Keuka Softball Claims Sixth Straight NEAC Title
May 6, 2012
WILSON BOX SUNYIT BOX
The Keuka College softball team was among the most prolific squads in the nation at turning double plays, and the Green and Gold’s ability to turn two lifted Keuka back into the NCAA Division III Regional tournament.
Keuka (22-11) defeated Wilson (Pa.) College 4-3 and SUNYIT 5-3 to claim the school’s sixth straight North Eastern Athletic Conference (NEAC) postseason championship, and the Storm’s sixth straight berth into the NCAA Regional tournament.
The Storm turned three double plays against Wilson (26-4), which hadn’t hit into a twin killing the entire year before running into Keuka. Then, in the NEAC championship game against rival SUNYIT, Keuka turned a pair of momentum-killing double plays to pick up its fourth win in five tries versus SUNYIT.
Fittingly, the NEAC title game ended on a double play. Sophomore Danielle Gravel (Sidney, NY/Sidney), who went 3-0 in Keuka’s three NEAC postseason contests, snared a comebacker off the bat of Juleah Vedder and threw to freshman first baseman Kelly Proper (Silver Springs, NY/Letchworth) to double up Lauren Marleau and end the game. It was Keuka’s 21st double play in 32 games.
Sophomore Jill Hart (Cowlesville, NY/Iroquois) batted .500 (5-for-10) with four RBI and three runs scored in Keuka’s three NEAC postseason games to claim Tournament MVP honors.
“It’s such a great feeling, we’re all excited and to win NEAC’s like this is huge,” Hart said while clutching her MVP plaque.
“Our defense was great and we just have confidence in ourselves. We all felt pretty confident coming in, our confidence was high and to win this is special. We’re all thrilled, excited and ready to go to the NCAA’s.”
Keuka, which last year defeated rival Ithaca College twice in the regionals before falling to Messiah in the regional final, earned the No. 8 seed in the Amherst (Mass.) College regional and will take on No. 1 SUNY Cortland (38-8) in a first-round game at 10 a.m. Thursday morning in Amherst.
The winner of Keuka and Cortland advances into the winners bracket, while the loser needs to win out to avoid being sent home.
Whoever wins between Keuka and Cortland advances to face the winner of No. 4 Keene State (NH), with a 25-10-1 record, and No. 5 St. Joseph’s College (Maine), with a 33-7 record, at 2 p.m. Friday afternoon. The loser of Keuka/Cortland squares off with the Keen State/St. Joseph’s loser in an elimination game at 10 a.m. Friday morning.
The winner of the double-elimination regional will advance to the eight-team NCAA Div. III World Series in Salem, Va., May 18-22.
Hart had a pair of base hits while junior Terin Brown (Wayland, NY/Wayland-Cohocton) and sophomores Jessica Bandrowski (Center Moriches, NY/Center Moriches), Brooke Lovell (Arkport, NY/Arkport) and Katie Evangelista (Geneva, NY/Geneva) each had hits for the Storm, which won despite being out-hit 10-6.
Against SUNYIT, the Wildcats (27-11) pounced for three first-inning runs on five hits, including a two-run single from Vedder, but the Storm answered with three runs on just two hits in the bottom of the inning.
Bandrowski led off with a single and advanced to second on senior Elly Disbrow’s (Penn Yan, NY/Penn Yan) sacrifice bunt. A pair of errors allowed Bandrowski and Lovell to cross the plate before Brown tied the game on an RBI single up the middle.
“The first inning, I don’t know if we weren’t ready to play, but we definitely had a couple of errors and it would have been really easy to put our heads down and not come back,” said Disbrow, the NEAC North’s Co-Player of the Year.
“But I thought it really said a lot about our character that we came back, rallied and scored three runs right after, and I think that really deflated [SUNYIT] a little bit. It’s a reflection of our team that we don’t give up and we just don’t quit, even when we’re down.”
SUNYIT was held scoreless in the second and third innings before Keuka took the lead for good in the bottom of the third. Lovell led off by dropping a single into left field and Hart followed up with a single through the right side of the infield. When the SUNYIT second baseman bobbled the ball, Lovell scored all the way from first base and Hart scampered to third base on the play. Proper extended the Storm lead to 5-3 on her RBI ground out to the pitcher, with Lovell scooting home with Keuka’s fifth run on the throw to first base.
The Wildcats got a single from Vedder to lead off the fifth, but Bandrowski fielded a grounder off the bat of Bianca Brown and started the 6-4-3 double play to quash IT’s momentum. Gravel worked around a single in the sixth and an error in the seventh to hold SUNYIT at bay and lead Keuka back into the NCAA regional tournament.
“Those double plays are great for us. I love my defense, everyone behind me, and even though they hit the ball I know that my defense is going to have my back,” Gravel said after tossing her 20th complete game and running her record to 17-3.
“With our great defense, I don’t need to strike that many people out because we don’t make a lot of errors and we’re good at turning double plays. All I have to do is throw strikes and they’ll have my back, and it gives me confidence, knowing our team can win without me pitching my best.”
Facing Wilson in the first game, the Phoenix, the South’s regular-season champions, struck for two first-inning runs on a two-run triple by Tara Fields, the South Player of the Year. But with one out, Gravel got a flyout and Fields was out after leaving third base early while trying to tag up on the play to end the inning.
The Storm staged a two-out rally to get on the board in the bottom of the inning. Lovell struck out but reached when the ball got by the catcher, then advanced to third on a throwing error. Hart delivered an RBI single to plate Lovell and pull the Storm within 2-1.
The Phoenix held a one-run lead until the fourth. Proper coaxed a leadoff walk and Brown reached on a well-placed bunt single. Junior Brittany Smyder (Avon, NY/Avon) reached on an error to give the Storm the bases loaded with no outs before the next two batters recorded outs.
Bandrowski laced a two-run single into right field to plate Proper and Brown and put the Green and Gold up 3-2. Smyder scored the Storm’s third run of the frame on an error as Keuka took a 4-2 lead.
Keuka’s defense was on its game in the first game, as the Storm turned double plays in the second, fourth and fifth innings to neutralize a potent Phoenix offense that entered tournament play scoring the most runs in the country at 10.78 runs per game.
Wilson pulled within 4-3 on an RBI single from Fields, and when the Storm was retired in order in the bottom of the sixth, the Phoenix had one last chance to tie the game. Wilson threatened in the seventh off Gravel, getting a leadoff double and a single, but on back-to-back fielder’s choice plays the Storm got the lead runner out at third for the first two outs of the inning. A single from Bri Smith loaded the bases, but Gravel got Megan Schneck to ground out to Proper to end the game.
The Storm won despite being out-hit 10-6. Gravel allowed three runs on 10 hits with three strikeouts.
Keuka hasn’t lost to a NEAC foe since a 12-1 loss to SUNYIT on April 7, a 15-game winning streak.
In Sunday’s other action, SUNYIT handed Wilson College a 7-4 setback to knock the Phoenix out of the NEAC tournament and set up the championship series showdown with Keuka
The last time someone other than Keuka captured the NEAC postseason championship was in 2006, when Baptist Bible College knocked off D’Youville College.
Now the Storm awaits its NCAA fate, riding a wave of momentum into the NCAA regional tournament.
“You cannot say enough about Jill’s hitting during the tournament; it was phenomenal,” Disbrow said. “Everyone else played well too. We put up runs against some good teams and you can’t take anything away from SUNYIT, they played great, and Wilson played great and gave us a good run, but we just had big hits when we needed them. That’s how we won NEAC’s.”