Baseball rated No. 2 in poll; softball is No. 10 in national poll
WILLIMANTIC, Conn. - The loss of four-time All-America pitcher/designated player Molly Rathbun has not stood as an impediment to the Little East Conference coaches selecting the Eastern Connecticut State University softball program as the pre-season favorite to capture a fourth consecutive conference regular-season title.
At right: Arielle Cooper
In the 2013 pre-season softball coaches' poll, the Warriors received six of eight first-place votes and 62 total points, ten more than Keene State College. The pre-season No. 1 ranking is the third straight for Eastern, which completed the first undefeated regular season (14-0) in the LEC's 17-year softball history last year for its third straight regular-season crown. The Warriors went on to their third consecutive LEC post-season title, as well.
In addition to their pre-season top ranking, the Warriors were chosen as the No. 10 team in the country in the National Fastpitch Coaches' Association (NFCA) Division III pre-season Top 25. Eastern opened as the No.4-ranked team in the 2012 NFCA pre-season poll after winning its second straight regional championship in 2011 and never dropped below fifth in the regular season. Eastern was rated No. 8 nationally in last year's final national poll (conducted at the conclusion of the NCAA tournament) after winning a program-record 44 of 47 games and reaching the regional championship game for the third straight season.
The Eastern baseball team, rated No. 24 nationally in the American Baseball Coaches' Assocation (ABCA)/Collegiate Baseball Division III national pre-season poll (released in December), was picked to finish in a tie for second in the Little East Conference pre-season coaches' poll. Eastern, which has won or share more LEC regular-season (11) and tournament baseball titles (7) than any program, shared second place in the poll with Keene State College, both receiving 53 points. Defending conference regular-season and tournament titlist University of Southern Maine was the top-ranked team, with 58 points. USM was credited with four first-place votes, Eastern two and Keene State one.
A winner of 29 of 42 games last year, the baseball team was fourth in last year's LEC regular season with an 8-6 record. After winning its LEC tournament opener, the Warriors dropped consecutive one-run decisions to Keene State in 12 innings and to Plymouth State University and was eliminated.
At left: Joe Balowski
Following the loss of all-time winningest pitcher Rathbun and all-region outfielder and career hit leader Priscilla Alicia, the Eastern softball team returns 14 players from a year ago, 12 of whom earned varsity letters and ten of who were regulars on the lineup.
Second-team All-America and two-time All-Region third baseman and leadoff hitter Arielle Cooper (Mystic) returns for her senior season in 2013. As a junior, Cooper batted a team-leading .439, amassed a program record 33-game hitting streak, and tied the season record with 69 hits. Senior righty Kassondra Silva (Hamden) is the most experienced returning pitcher. Silva won all eight of her pitching decisions a year ago in 68 2/3 innings with a 2.45 ERA. Silva was also the team's DP, batting .314 with 17 RBI and 31 total bases.
Additional top returning players for the softball team are senior first baseman Kelly Paterson (Southington) and a strong junior class of catcher Megan Bondy (Mystic), centerfielder Mattie Brett (Waterford), second baseman Jen Tamindzija (Malden, MA), shortstop Megan Godwin (Manchester), and outfielder Stephanie Johnson (Plantsville). Last year, Johnson and 2013 sophomore Shannon Martin (Wethersfield), split time as starting leftfielders. Sophomore Sam Rossetti (Shelton) was a part-time DP and first baseman as a freshman who may assume a more central role as a pitcher this year.
Bondy was an All-Region and All-Conference backstop last year and Paterson an All-Conference infielder. Godwin is back for third starting season at short after earning All-Region honors and LEC Rookie-of-the-Year honors as a freshman in 2011. Silva was an All-Conference DP in her first season at Eastern in 2010 after transferring from the Division I level, but was a medical redshirt in 2011.
Eastern is scheduled to open its 12th season under head coach Diana Pepin (286-158-1) -- the program's winningest head coach and a four-time LEC Coach-of-the-Year selection in the last seven years - with ten games in six days at the National Training Center in Clermont, FL.
For the baseball team, among the most accomplished returning pitchers are senior lefty Tom Darby (Middletown, RI), junior righty Greg Porter (Mystic), and senior righties Matt Purnell (Stafford Springs) and senior righty Evan Chamberlain (Amston). Darby was 6-0 in 2012 with a 3.12 ERA, Porter 4-0 with a staff-best 1.52 ERA, Purnell 1-3 with a 3.97 ERA and Chamberlain 3-2 with a 3.04 ERA and three saves.
Starting returning position players are first-team All-New England senior first baseman Joe Balowski (Berlin), sophomore outfielder Adam Roderick (West Hartford), last year's LEC Rookie-of-the-Year, All-LEC junior shortstop Danny O'Connell (Braintree, MA), senior centerfielder Mike Riemer (Ellington), and junior catcher/DH T.J. Larivee (Salem, MA). Balowski batted .371 last year with 94 total bases, Roderick .364 with 80 total bases, O'Connell .363 with 77 total bases and 101 assists, Riemer .324 with a .988 fielding percentage and Larivee .331.
Eastern baseball is scheduled to open its 45th season under head coach Bill Holowaty (1,382-515-6) March 2 at Hoboken, NJ against New Jersey City University at 11 a.m. and Stevens Tech at 2 p.m.