NECC Quarterfinal Preview - No. 4 Newbury vs. No. 5 Elms

NECC Quarterfinal Preview - No. 4 Newbury vs. No. 5 Elms

BROOKLINE, Mass. - The Nighthawks softball program is making their sixth-straight New England Collegiate Conference playoff appearance, continuing their best streak in program history. In what could be one of the most competitive tournaments in recent history, five of the six playoff teams all had 10-wins in the NECC. The lone exception is a capable Mitchell College team, who finished their season 9-7 in conference to clinch the No. 6 seed.

Today's quarterfinal pits a pair of 10-6 NECC teams together for the right to qualify for Championship Weekend. The winner heads for Lesley University beginning on Thursday for the double-elimination portion of the tournament.

The Nighthawks offense has been led by junior Noelle Sass (Randolph, Mass.) and sophomore Arianna Gooden (Bakersfield, Calif.). Both are hitting .442 for the season but in two very different approaches. Sass, the Nighthawks most dominant power hitter in program history, has 21 extra base hits this season, including seven home runs. Gooden leads the team with 53 hits and only six extra base hits. Those 47 singles are far and away the most in the conference.

Sophomore Mallory Stefan (Thornton, Colo.) and senior Samantha Libby (New Gloucester, Maine) have added depth to the Nighthawks lineup. With Stefan batting .416 and Libby batting .382, the Nighthawks offense has stuck near the top of the conference in team batting average all season. Freshman Hannah Besaw (Shrewsbury, Mass.) has added another long ball threat for the Nighthawks, finishing the season with three home runs.

In all, Sass, Gooden, and Stefan all have top-10 batting averages in the conference. Libby ranks 17th in the NECC.

For the Blazers, they answer with a pair of juniors, Lisa Lusardi (Enfield, Conn.) and Madison Messier (Warren, Mass.) and senior Elisabeth Olszewski (Canterbury, Conn.). Lusardi is batting .446, fifth-best in the conference, in 31 games. Messier is just behind with a .433 average, eighth in the NECC, with 42 hits, including 35 singles. Olszewski, the Blazers power threat, is batting .426 this season while matching Sass in home runs with seven of her own and 21 total extra base hits.

Stefan likely gets the start for the Nighthawks today, entering the game at 9-13. The nine wins are fourth-most in the conference and Stefan holds an ERA of 4.31. The Blazers will likely have a choice between junior Raeanna Tumel (Strafford, Conn.) and Lusardi. Tumel holds an 8-6 record with a 3.30 ERA, while Lusardi comes in at 7-10 with a 3.22 ERA.

Both Blazers ERAs rank in the top-four in the conference, not surprising given the Blazers allowed 57 runs to NECC opponents this season, the third-fewest in the conference. However, the Nighthawks offense scored the most of any team in 16 conference games, putting up 162 runs. 

As for the doubleheader between these teams, the Nighthawks and Blazers split the pair of games in the first NECC matches of the season for both sides. In the first game, the Nighthawks used a six-run sixth inning to take the 7-1 victory, while the Blazers used a three-run sixth inning in the second game to add insurance in a 7-4 win. Stefan pitched both games, finishing the day 1-1. It was Tumel who got the win against the Nighthawks in four innings of work.

It's the No. 4 Nighthawks welcoming the No. 5 Blazers at 4:00 p.m. on Tuesday, May 1 from Hellenic College Softball Diamond.