SOMERSET, NJ – The Sacred Heart softball team was projected to finish fourth at the conclusion of the 2018 season when the Northeast Conference released its Preseason Poll Thursday afternoon. The league's head coaches ranked the teams one through eight and were prohibited from voting their own programs.
The fourth-place prediction is the highest Pioneers' rank since SHU entered the 2012 season slated to finish third as the defending champions.
Last year's Pioneers playoff run was cut short, as SHU fell to Wagner for the second time, 6-4, on Saturday, May 13 after topping Robert Morris, 4-2, a day before and Wagner, 6-3, that Thursday. Andrea Sidor went 3-3 at the dish and Kristen McCann pitched a gem, only allowing three hits, but a couple of Pioneers' errors turned the tide handing the win over to the Seahawks. The Pioneers ended the NEC tournament 1-2, with a season record of 23-28.
After making its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance and earning the first NCAA Tournament win in its program's history, the league's defending champs, Saint Francis U, captured the unanimous top finish receiving a first-place vote from every other member institution.
Robert Morris was selected as the runner-up following an even 7-7 conference clip a season ago. The Colonials, a team unable to pull out a win against SHU, fell to the Red Flash and Pioneers in the league's postseason on back-to-back occasions for their season close.
LIU Brooklyn and Wagner took the third and fifth spot, respectively to round out the upper half of the conference's standings. The Blackbirds failed to get into the postseason last spring after going 6-10 while the Seahawks put an end to the Pioneers run as the third seed.
Central Connecticut (sixth), Bryant (seventh), Mount St. Mary's (eighth) and Fairleigh Dickinson (ninth) make up the bottom half of the poll.
The Blue Devils look to up an 8-8 NEC record while the Bulldogs aim to improve 2017's 7-9 finish. The Mountaineers and Knights will try and better their respective 5-11 and 1-15 league marks from a year ago.
The Chattanooga Challenge will test the 2018 SHU softball squad for the first time this season, Friday, February 16.
Preseason Poll Results (unanimous)
1. Saint Francis U (8)
2. Robert Morris
3. LIU Brooklyn
4. Sacred Heart
6. Central Connecticut
8. Mount St. Mary's
9. Fairleigh Dickinson