Behind a complete game from sophomore pitcher and Northeast Conference Tournament Most Valuable Player Laura Messina and the bat of junior Arielle Bruno the Central Connecticut softball team won the first NEC Tournament Championship in program history. The Blue Devils (35-13, 16-4 NEC) earned a 4-3 victory over LIU Brooklyn in Saturday's championship game to win the tournament and claim the NEC's automatic bid to the 2013 NCAA Softball Tournament.
WATCH HIGHLIGHTS OF THE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
"It's incredible," Head Coach Jeff Franquet said after the game. "I believe in these kids, they have done a great job showing up every day and playing hard. I am so happy for them."
The tournament championship and NCAA tournament appearance are both firsts for the CCSU softball program as was the share of the regular season crown that the team claimed this season.
For the third-consecutive game, the Blue Devils scored first and again they did it in the first inning. CCSU loaded the bases in the top of the first and a single by freshman Evie Rentzel plated Bruno, who reached on a single of her own, to put Central up by one.
The Blue Devils struck again in the top of the fourth with Bruno's ninth home run of the season. The blast drove in freshman Brittany Ernst, who reached base after being hit by LIU's pitcher Cassie Vondrak.
In the bottom of the fifth, the Blackbirds (19-38) plated one on a deep fly-out to right field to narrow the CCSU lead to two.
The Blue Devils earned the run back in the top of the sixth. Sophomore and NEC Player of the Year Kat Malcolm sent a single through the left side and advanced to second on a fielding error by the LIU left fielder. A sacrifice bunt from Barlow moved Macolm to third before junior Tessa Brown stepped up to the plate and sent a single through the left side to plate Malcolm.
In the bottom of the sixth, a two-run home run to left by LIU's Nicole Archer brought the Blackbirds within one with just one out in the sixth.
That was all Messina would allow the Blackbirds as she closed out the sixth and then pitched a one-two-three seventh to end the game. Messina went seven innings and allowed three runs, two earned on five hits. She struck out one batter and did not walk a batter.
Messina earned the victory in each of CCSU's three tournament games and for the season her record stands at 27-9.
Bruno finished the game three-for-four at the plate with two runs batted in. Rentzel was two-for-three with an RBI and Malcolm was two-for-four on the afternoon.
Freshman shortstop Eileen Purcell, who made several exceptional plays in the field throughout the game, caught a high pop-up in the center of the infield to record the final out.
The victory extended CCSU's record for wins in a season to 35. Also, at 35-13 the Blue Devils' winning percentage this season is .729, which as it stands would break the previous school record of .666 set by the 1990 team's 28-14 record.
In addition to Messina's MVP honor, she was named to the NEC All-Tournament team. She was joined on the team by two fellow Blue Devils, Springer and Malcolm.
The Blue Devils will find out where they are going for the NCAA Tournament tomorrow night at 10 p.m. The 2013 NCAA Softball Selection Show will air live on ESPNU.