Tuesday, May 24, 2011

2011 MAAC Season Review

Deanne Algeo's 7th inning line out this past Saturday afternoon was the last play of an interesting and unusual 2011 MAAC Softball season. It was a season that saw Marist rise from the bottom of the conference to title contention; it also was a season that saw perennial power Canisius fail to qualify for the tournament for only the second time ever. We saw the Iona Gaels defend their championship by making history---they were only the second school ever to come out of the losers bracket and win it all. And yet, they were two pitches away from not winning.

I'd have to say that the biggest story of the year was an unexpected one. No, not the rise of Marist, but the collapse of Canisius. To put it in perspective, not only had the Golden Griffins qualified for the tournament every season except once since they joined the MAAC, but they had played in the Championship game 16 times in those 20 years, winning the title 12 times. Canisius had lost only one player due to graduation, albeit a very good one (Michelle Fridey), and they seemed poised to replicate their 13-3 record from 2010. Unfortunately for them, 2010 All-MAAC pitcher Caroline Main did not fully recover from the injury she suffered during the 2010 Championship game until the last week of this season. Their other 2010 All-MAAC pitcher, Amanda Baun, had a down year. The team led the MAAC in hitting, but their pitching constantly failed them in key games. Canisius finished with a losing record for only the fourth time in their 31 year history and ended the season four games out of fourth place.

The fall of Canisius in 2011 opened up the race. One team that took advantage was the Marist Red Foxes. Winners of only 10 games the previous season, Marist would treble that tally, and with a challenging and grueling schedule at that. While Canisius' pitching failed, the Marist pitching staff rose to the occasion. Starters Emily Osterhaus and Paige Lewis progressed dramatically during the course of the season. Megan Lamoureux, Nicole DiVirgilio, Haley Birnbaum and others provided heavy bats; Marist easily led the MAAC in runs and RBIs. They were the team most prepared for the conference season, and qualified for the tournament for the first time since 2008.

Fairfield was going great until the last day of their season. Led by senior pitcher Sarah Minice, and bolstered by a large group of energetic freshmen, including Rookie Of The Year Lauren Liseth, the Stags seemed poised to win the conference easily. Sarah had a fabulous season, but failed on Championship day, pitching only four innings while surrendering eight earned runs and losing twice. That's one I will never be able to figure out. The Stags did discover, however, that freshman Rebecca Trott was their up and coming ace.

Iona started the MAAC season slowly, but then won 10 conference games in a row to put themselves in position to defend their title. Sarah Jackson repeated her great sophomore season, highlighted by shutting out powerful Hawai'i in a dramatic 1-0 extra innings win. The Gaels' offense slumped from the previous year, but senior Alyssa Maiese picked up the slack by having an All-MAAC season and leading the conference in home runs. The Gaels twice staved off elimination in late innings in the tournament to eventually win the crown.

Manhattan had their most successful MAAC season ever, winning 12 games. Although their 8 seniors for the most part began the year slowly, they all peaked at just the right time to lead the LJs into the tournament for the third consecutive season.

Siena showed themselves to be an up and coming team as sophomore Shannon Jones had a fabulous season, hitting over .400. She also improved dramatically at shortstop. Freshman Jessika-Jo Sandrini revitalized the Siena program, at the plate and in the circle. These two players became a deadly one-two punch in the Saints' lineup.

Niagara had what can only be termed as a disappointing season. In contention with a 6-3 record, they would lose their last 7 MAAC games and finish in 7th place. Senior Teresa Healy had another fabulous season, again being honored as the conference's best player. But the Purple Eagles seemed to lose confidence down the stretch.

Rider simply could not produce the offense needed to support pitcher Rachael Matreale, who had an ERA amongst the MAAC's leaders, but lost 21 games. And St. Peter's, although they won a conference game for the first time since 2009, has a long way to go in rebuilding their program.

I thought the MAAC was looking fairly strong during the tournament portion of the season, then headed into conference play. Indeed, this season 11 wins would be required to qualify for the tournament. The overall pitching was not as strong this season as it had been in the past though. Did the best team win the tournament? Probably not...but I warned that Iona's experience could play a big factor, and this turned out to be the case. All in all, I found 2011 to be a very enjoyable season.

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