Wednesday, May 8, 2013
MAAC Championship Preview
One of the most interesting MAAC Tournaments in recent memory begins Thursday at noon in Poughkeepsie, NY. Now is the time of year for the final four teams to leave it all on the field in the quest for the automatic bid to the National Tournament. I have to say up front that I have no idea who is going to win the title; so let's look at the teams involved.
The number one seed Siena Saints have of course qualified for the first time in ten seasons. They are on an emotional high; they believe in themselves, and in one another. They have beaten the other teams in the field. Their pitching has improved dramatically from the beginning of the season; and they remain the hot hitting team they've been in the past. The one downside, of course, is lack of tournament experience. How will they react if they fall behind? Will getting to the tournament be good enough for them after such a long wait? One thing is for certain: if they play the way they have been playing for the last month, they may be impossible to beat.
Finishing as the number two seed may have been a blessing for the preseason favorite Fairfield Stags. Perhaps they are being a bit overlooked, after an excellent season. The Stags have the best pitching in the conference, with Rae Ball and Becca Trott both with sub 2.00 ERAs in conference play. They have Lauren Liseth, who got into the minds of all the othe MAAC teams (save Marist). They are a great running team, and they have plenty of tournament experience. However, their experience in the tournament has been one of not being able to "get over the hump". They have lost four straight games in the championship round, twice emerging out of the winners' bracket only to finish second. Their pitching may propel them quickly to Saturday - but what then? It's a challenge they look to overcome this time around.
The number three seed Marist Red Foxes once again have the advantage of sleeping in their own beds and playing on their own field. They had a strong team last season, but seemed to have faded come tournament time. Although they were swept by Siena this past Sunday, they look more prepared this season. They have a very balanced lineup, with lots of players capable of driving home runs. They are a good running team, and their pitching has generally been very good. A lot will depend on senior pitcher Emily Osterhaus. When she's on, she's one of the top pitchers in the conference. One only needs to think back on her sweep of Fairfield earlier in the season. The Red Foxes open against Fairfield; if they can win that game, they could get on a roll.
The number four seed Niagara Purple Eagles are in the Tournament thanks to a miracle, that being St. Peter's shocking upset of Iona. That could make them very dangerous, because they may appreciate the opportunity more than the other teams. But what really makes them dangerous is the pitching of junior Jen Sansano. Down the stretch, Jen was a stone wall. Riding her shutdown pitching, the Purple Eagles won eight consecutive conference games. The only fly in the ointment was the extra innings homer she gave up vs. Iona; but that was when she entered that game in relief after pitching a complete game. This week, I'm looking for her to pitch until she drops. If Jen continues with her stellar pitching, and she is motivated to do so, Niagara may shock. But the rest of the team has also played well down the stretch, particularly seniors Becky Zill, Alexis Wayne and Gabby Lustrinelli, all of whom have tournament experience from 2010. Becky can hit one out at any given time.
Against the field:
Last championship won: