The Central Connecticut softball team used 10 hits, including nine from their top four batters, to top the LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds, 6-2, on Friday morning in the winner's bracket final of the 2015 NEC Tournament. With the victory, the Blue Devils improve to 30-12 overall on the season and advance to the championship game Saturday at 12 p.m. vs. LIU. The Blackbirds knocked out tournament host Robert Morris on Friday afternoon.
NEC FRONT ROW HIGHLIGHTS
Senior pitcher Laura Messina fired a complete game four-hitter to earn the victory in the circle for the Blue Devils, marking the 100th victory of her career. She struck out four in the win, including her 267th of the season to also set the new CCSU single season strike out record in the game. The complete game was the 32nd of the season for Messina as she now improves to 26-8 on the season and 100-43 in her career. She becomes the first player in NEC history to earn 100 career wins.
The Blue Devils struck first and jumped out to an early 1-0 lead with a run in the bottom of the first inning. Freshman Brittany Camara led off with a walk followed by back-to-back infield singles by senior's Ashley Black and Kat Malcolm to put the first three runners on and load the bases. Two batters later, Wednesday's hero, junior Evie Rentzel, continued to produce for Central and drove in the first run of the game with a RBI ground out to the shortstop to give the Blue Devils the early 1-0 advantage.
Central extended its lead to 3-0 with a pair of runs in the bottom of the third inning. Similar to the first inning, the first three batters in the CCSU lineup all reached base safely to load the bases and set the table once again. Camara led off the inning with a single to left field followed by a bunt single from Black and a four-pitch walk to Malcolm. Junior Eileen Purcell would then bounce a single through the left side to plate Camara for the first run of the inning and freshman Tori Constantin ripped a single up the middle to drive in Malcolm to push the CCSU lead to 3-0
The Blue Devils would put the game away and build their lead to 6-0 for Messina with a three-run fourth inning. With runners on the corners and one out, Black turned on an inside pitch and laced a double down the right field line to bring home junior Brittany Ernst for the first run of the inning. Malcolm would then follow with a two-RBI double to right centerfield, knocking in Camara and Black, to complete the scoring for Central.
Long Island did threaten in the top of the sixth inning and with Blackbirds on first and second, following a walk and a hit by pitch, Kylie Mulholland launched a deep fly ball to centerfield, however CCSU centerfielder, Malcolm, leaped up and snagged the ball, robbing Mulholland of a three-run home run that would have cut the LIU deficit in half.
Messina carried a one-hitter into the top of the seventh inning, but the Blackbirds would try to make things interesting, connecting for three-straight hits in their last at-bat, including a two-run home run from Madison Green to trim the Blue Devil lead to 6-2. However, Messina, who relied on solid defense behind her all game, got Lauren Morizi to line out to Rentzel in shallow left field who then fired over to first base for a game-ending double play.
Messina needed 107 pitches (66 strikes) to retire 21 of the 29 batters she faced. She surrendered two runs on four hits and three walks while striking out four in a complete game effort.
Camara, Black and Malcolm all recorded multi-hit games to pace the CCSU offense in the win. Camara finished 2-for-3 with two runs scored, Black went 3-for-4 with a pair of runs scored and a RBI, and Malcolm finished a perfect 3-for-3 with two RBI's and a runs scored.