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Four from Eastern are All-New England

Softball's Rathbun is region's Player-of-the-Year for the second time


WILLIMANTIC,Conn. - Senior All-America right-handed pitcher Molly Rathbun (Hebron) has been named Division III New England Player-of-the-Year for the second time in three seasons by the New England Intercollegiate Softball Coaches Association (NEISCA)  and was among four Eastern Connecticut State University athletes to be recognized regionally in the sports of softball and baseball.

At right: Molly Rathbun

Rathbun was joined as a first-team All-NEISCA selection by junior third baseman Arielle Cooper (Mystic), with senior rightfielder Priscilla Alicea (Stratford) gaining honorable mention honors.

Twelve players were named to each of the first and second teams and 11 were named honorable mention.

In baseball, junior first baseman Joe Balowski (Berlin) represented Eastern on the New England Intercollegiate Baseball Association (NEIBA) Division III All-New England Team as one of 15 first-team selections. Fifteen players were also named to the second team and 19 to the third team.

Rathbun concluded her career as a four-time NFCA All-America (the last there seasons as a first-team pick) and first-team All-New England Region pick, three-time Little East Conference Pitcher-of-the-Year and the 2012 LEC Player-of-the-Year. Cooper was earlier this year named second-team All-America and first-team all-region, was named to the all-conference team for the second time in three seasons (first time as a first-teamer) and as MVP of the Little East Conference tournament. Alicea was named to the all-region team and first-team all-conference this past spring for the fourth straight time.

Balowski is only second Eastern first baseman selected in last ten years

This past year, Balowski was the only player to start all 42 games for the 29-13 Warriors. He started every game at first base and spent the majority of the season as the No. 3 hitter in the order after serving as the starting third baseman and No. 6 hitter as a sophomore. A first-team all-conference pick at first base this past year, Balowski led Eastern in hitting (.371), slugging (.528), hits (66), total bases (94), RBI (37), doubles (17), and fielding percentage (.994/two errors on 361 chances).


At left in white uniform: Joe Balowski

Balowski, whose average peaked at .438 on April 1 and stood at .400 on April 11, led the Warrioirs with 22 multiple-hit games and 11 multiple-RBI contests He hit safely in  36 of 42 games, never went as many as two consecutive games without a hit, and put together a season-high ten-game hitting streak early in the second half of the season when he batting .426 (20-for-47) with five doubles, two home runs, 13 RBI and 14 runs scored. In eight of those games, he collected at least two hits and four times drove in at least two runs. He had two hits each in that stretch against eventual NCAA Division III Mansfield, Conn. Regional qualifiers Wheaton College, Western New England University and Trinity College, driving in seven runs. Against Wheaton, which went on to a national second-place finish, Balowski had two hits and two RBI and clubbed his third and final home run of the season in the third inning to give the Warriors a lead they would not give up on a 4-2 victory at the Eastern Baseball Stadium.

Balowski went the final 20 games of the season without an error, handling 177 chances without a miscue in that stretch.

Balowski becomes only the second Eastern first baseman in ten years to be named to the NEIBA team, following Tristan Hobbes, who was also a first-team selection,  in 2007.

Three softball picks equal most in 19 seasons

No Eastern team has earned more than this year's three NEISCA selections since 1993, when the Warriors dominated the team with five picks, four of whom landed on the first team.

Rathbun was named New England Pitcher-of-the-Week three times (in a span of four weeks) this season for the 44-3 Warriors, while Cooper was selected Player-of-the-Week in the final week of the weekly report after being named LEC tournament MVP. Eastern was voted the No. 1 team in New England for the fourth straight time that week.

Rathbun completed a record-shattering career this spring by winning a program-record 33 games against three losses with a program-record 339 strikeouts and just 39 walks and a 0.73 ERA in 212 1/3 innings. She won 29 straight decisions heading into NCAA regional play and ended up beating every team that she had a decision against at least once. In addition to strikeouts, innings and wins, Rathbun also set season marks this year for appearances (42) and starts (29). She threw two no-hitters and also a perfect game against regional champion Tufts University

The team's designated player, Rathbun shared the team lead with Cooper with a .439 batting average this year.  She topped the club in RBI (48), walks (21), on-base percentage (.506) was second to Cooper in hits (58), doubles (11), total bases (84), and slugging (.636).

Rathbun, who helped Eastern to the No. 1 winning percentage (.936) in Division III, ranked among the national top four in six individual categories in the final NCAA Division III statistics. She was first in wins, and second in ERA, strikeouts and shutouts (15), third in least hits allowed per seven innings (3.46) and fourth in strikeouts per game (11.2).

Rathbun graduated with every program pitching record but one, including those for appearances (142), innings (770.6), starts (105), wins (103) winning percentage (.880), strikeouts (1,130), saves (14), complete games (94), shutouts (49), no-hitters (tied/9, and relief appearances (37). Rathbun's career ERA of 0.88 ranks second to Kim Durocher (0.71), who led the Warriors to national championships in both of her seasons in 1985 and 1986. Offensively, Rathbun finished first all-time in home runs (28), total bases (303), slugging (.642), and RBI (145), and was third in batting (.390) and hits (184).

The team's primary leadoff hitter, Cooper smashed the program record with a 33-game hitting streak, set season marks with 123 total bases, tied the 26-year-old mark with 69 hits, tied  season records with 11 home runs and  a .783 slugging average, and shared the team lead with a .439 batting average. which equals the fifth highest in a season in program history. She was named MVP of the LEC tournament with nine hits and seven assists in the field without an error.

Alicea, who joined Cooper as the only player to start all 47 games this season, batted .355 with 54 hits, 25 RBI, 44 runs, 76 total bases, and a team-tying 11 stolen bases as the team's primary No. 2 batter in the lineup.  She ended her career as the program's all-time hit leader with 206 and is second with a career .391 batting average.

The past season, Eastern  was ranked as high as No. 2 nationally and No. 1 in New England for four straight weeks. Eastern reached the championship round of the regional tournament for the third straight season, losing for the first time after advancing to the national tournament in 2010 and 2011.


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