The Niagara University softball team will open play at the MAAC Softball Championship tomorrow at 1:30 p.m. against the Iona Gaels in Poughkeepsie, New York. Niagara, the fifth seed, returns to the tournament for the first time since 2013 following a regular season that saw the Purple Eagles win eight of their final 10 conference games to end with an 11-9 MAAC record.
- Following a six-year hiatus, Niagara is back in the postseason chasing its first MAAC championship in 21 seasons. The Purple Eagles’ last appearance in the tournament saw them go 1-2, taking down Siena in the opener before eventually being eliminated by eventual runner-up Fairfield.
- The program’s only conference title came in 1998, following a 22-19 regular season and a 10-6 MAAC mark. That year, the Purple Eagles fell in their first game of the tournament before they reeled off three straight wins to knock off Canisius in the championship game. Their postseason run continued with a three-game play-in victory over Robert Morris to earn their first-ever berth in the NCAA Tournament.
- Since the team’s first postseason appearance in 1992, Niagara has gone 11-21 in 32 games over 11 MAAC tournaments.
- The tournament format is a double-elimination bracket with the top two seeds receiving a first-round bye. Depending on how Niagara fares against Iona, they would play their second game on Thursday, May 9 at either 9 a.m. or 2 p.m. For tickets and more tournament information, visit maacsports.com.
- The Purple Eagles clinched their postseason berth following a five-inning, 10-1 game two win against Quinnipiac on May 4. The next day, Niagara beat league-leading Marist in their opener before the Red Foxes leveled the series in the finale.
- By going 12-23 over the team’s last six games, Maggie Vesneske finished the regular season with the team’s highest batting average (.309). Jerri Ann Orfano was .001 off her pace, batting .308 through 45 games.
- Kendall Watkins has recorded 20 RBI and hit a team-best five home runs for the Purple Eagles. Each of the junior’s first four home runs came in pairs, as she hit one four-bagger in each game at Rider on March 30 before repeating the feat at Fairfield on April 14. Her final two home runs (at Fairfield and vs. Manhattan on April 28) were both grand slams that helped the Niagara sweep both series against the Stags and Jaspers.
- Watkins has also drawn 23 walks and been hit by five pitches, both of which rank in the top 10 among MAAC hitters.
- Sierra Bertrand and Karsen Cotton tied for the team lead with five wins apiece. Bertrand posted an ERA of 3.51 through 103.2 innings of work (10th in the MAAC) and collected 102 strikeouts (6.92 K/7).
- Bertrand and reliever Emily Johnston each completed the regular season tied for the program record for career saves. Johnston broke the record to earn her sixth save against SIUE on March 15. Bertrand, who started the season with four saves to her name, got her fifth at Robert Morris on April 7 before tying Johnston with a save against Manhattan on April 28. Jennifer Szilagyi finished with a MAAC-high three saves to help Niagara tie for the conference lead in that category.
- Niagara’s pitching staff has thrown just 13 wild pitches all season, the fewest in the conference. Additionally, Niagara catchers have only allowed two passed balls all season, second only to Marist’s one.
- As a team, Niagara is 15-for-18 (.833) stealing bases this year, the third-best rate among all MAAC schools.
Scouting The Field
- Marist (33-20, 16-4 MAAC) and Monmouth (33-16, 16-4 MAAC) were declared co-champions after finishing with identical conference records. By virtue of tiebreakers, the Red Foxes won the right to host this year’s tournament as the top seed.
- Siena (21-23, 13-7 MAAC) enters as the third seed and will play No. 6 Fairfield (26-22, 10-10 MAAC) to open the tournament at 11 a.m. on Wednesday.
- Iona (18-25, 12-8 MAAC) finished as the fourth seed and will be Niagara’s opponent in game two of the tourney.
- Marist went yard a league-best 29 times this year and led the MAAC with a .414 slugging percentage.
- Niagara split the series with the Red Foxes on May 5 in the regular season finale for both squads. The Purple Eagles won the first game, 1-0, before being run-ruled in the second. Marist leads the all-time postseason series, 4-0.
- Monmouth’s Alyssa Irons holds an ERA of 1.41, the 24th-best mark in Division I. She has pitched 12 shutouts and 27 wins this season, tied for second in the nation in both categories.
- The Hawks swept the regular season series with the Purple Eagles back on March 29. The two teams have never met in the postseason, as Monmouth did not join the MAAC until the 2013-14 season, one year after Niagara’s most recent postseason showing.
- Madysen Cossack of Siena has the nation’s fifth-highest batting average (.460).
- The Saints and Purple Eagles split their doubleheader on Monteagle Ridge on April 6. Niagara took the opener, 4-3, before dropping the back half by a 7-6 margin. The Purple Eagles enter this postseason undefeated against Siena in the MAAC Tournament, taking their 1993 matchup and their 2013 meetings for a 2-0 historical mark.
- Kara Zazzaro has been Iona’s best weapon in the circle this season, posting an ERA of 1.18 while holding opposing batters to a .195 average. She has also sent a MAAC-best 50 batters back to the bench on strikeouts looking.
- The Gaels took both ends of this year’s meeting on April 13 in New Rochelle. Following the sweep, the Purple Eagles won six straight MAAC games and went 7-3 in the next two weeks to find their footing and position themselves for a playoff spot. Iona has won both playoff games between the two sides.
- Fairfield boasts the best team batting average in the circuit with a .294 mark in 48 games.
- The Purple Eagles swept the Stags on April 14 to start off their six-game conference win streak. In six all-time postseason meetings, Niagara is 1-5 against Fairfield.