SMITHFIELD, R.I. – The Bryant University softball team will look for its first winning streak of the season this weekend, as the Bulldogs host league foes Mount St. Mary's and LIU Brooklyn for a pair of Northeast Conference doubleheaders on Saturday and Sunday, respectively, at the Softball Complex at Conaty Park.
First pitch for Saturday's doubleheader is slated for 1 p.m., while Sunday's two-game set is scheduled to begin at noon. The second game each afternoon will follow approximately 30 minutes after the opener.
The Bulldogs (6-14) are fresh off their highest run-production outing of the season after drubbing Harvard, 15-6, on Tuesday, March 27 in Cambridge, Mass. Freshman Madeline Velasquez (Los Angeles, Calif.) paced the Bulldog offense with a 3-for-4 clip at the plate with an RBI and two runs scored, while the Crimson combined to walk 13 batters and hit three batters on a frigid and windy afternoon. Junior Jennifer Jacob (Deer Park, N.Y.) picked up her fourth victory of the season in the circle.
Picked to finish fourth in the NEC according to the Preseason Coaches Poll, Bryant will be participating in its first conference matches of the year while both the Mount and LIU have each faced three league foes prior to this weekend.
First up, Bryant will tackle the Mountaineers (7-20, 1-3 NEC) on Saturday for a pair of games. The Mount was picked to finish 10th according to the preseason poll and is coming off a 15-win campaign in 2011 that saw them finish in 10th place in the league standings.
The Mountaineers have lost three straight entering the weekend and most recently were swept in a league doubleheader on Sunday against Sacred Heart. The Mount's lone conference win so far came in a split against Quinnipiac last Friday, March 23, at home.
Freshman Holly Buckel has adjusted to the college game well in her first season with the Mountaineers and leads her squad with a .300 batting average. Buckel owns just one extra-base hit – a triple – but her 18 hits are tied for the team lead. Junior Liz Christiansen has put up respectable power numbers with four homers and 15 RBI – both team highs – and has scored eight runs herself.
Sophomore hurler Nicole Pagano most recently was tabbed the NEC Pitcher of the Week and enters the weekend with an impressive 1.38 ERA in over 81 innings of action. Freshman Danni Cummings (3.57 ERA) ranks second in total work with 47.0 innings pitched, while senior Amanda Sadowl has also seen plenty of time on the mound while posting a 7.39 ERA over 36 innings.
A perennial league power over the last decade, the Blackbirds (9-28, 1-3 NEC) are coming off a tough 2011 campaign plagued by injuries but were predicted to finish one spot lower than the Bulldogs in the preseason poll at fifth.
Longtime bench boss Roy Kortmann is in his 18th season guiding LIU and has challenged his team with a busy schedule that has seen the Blackbirds play four ranks teams and an astounding 37 games through the first six weeks of the season. Kortmann recently picked up his 500th career coaching win with a win against Saint Francis (PA) last weekend. Most recently, the Blackbirds fell, 3-2, in extra innings to nearby rival Hofstra on March 28.
The LIU offense has averaged a paltry 2.54 runs per game and only totaled a .210 team batting average on the year. No player bats above .300, as Nichole Toven paces the Blackbirds with a .280 average in 28 games while driving in 10 runs and scoring nine. The redshirt freshman has also gone yard once this year and has ripped five doubles. After her, junior Karina Cervantes ranks second on the squad with a .265 batting average with three doubles, a team-high 12 runs scored and four RBI. Nicole Archer has blasted a side-high three homers and Sterling Hoham's 12 RBI is good for the team lead.
The Blackbirds' strength has resonated with its pitching, as the LIU staff has logged a 3.91 team ERA this season to rank eighth in the league. Megan Sheaf leads the pack with a 3.26 ERA in 53.2 innings of action, but Sarah Reynolds has shouldered the most work by tossing 134.2 innings in a team-leading 27 appearances (23 starts) to compliment a 3.38 ERA.