May 1, 2013

Softball Looks To Make Historic Run In Little East Conference Tournament

BOSTON, Mass.—For a record third consecutive season, UMass Boston Softball has qualified for the Little East Conference Tournament and will begin postseason play Thursday afternoon with a Noon matchup against top-seeded Eastern Connecticut State University.

The sixth-seeded Beacons and host Warriors will kick off the double-elimination three-day tournament Thursday at the Eastern Connecticut State Softball Complex in Mansfield, Connecticut.

UMass Boston enters the tournament with a 15-25 record and 5-9 conference mark. After a 5-18 start, the Beacons finished the season 10-7, including recording a 5-5 mark in conference action.

Sixth-year head coach Natalia Ardagna is leading UMB to their third straight tournament and fifth overall in the 32-year history of the program. Earlier this season Ardagna picked up her 100th career victory and she stands just five wins shy of the 100-win milestone at UMass Boston (95-128).

Infielders: A trio of seniors has served as the back-bone of the Beacons infield. Seniors Sue Killilea (Abington, Mass.), Taryn Asta (Marshfield, Mass.) and Kelsey Souza (Braintree, Mass.) have not only been some of the Beacons top producers at the plate, but have excelled defensively, in backing the team's two underclassmen pitchers.

Killilea has enjoyed another tremendous season in her final year in Beacon Blue. The senior started off the season behind the plate, before moving over to second base after an injury during the team's season-opening Florida trip. She leads the squad in batting average (.403), doubles (11), triples (6) and slugging percentage (.645) and will be making her program-record 146th career appearance and playing in her school record sixth postseason game.

Asta and Souza have combined to create a formidable left-side of the infield, with both players breaking the previous program-record for assists in a single-season. Asta, the team's everyday shortstop, has recovered from a season-ending injury her junior year, to be one of the Beacons top hitters with 39 hits, 15 runs scored and 14 RBI. Souza has been just as good; the former Rhode Island College Anchorwoman has excelled in her first season with UMB, leading the team in hits (46) and runs scored (26), while playing in every game but one.

Joining the Beacons three seniors in the starting lineup are junior Erika Vecchiet (Pequannock, N.J.) and sophomores Samantha Hemstock (Northford, Conn.) and Kelsey Svenson (Oxford, Conn.). Vecchiet has moved from second base to designated player and been amongst the league leaders and UMB leaders in batting average, hits and total bases all season. Behind the plate, Hemstock has taken over catching duties, while also leading UMB with 19 RBI out of the cleanup spot. Svenson is the surprise of the group, taking over the starting first base job after earning just three starts her freshman year. She has been an asset out of the bottom of the Beacons order, finishing the year with eight runs and nine RBI.

Off the bench, Sarah Keene (Lowell, Mass.) and Kelsey Cruse (Worcester, Mass.) have provided depth for Coach Ardagna. Keene has been a go-to defensive replacement in the latter innings, while Cruse has been one of UMB's top pinch hitters.

Outfielders:  Co-Captain Natalia Bouyea (East Longmeadow, Mass.) has led a Beacons outfield that has as much range defensively as any team in the conference and has provided a surprising amount of power at the plate. Bouyea has been the team's everyday center fielder, with Kristina Bove (Medford, Mass.), Lyndsey Capra (Lowell, Mass.) and Toni Scola (Worcester, Mass.) splitting time at the two corner outfield positions.

Bouyea, a Second Team Little East Conference player last season, has continued to be one of the top defensive players in the conference, while also adding 12 RBI and putting down a team-high seven sacrifice bunts.

In left field, Bove earned the job from day one, taking over for 2012 graduate Jaci Goodwin ('12). The Plymouth State transfer has proven to be one of the most dynamic players on the UMB roster, showing tremendous range in the field, while sitting amongst the Beacons leaders with a .341 batting average and a .500 slugging percentage.

In right field, Capra and Scola have split time, with Capra earning the majority of the starts down the stretch. The second-year player is tied for second on UMass Boston with 16 RBI and has also tied Scola with a team-leading five outfield assists. While Scola has struggled at the plate recently, she has recorded five doubles and come across to score seven times.

Haley Dutton (Milton, Mass.) has served as the Beacons fifth outfielder and primary pinch-runner in limited time this year.

Pitchers: The Beacons have gone with a two-woman rotation this season, with Emily Gray (New Bedford, Mass.) and Michelle Zullo (Everett, Mass.) splitting the starts in every doubleheader this season.

Gray has been one of the top freshman starters in the Little East Conference this year, registering an 8-12 record with a 3.06 ERA. The freshman right-hander has completed all 20 of her starts, while amassing the third most innings in program history for a single season with 132.2. Saturday, Gray helped the Beacons clinch a playoff spot, by allowing just eight hits and no runs against Rhode Island College in a 2-0 win.

After a sluggish start to the season, Zullo is pitching at her highest level all season, after picking up two wins in her final three starts. The sophomore right-hander finished the year with a 7-13 mark and a 3.83 ERA in 126.0 innings. Zullo amassed 70 strikeouts to just 41 walks and sits tied for third in program history in strikeouts (150) and tied for fourth in career wins (17).

UMass Boston In The Tournament: UMass Boston is 1-6 all-time in the Little East Conference Tournament with their lone winning coming in 2011. Asta hit a two-run double in the bottom of the sixth inning to give fifth-seeded UMB a 3-2 lead, and the Beacons held on for a 4-2 win over sixth-seeded Plymouth State. The Beacons are 0-4 in their first playoff game all-time, with three of the losses coming against a number one seed.

Sixth-Seed History: UMass Boston is 0-2 as the sixth-seed in the Little East Conference Tournament, as they fell 9-0 to Eastern Connecticut State in the opening game last year, before dropping a 2-1 game to fifth-seeded Western Connecticut State. No six seed has ever won a Little East Conference Tournament, but UMass Dartmouth did finish in third place as a sixth-seed in 2006. Plymouth State was the last LEC team to win a postseason game as a sixth-seed back in 2008.

Scouting The Field: Eastern Connecticut State University picked up their fourth consecutive regular season championship under head coach Diana Pepin with an 11-3 LEC mark. After going 26-2 over the past three years in conference play behind All-American pitcher Molly Rathbun, the Warriors have relied on All-American third baseman Arielle Cooper and senior ace Christine Acker.

Plymouth State University wrapped up the number two seed with a 9-5 record, just a game ahead of Western Connecticut State University, Keene State College and Rhode Island College who all finished tied at 8-6.