BOSTON, Mass. – For the first time in the history of the UMass Boston softball program, the Beacons will be making their second straight trip to the Little East Conference, which is scheduled to begin on Thursday at noon at the Eastern Connecticut State University Softball Field in Mansfield, Connecticut.
The Beacons, who earned the sixth seed in this year's tournament, will open up play against the top-seeded Warriors of Eastern Connecticut. UMass Boston closed out its 2012 regular season schedule with a 17-19 overall record, 3-11 in the LEC.
Thursday's conference tournament meeting between UMass and ECSU will mark the first-ever between the two squads. Last season, the Beacons fell to Western Connecticut in the opening round, but bounced back in their second game to record the program's first postseason win with a 4-2 victory over Plymouth State. UMass were eliminated the next day by Rhode Island College (4-1) in a very close game.
Going into this year's tournament, head coach Natalia Ardagna will bring with her a solid mix of both veteran and new talent that has shown it can compete with any team they face.
Junior Sue Killilea (Abington, Mass.) enters her second postseason with the Beacons with a team-leading .413 average in 32 games played. The catcher turned shortstop this season totaled 45 hits, 20 RBI and 29 runs scored in 109 at-bats. She reached base a combined 72 times and ranks amongst the league leaders with her .661 slugging percentage. Going into the tournament she leads the LEC in triples with 10 and also has seven doubles to her name as well. On the base-paths the Abington native leads the Beacons and is ranked in the top-10 in stolen bases with 10. Earlier in the year, Killilea broke-up a potential perfect game for the Warriors with a huge triple in the bottom of the seventh inning in game one of the doubleheader.
UMass is also looking for big things from their two freshmen power hitters in Samantha Hemstock (Northford, Conn.) and Amanda Perry (Worcester, Mass.). Hemstock currently sits second on the team with .355 average and has 39 hits, 22 RBI, 19 runs scored, and 44 total bases. Right behind her is Perry with her .333 average and .713 slugging percentage. As a freshman, Perry has already established three new program records in home runs in a season and in a career with 11 and runs batted in in a season with 36. She has reached base a team-best 77 times and currently carries a .417 on-base percentage, which is second behind Killilea's .480 obp.
In the circle the Beacons have looked to senior pitcher Kara Willis (Burrillville, R.I.) and freshman Michelle Zullo (Everett, Mass.) all season long. The two have recorded a combined 227.1 innings of work and have struck out 124 batters respectively. Zullo currently leads the bullpen with three shutouts and has a 10-9 record overall. Willis has started in 19 games this season and has gone the distance 14 times.
As a team, the Beacons currently sit fifth in the LEC with a .303 average, a .425 slugging percentage, and .360 on-base percentage. They are also ranked fifth in hits with 303, runs batted in with 154, and total bases with 425. UMass is currently sitting second in triples with 20 and is fourth in home runs with 15.
When looking at Eastern Connecticut State the only thing that fans and teams will see this postseason is senior All-American Molly Rathbun. Perhaps one of the most dominant players to ever play in Willimantic, Rathbun has been a staple in the Beacons line-up for the last three seasons and has carried the Warriors to back-to-back NCAA Division III Regional titles and appearances in the Division III Softball World Series.
Going into Thursday's meeting with the Beacons, Rathbun ranks second in the Little East with her .475 average, and currently has 47 hits, 35 RBI, 10 doubles, and three home runs. In the circle there is no one close to her 0.32 ERA. In 153.0 innings of work, the senior has totaled 247 strikeouts, while only allowing 21 walks, 55 hits, 14 runs (7 earned), and currently boasts a 25-1 record overall, with four saves.
For more information about the Little East Conference tournament visit http://www.littleeast.com.