Tuesday, January 4, 2011

2011 MAAC Preview---Niagara Purple Eagles

2010 Finish: 3rd Place (22-22)
Departed Players: 4
Incoming Players: 7

Returning Players:
Teresa Healy (.446; 10 HR, 44 RBI)
Becky Zill (.305)
Kristin Sito (.299; 7 HR)
Jen Hare (.293)
Kayla Hines (.289; 1-1, 3.07)
Maggie McDonald (.267)
Alexis Wayne (.225)
Jaclyn Russell (.212)
Gabrielle Lustrinelli (.048)
Sarah Anthon (.000)
Vicki Gilliland (.000)
Julie DiMatteo (15-7, 3.35)
Ali Grab (0-1, 19.89)

Incoming Players:
Bri Allen (Transfer)
Lindsey Phillips (Transfer)
Kim Bryson
Tashia Daley
Aileen Hinton
Jessica Hitchcock
Brittany Richberg

Purple Eagles softball will once again revolve around senior 2nd baseman Teresa Healy in 2011. The MAAC Player Of The Year was tops in the conference and 11th in the nation with a whopping .446 batting average. This is a player all MAAC pitchers truly fear. No one dared give her anything decent to hit in the MAAC Tournament. Aside from average, she was number one on Niagara for home runs (10); RBIs (44); on base percentage (.500); slugging percentage (.741); total bases (103); and stolen bases (10). She's an outstanding fielder as well with a lot of range; she often makes plays deep in the outfield. One thing she hasn't accomplished is a MAAC championship, and judging from Niagara's play this past fall, it seems the team is focused on this goal alone.

The Purple Eagles lost some great players to graduation, but as usual they seem to have plenty of offense in supply. Senior outfielder Kristin Sito returns; she is an explosive player with home run power. She will lead the outfield this spring with the departure of Kristin Kill and Jenna Baker.

Sophomore catcher Becky Zill had a fine freshman season finishing with a .305 average and capped off with a towering homer off of Sarah Jackson in the MAAC Tournament. Tall and athletic, Becky could emerge as a premier player in the MAAC this season.

The defense is anchored by senior shortstop Maggie McDonald, an All-MAAC selection once again in 2010. Last season she had a 24 game hitting streak. Senior third baseman Kayla Hines is another key component of the quartet of talented seniors. She had a slow start to her 2010 season, but returned to the form that produced plenty of power in 2009 later in the season. Niagara will need her to drive in runs.

Junior Jen Hare, originally a catcher, seems to have found a home at first base. Jen had a solid sophomore season, hitting for a .293 average and pitching in with 4 homers and 21 RBIs. Sophomore Alexis Wayne flirted with a .300 average last season while ending up at .225. She looked terrific in fall ball however, and should have a spot in the outfield this season. Junior Jaclyn Russell, a transfer last year, was also hitting the ball hard this fall. Freshman Brittany Richberg will compete for time in the outfield. An intriguing freshman on this year's squad is Canadian infielder/outfielder Jessica Hitchcock, who received partial scholarships for hockey and softball. She currently leads the Purple Eagles women's hockey team in scoring, and was a finalist for Canada's junior (19U) national softball team. She says she chose Niagara because they would let her play both sports.

The biggest hurdle the Purple Eagles have faced recently is lack of pitching depth to go along with their offensive firepower. All-MAAC pitcher Julie DiMatteo was 15-7 in 2010, including a no-hitter vs. MAAC rival Rider. She was named to the MAAC Tournament team after losing an extra innings battle to eventual champion Iona. During her first two seasons at Niagara, she has carried the pitching staff, but this season Coach Al Dirschberger has brought in three new pitchers. Bri Allen is a junior who has transferred from NJCAA national power Monroe Community College where she was 25-6 with a 0.72 ERA and 245 strikeouts while helping her team reach the NJCAA World Series. How this will translate to division 1 is unknown, but the hope is that she will compliment Julie. Also joining the team this year are two promising freshman pitchers, Kim Bryson and Tashia Daley. Ali Grab returns for her senior season giving the Purple Eagles a deeper pitching staff than they've had in some time.

Niagara is well coached and loaded with offensive threats. If they can get consistent team pitching, they will be very difficult to beat in the 2011 MAAC. They open their season on March 4.

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