Category Archives: Softball

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.

Softball Clinches Tourney Spot

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.

Softball Sweeps FDU, Looks To Match Up Against Robert Morris

By Derek Turner

Coming off a weekend where the Blue Devils dropped three of four games and fell to second in the Northeast Conference standings, the team came together for a meeting. They agreed that on April 14, Monmouth was better than them, but on the second weekend of May, CCSU will be the better team.
May 9-11 is the date of the NEC Tournament where, with at least one more victory, CCSU should secure a spot for the second time in three years. They sit at 13-3, one game behind Robert Morris University in the loss column after a sweep of Farleigh Dickinson this past Sunday, by scores of 9-1 and 4-0.
The offense got right to work in the top of the first of game one on Sunday. Arielle Bruno did her job as the leadoff hitter, beating out an infield single to start the game and Kat Malcolm followed with a bunt single. Bruno came in when Nicole Springer reached on a throwing error by Courtney Slye at shortstop. Tessa Brown grounded to the shortstop who retired Springer at second, but Malcolm came in for the second run of the inning.
Laura Messina struck out the side in the second with a hit batter in the middle of it. The sophomore finished the game with 10 strikeouts and only three hits in the win.
After a double in the second by Eileen Purcell failed to produce a run, the Blue Devils scored five in the third to put the game away.
Malcolm, Springer and Brown all reached before the Knights could record an out. Malcolm scored on the RBI single by Brown down the left field line. Kelsey Barlow dropped down a sacrifice bunt moving Brown to second and Sarah Emery, who pinch ran for Springer, to third.
Evie Renztel continued to drive in runs like she has all season. She reached on a fielder’s choice scoring Emery for her 29th of the year and would have another in game two.
After Hannah Cooper walked and was pinch run for by Katie Schmidt, Purcell grounded into a fielder’s choice of her own. Both Rentzel and Brown scored on a throwing error by the second baseman Cindy Zamudio.
Stephanie Chotkevys pinch hit for Brittany Ernst, got the job done and even though she grounded out, Schmidt scored.
The only FDU run of the day came in the top of the fourth with, as coach Franquet called it, “a lack of focus.”
Slye doubled down the left field line with one out and came around to score with two outs on a Hayley Floyd single to left after a Zamudio single.
In the sixth, Chotkevys hit her third home run of the year out to left field giving the Blue Devils an 8-1 lead. Needing one more run to end the game, Malcolm doubled to right center and scored on a Springer single through the left side. The Blue Devils walked off with a mercy rule victory in game one.
Game two didn’t quite showcase the offensive onslaught the Blue Devils have put up most of the weekend, but the fourth inning did show off some power.
Springer led off the inning with her seventh home run of the year, giving her 17 in her career, good for third all-time.
Brown followed with a walk and Emery pinch ran for the first baseman. Barlow drove her in with a double to right center and came around to score herself when Rentzel tripled in the third run of the game. The Blue Devils finished a single shy of the team cycle in the inning.
The fourth and final run of the game came off a Brown RBI double to left center driving in Bruno, who led off the inning with a single.
Messina threw her 26th complete game of the year, striking out seven in her ninth shutout this season.
“[Laura] threw great, we hit the ball well and we did what we were supposed to do,” said Franquet Monday morning in his office. “Those teams that are below us, we’re supposed to sweep [them].”
Messina has thrown 177 2/3 innings this year, which seems like a lot, but Franquet insists that his ace is getting stronger as the season progresses and he will be ready for the big stage of the conference tournament.
“She’s conditioned to pitch as are all pitchers at that level…and at the end of the year, they should be in even better shape,” said Franquet. “At that stage of the game too, adrenaline has to set in, you’re pitching on the biggest stage of the year, you win three games, you’ll be playing in the NCAA tournament.”
This weekend the Blue Devils host Robert Morris in a contest that puts the #1 seed in the tournament on the line. The Colonials currently sit at 10-2 in conference with eight games remaining, including the two in New Britain.
“This weekend’s huge. In an ideal world, we want to win four,” said Franquet. “Hopefully we can take care of business against [Robert Morris] and Quinnipiac and hope somebody knocks them off before the end of the year.”
The top seed hosts the tournament and with a 13-1 home record, the Blue Devils would be more than excited to play in front of a home crowd.
Note: On April 22, Messina picked up her fourth NEC Pitcher of the Week award going 3-0, including two shutouts. She posted a 0.35 ERA, with 28 strikeouts and one earned run in 20 innings.