAA regionals] and she struck out the first time and she hits a home run in her second at-bat. And you just can’t teach that,” said Gleason.

“Arielle leads with what she’s got going on inside. There’s never a day Arielle takes off. And that’s why she’s a leader and that’s why she had the year that she had last season.”

Messina, whose 50 wins over the last two seasons are the most ever in program history, will be the workhorse on the mound for the team again this season, much as she was last year.

“She’s not only athletically an amazing pitcher; mentally she’s so tough. It’s hard to go out there and throw two games in one day and Laura makes it look really easy,” said Gleason.

Messina, despite being a reliable presence on the mound, cannot pitch every game, and with Springer gone, other players will need to fill some innings.

Senior Julie Marks, who did not play much last season, has improved her mental game, according to Gleason, and should see some time on the mound. Marks’ fellow senior, Emily Pogemiller, is returning from Tommy John surgery last winter and should be ready to go for the season.

While both players offer some options on the mound, Gleason will also look to junior college transfer Sarah Gaalswijk to fill Springer’s role in backing up Messina on the mound.

“We’re going to need Sarah to step into her [Springer’s] shoes on the field and take some innings away and give Laura some rest,” said Gleason.

Five freshmen join Gaalswijk on the team this season, all of whom will have a chance to help impact the team. Most immediately, Gleason will use Alexis Debrosse in the infield; her exact position has yet to be determined.

“She’s a solid hitter,” said Gleason of Debrosse. “She’s probably one of the best athletes on the team. She’s one of those kids that are good at any sport, so she’s going to contribute right away.”

While the team suffered some key losses, those absences are common in the world of collegiate sports. Luckily, softball being a spring sport, the team has an extra six months to prepare and gel before the season starts.

The team was able to play eight practice games against other universities around the state including New Haven, Bridgeport and Southern Connecticut during the fall. The team was also practicing five to six times a week before the winter set in.

The extra playing and practice time is especially beneficial for the new girls coming in to play.

“It gives them a chance to work with the girls we have, to build relationships and all that kind of stuff,” said Gleason. “They can learn how to talk to each other on the field; they learn what their teammates do.”

The softball season kicks off at the USF Under Armour Invitational, hosted by the University of South Florida, on February 28. The team will play a double header against Campbell University and Georgia State University.

Central’s first home game will not be until March 29; they open up NEC play against Sacred Heart University.