Friday, April 5, 2013

MAAC Weekend Preview

Eileen McCann will be back as a redshirt senior in 2014
 Four teams began MAAC season last weekend; this weekend everybody else gets into the action. Six conference doubleheaders are on tap this Saturday and Sunday, and now the race will begin to heat up. The top four finishers will be invited to the Championship in Poughkeepsie this May, where an automatic bid to the national tournament will be contested.

Perhaps the most intriguing match up will be in Loudonville, NY Saturday where the Siena Saints will play host to the Iona Gaels. The Saints plan to make it to the MAACs for the first time in ten seasons; it's their mission. They basically came within an inning of making it last season; this is an important opener for them, they want to get off to a flying start. MAAC POY Shannon Jones is a senior now, and she wants the postseason more than any award. After an encouraging opener last week against Fairfield, the defending champion Gaels feel they can make it back to Poughkeepsie without their star graduated pitcher, Sarah Jackson. They will also have to do it without their All-MAAC outfielder Eileen McCann, out for the season and headed for surgery. Eileen will be back for a fifth season in 2014, but in the meantime, freshman Sarah Schutz has stepped up in her absence. Iona will be hosting Manhattan on Sunday.

Niagara opens conference play Saturday at Fairfield. Actually, I'm sure they're happy to be playing anywhere at this point, because of all the MAAC teams, the Purple Eagles have been the most cursed with bad weather. They didn't play all that much in March; it will be interesting to see how on their game they will be. It's a tough start for them though. As for the Stags, who are the favorite to win it all, they narrowly escaped New Rochelle last week with a split; they were nearly swept. Junior Becca Trott didn't pitch much either, getting pulled after less than two innings of action. Fairfield hasn't been playing all that well as of late; they want to get back in the groove on their home field.

Canisius begins conference play at Rider Saturday. The Golden Griffins have been in a slump, the victims of some lopsided losses. The timing wasn't good; they had been playing very well earlier in the season, but now head into conference play having lost six of their last eight games. They have split the last two times they played at Rider. The Broncs see this doubleheader as an opportunity. Their freshman pitchers have struggled all season, but the team rebounded with a resounding win at St. Peter's last week, and they may feel they have Canisius at a good time.

St. Peter's will visit Manhattan on Saturday, which will be the Lady Jaspers' MAAC opener. It's going to be interesting to see how senior Shelby Beaver pitches for the Peacocks. She struggled in the circle all season until conference play began; then she pitched a gem vs. Rider last week. She pitched very well in conference last season as well, nearly beating champion Iona. She may give Manhattan trouble. The Lady Jaspers have been up and down all season, but are looking to establish themselves as a threat in the MAAC race this season. To do so, their pitching will need to be more consistent. Still, their offense has been explosive at times year, and we may see some of that tomorrow.

Sunday features a big match up of two contenders when Fairfield travels to Marist. For the Red Foxes, senior Emily Osterhaus has pitched two consecutive outstanding games; on Thursday she went toe-to-toe with All-American Oliva Galati, losing to Hofstra by just a 1-0 score. She had a "mini-slump" just previous to this, but seems to be past that now. Marist's hitting as a team has slumped in recent weeks after a blistering start. Their games with the Stags may be low scoring and close to the vest.

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