Texas Bound: Softball Gears Up For 2011 NCAA Tournament Regional
The Storyline... The Sacred Heart Pioneers, the 2011 Northeast Conference champions, travel to College Station, TX for the program's second appearance in the NCAA Tournament. The Pioneers join host Texas A&M, LSU, and Syracuse at one of the 16 regional sites in this year's tournament. Sacred Heart's 29 wins in 2011 has already broken the school's single season division I record for victories; SHU joined the D-I ranks in 2000. Sacred Heart claimed its first trip to the "big dance" in 2009, winning its first NEC title, and picked up a 3-1 triumph against Cornell in an elimination game. The Pioneers roll into Friday's first contest on a seven game winning streak and has won nine of its last ten games overall.
Emotional NEC Title... The Pioneers rode an emotional roller coaster during the weekend that saw the program capture its second NEC crown in three seasons. SHU battled through rain delays, game suspensions, and a missed graduation day but in the end the ultimate goal was achieved, a conference championship. Sacred Heart led archival Quinnipiac, 3-2, before play was suspended due to darkness Saturday night. The inclement weather in Pittsburgh made field conditions unplayable Sunday and effectively ended the tournament. SHU was declared NEC champions as the only undefeated team remaining in the field, having already defeated QU. The Pioneer senior class would have a graduation day to remember, accepting the championship trophy dawned in their caps and gowns.
Stellar Stats... The Pioneers enter the 2011 NCAA tournament with, statistically, the top offense and pitching staff in the Northeast Conference. As a team SHU is hitting .300 for the year while the pitchers have compiled a 2.35 overall earned run average. A Sacred Heart player leads the conference in runs scored (Froelich), RBIs (Tsipouras), and strikeouts per seven innings (Sidor). The lowest batting average among the Pioneers one through six hitters is currently at .290.
Fearing Froelich... Froelich, the 2011 NEC player of the year, has compiled impressive numbers in her four years at SHU and become one of the most feared hitters in the region. The Pioneer leadoff hitter and center fielder boasts a .324 career batting average and is hitting a career high .361 in 2011. She is the Pioneers all-time division I leader with 207 hits, reaching the 200 plateau with a single on senior day against Long Island. She was an all-conference selection in each of the last three seasons and was named to the NEC all-tournament team in 2009 and 2011. Froelich is the all-time leader at SHU in total bases with 325 and needs just four more doubles to break the current all-time mark (49).
One-Two Punch... SHU has the best two-man rotation in the pitching circle in the Northeast Conference. Russell, the Pioneer ace sports 18 wins on the rubber along with a 1.98 overall ERA. Russell has thrown seven complete game shutouts this season, four coming in league tilts. However, her sophomore counterpart Nicole Sidor is not to be forgotten about. The right-hander has a 9-5 record on the year and a 2.54 ERA. Sidor leads the NEC and ranks 11th in the nation in strikeouts per seven innings, ringing up 150 K's in just 102 innings of work (10.3 K/7). Opponents are batting a meager .236 at the dish against the Russell/Sidor combination.
California Connection... Eight players on the SHU roster hail from the state of California, including six starters. The group includes: Taylor Froelich, Courtney Lee, Liz Tsipouras, Shannon McCoy, Annie Dreher, and Alyssa Garza. The only starters who are not from California are Nicole Sidor (British Columbia, Canada), Jade Bowins (Maryland), Melissa Tobin (Massachusetts), and Jen Russell (Connecticut).
Tournament Time... Sacred Heart owns a 6-2 overall record in division I postseason games, including a perfect 5-0 mark in the NEC tournament. The Pioneers had a solid showing in their first appearance in the division I NCAA tournament, knocking off Cornell while falling to UMass and eventual national champion Washington. Jen Russell is a two-time NEC tournament MVP and has pitched every inning in the Pioneers D-I postseason history. SHU was immensely successful in the division II tournament in the mid-80's, reaching the NCAA Final Four in five of six seasons: 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, and 1987.
A Field of Firsts... When the Pioneers take the field against Texas A&M, LSU, or Syracuse it will be the first meeting in the all-time series with each program. Sacred Heart has never faced an opponent from either the Big 12 or the SEC since joining Division I. SHU split two games in 2011 versus BIG EAST opponent Seton Hall.