The Storyline... The Sacred Heart softball team travels to western Pennsylvania for the 2011 Northeast Conference tournament this weekend with a trip to the NCAA tournament on the line. This season the Pioneers posted their best record in league play since joining the NEC in 2000, going 14-6 in the circuit. Sacred Heart is the only team in this year's field to have won a NEC crown in the last five years, claiming the title back in 2009. It takes at least three wins to capture the NEC championship, which would propel SHU to its first 30 win season at the division I level. Sacred Heart enters the tournament on a five game winning streak and has won seven of its last eight overall.
#1 In the Statistics... The Pioneers enter the 2011 tournament with, statistically, the top offense and pitching staff in the Northeast Conference. As a team SHU is hitting at .297 for the year while the pitcher's have compiled a 2.36 overall earned run average. A Sacred Heart player leads the conference in runs scored (Froelich), RBI (Tsipouras), and strikeouts per seven innings (Sidor). The lowest average among the Pioneers one through six hitters is .288. SHU has seen its pitchers throw five total complete game shutouts in NEC action in 2011.
Senior Send Off... The Pioneer seniors are undoubtedly the most talented and successful division I class in program history. The six student-athlete class of Jen Russell, Taylor Froelich, Courtney Lee, Shannon McCoy, Jasmin Vicente, and Kylie Abrams has won 99 games and counting for Sacred Heart. As sophomore's they were a part of the 2009 NEC championship squad and went on to earn the school's first NCAA tournament victory with a 3-1 triumph over Cornell. The class of 2011 will look to go out on top by earning its second NEC title in three years.
Fearing Froelich... In her four seasons as the SHU leadoff hitter, Taylor Froelich has compiled impressive numbers and become one of the most feared hitters in the Northeast Conference. She boasts a .323 career batting average and is hitting a career high .352 in 2011. She is the Pioneers all-time division I leader with 203 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 two seasons and was named to the NEC all-tournament team in 2009. Froelich is the all-time leader at SHU in total bases with 320 and needs just five more doubles to break the current all-time mark (49).
One-Two Punch... SHU has arguably the best two-man rotation in the pitching circle in the Northeast Conference. Russell, the Pioneer ace, is 10-3 against league opponents in 2011, and sports 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 reocrd 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).
Splitting the Field... The Pioneers went 1-1 in a double header against every team in the 2011 tournament field. Sacred Heart split with the Blue Devils and Colonials on the road and traded shutouts with Quinnipiac at Pioneer Park. In those games, SHU was outscored by five total runs in its three losses. However, in the Pioneers' three victories over NEC tournament participants they scored 22 runs and outscored opponents by an average of five runs per game.
Tournament Time... Sacred Heart is a perfect 3-0 all-time in the Northeast Conference tournament, running the table in its only appearance in 2009. Jen Russell tossed three complete games over the two day event, including a four-hit shutout in the championship against top-seeded Long Island. The Pioneers brought home the 2009 championship as the number three seed in the tournament, also knocking off Robert Morris and Monmouth along the way.