Western softball picked to finish in third place in Little East Conference

official release from Jack Holleran - LEC Director of Communications

NORTH DARTMOUTH, MA (Jan. 31) - Eastern Connecticut State University has been unanimously selected as the favorite to claim the Little East softball regular-season championship, according to the 2012 preseason coaches’ rankings. The Warriors appeared first on each of the eight ballots to earn 64 points and become the first unanimous selection in the 12-year history of the annual preseason survey.

Keene State College earned six second-place votes and 53 total points to debut at No. 2 for the second-straight season. Western Connecticut State University finished five points behind the Owls and seven markers ahead of Rhode Island College.

Eastern Connecticut is making the program’s third appearance in the past four years atop the Little East preseason rankings. The Warriors finished the 2011 season ranked fifth in the final National Fastpitch Coaches’ Association (NFCA) Division III poll. In 2011, Eastern Connecticut sported an overall record of 35-7, marking the second-straight and 12th overall time the program has eclipsed the 30-win barrier. Head Coach Diana Pepin led her charges to their second straight trip to the NCAA Division III Softball National Championship Round after defeating conference rival Rhode Island College in the Providence, R.I. Regional. The Warriors also ousted the Anchorwomen in the Little East tournament to capture their second title and booked the programs fourth successive trip to the national tournament.

Eastern Connecticut will return 16 players, including eight starters, from the 2011 squad. The Warriors will feature a star-studded lineup that includes four NFCA All-New England honorees. Senior pitcher Molly Rathbun (Hebron, Conn.) made her third appearance on the All-America, first-team to become just the fourth player in Eastern Connecticut history to accomplish that feat. Last season, Rathbun ranked among the national leaders in strikeouts (3rd, 280), hits allowed per seven innings (6th, 3.93), shutouts (6th, 10), and winning percentage (7th, .923). Eastern Connecticut will play 10 games between March 19 and 24 in Clermont, Fla. before making the trip North to open its new stadium against Salve Regina on March 27.   

Head Coach Charlie Beach guided his Owls to the program’s third consecutive Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) Division III New England Championship in 2011. The regional championship capped of the program’s fifth straight season with at least 28 wins. Keene State (29-12-1) completed the conference circuit with a 9-5 mark, finishing in a three-way tie for second place with the Western Connecticut and Rhode Island College. The Owls utilized the strength of their prolific lineup to reach double digits in scoring eight times on the campaign, including an 11-1 victory over Brandeis in the ECAC finale. Keene State led the conference circuit in batting average (.326), while ranking among the team leaders in doubles (2nd, 75), runs (2nd, 240), runs batted in (2nd, 204), and home runs (3rd, 24).

Beach will welcome 13 student-athletes, including eight starters, back into the fold from the 2011 squad. The Owls will count on the sister-tandem of Haley and Laura Chandler (Wakefield, Mass.) to set the table for the Keene State lineup. Haley and Laura were both honored on the 2011 NFCA All-New England, second team. The Owls will also travel to Clermont, Fla. to begin their 2012 slate. Keene State will open its schedule at 3 p.m. on March 11 against Fairleigh Dickinson.

The Little East will sponsor a 14-game conference slate with each team playing each other twice. The top six teams in the final regular-season standings qualify for the conference championship tournament at the site of the top-seeded squad. The Little East tournament has a three-day, double-elimination format with the team champion earning the conference’s automatic qualifier into the NCAA Division III tournament.

Completing the annual preseason survey in projected order of finish is the University of Massachusetts Boston (32), Plymouth State University (25), University of Southern Maine (13), and University of Massachusetts Dartmouth (12).

Formed in 1986, the Little East serves as New England's premier athletic conference for public institutions in NCAA Division III.  Featuring 19 championship sports, the Little East sponsors quality competition in every season for our student athletes.  Our eight state colleges and universities dedicate themselves to an ongoing fulfillment of the Division III mission of passion, responsibility, sportsmanship, and citizenship.  


2012 Little East Softball Preseason Coaches' Poll

Rank

Institution

1st

Points

1

Eastern Connecticut State University

8

64

2

Keene State College

 

53

3

Western Connecticut State University

 

48

4

Rhode Island College

 

41

5

University of Massachusetts Boston

 

32

6

Plymouth State University

 

25

7

University of Southern Maine

 

13

8

University of Massachusetts Dartmouth

 

12