Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Conference Play Set To Begin

The Fairfield Stags will attempt to become first repeat champs since 2012
The MAAC championship race begins this weekend with ten conference doubleheaders scheduled. No matter what has transpired over the first two months of the season, each team is currently 0-0 in MAAC play!

With the lack of atrocious winter weather, as in the past two seasons, the MAAC's pre-conference season record has shown much improvement. Without an endless string of cancellations, the various teams have gotten plenty of good work in. The result should be a very competitive race. The MAAC is in its second season of a new format, with six teams to qualify for the tournament, and with the number one seed earning hosting privilege. This makes for a more exciting conference season.

As of this writing, the Marist Red Foxes are 17-7, and have played very well in all facets of the game. They also have a large degree of motivation: they were the best team not to qualify in 2015, narrowly missing out. They don't want that happening again. They have a strong senior class, all ALL-MAACers with championship experience. Maureen Duddy is running wild on the base paths, threatening to eclipse conference records. They have the deepest pitching staff in the MAAC, with five pitchers they can go to with confidence.

Manhattan also has some motivation. After an outstanding regular season in 2015, their tournament performance had to be a let down, with an early exit. They are currently 11-8. Led by senior Elena Bowman, who is beginning get on a hot streak, the Jaspers can still hit the ball hard and often. They seem to have found their "go to" pitcher in Briana Matazinsky, who struck out 11 in a recent game.

The defending champion Fairfield Stags, currently 10-10, have played very well in most their games thus far. This is a team that of course has championship experience on the roster, with players like Lauren Filicia and Lauren Falkanger. But they are also getting good production from some of their freshmen, most notably Courtney Hankins and Alisha Marshall. Sophomore Angelina McGuire also seems to have found her way, and has had many big games.

In my opinion, the Monmouth Hawks are a team to watch this season. They are currently 10-11, and have six players batting over .300. Justene Reyes has shown she can change a game with a swing of her bat. But they have four other players who can drive home runs on a consistent basis, and Emma Hill to run wild and score them. Their pitching has been very good this season, and this time around Sydney Underhill is not being asked to do it all herself. Sophomore Amanda Riley has come into her own, allowing opposing teams a stingy .212 batting average.

The Siena Saints lost some top performers to graduation, but are actually playing better at this point in the season (9-8) than last year when they lost their first 11 games as I recall. Although their lineup is not as powerful as last season, they are getting good production down the line. A freshman, Mady Cossack, has brought a .341 average to the team. Their pitching has been solid, with Lauren Butts leading the way, and a fully recovered Danielle Cacciola becoming more of a factor this season. However, they have lost a pitcher, Amanda Gatt (I'm not privy as to why). This may hurt their chances.

The Quinnipiac Bobcats have shown definite improvement from last season, and are currently 10-11. Senior Sydney Robey has shown herself to be solid in the pitching circle, with sophomore Casey Herzog developing very quickly as the Bobcats' second pitcher. They don't seem to have a dominant hitter at the moment, but rather spread the production around offensively. They will compete to qualify, especially if they get some key early wins.

Defending regular season champion Canisius has struggled this early season, compiling 20 losses. They've had some injury issues, and a short roster. The roster got even shorter with a player leaving the team. Starting pitcher Erika Mackie has tried to stem the tide; she has a 2.99 ERA. Freshman Lauren Castro has pitched very well as of late, and seems to have earned the number two pitching spot as of now. Offensively, Lindsey Silfer is having a terrific season, with six homers and 23 RBIs plus a .363 batting average. Sophomore Moriah Harris has stepped into a larger role. The Golden Griffins must cut down on their errors however.

Iona stands at 5-16 right now, but as I recall, they had a similar record last season before surging during MAAC play. Their batting, once over .300, has cooled off a bit as of late, although Kristen Turner is having another outstanding season. Freshman Marisa Gergel is batting .365, bringing an additional threat to the lineup. Their pitching, though, has struggled a bit, and I've noticed redshirt senior Carly Argyle has not played much recently, although I have no information concerning her status. The Gaels, however, always seem to raise the level of their play this time of the season.

Niagara has struggled this season, winning only twice. I feel they have not had a schedule conducive to getting them ready for conference play, but we'll see. They seem to have found a pitcher to rely on in freshman Sierra Bertrand, who has thrown some strong games. Sydney Smyers has also pitched well at times. Redshirt sophomore Bridget Hogan is back and hitting .340. Sarah March is also having an outstanding season.

The situation with the Rider Broncs is difficult. After the messy departure of longtime Coach Carroll, their new coach, Jaci Timko did not begin her new job until January. That super short notice makes it unfair to judge her at all this season. She's still getting to know her team, which has shown both offensive and pitching sparks.

St. Peter's had their most challenging early schedule in years, and came out of it winless. The performance of freshman Tiffani Lambert is intriguing, but the Peacocks have failed to produce much in the way of offense this season.

I gave up the crystal ball years ago, so all I'll say about the upcoming championship race is that I expect it to be exciting and dramatic. Good luck to everyone!

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