Wagner’s Lucas and Sacred Heart’s Schifano Do Double Duty for NEC Baseball Road Wins

MJ Schifano is one of eight everyday players in the NEC who are hitting in excess of .350.  Jon Lucas is coming off a 2010 season in which he earned all-NEC first team honors as a designated hitter.

This past weekend, both men turned in prime performances from the pitching mound and managed to do their parts at the plate, too.

Schifano threw a two-hitter in Game 3 of Sacred Heart’s four-game NEC sweep of Mount St. Mary’s.  The 7-0 victory upped his record to 3-2 while his ERA dipped down to 3.93 for the season.

Meanwhile, Lucas locked up a series victory for Wagner by twirling 8.0 innings and surrendering only one earned run in the series finale.  The veteran right-hander scattered five hits and struck out four in the 7-3 victory that allowed the Seahawks to stay within 2.0 games of defending NEC champion Central Connecticut, which holds the fourth, and final, spot in the 2011 NEC Tournament set for May 19-21 in Norwich, CT.

While Schifano did not allow a runner past first base all day, he, himself, came around to score a pair of runs on offense.  Batting leadoff, Schifano helped his cause on the hill by going 1-for-3 in the batter’s box.  He led off the game with a single, stole second, and came around to score when JJ Edwards singled to right field.  He walked and added another run one inning later.

During Sacred Heart’s road sweep, Schifano went 6-for-17 with seven runs scored, two RBI, and two stolen bases.  Having started all 39 games this season, the left-handed swinging Schifano is batting .351 with 23 RBI.

Lucas, who toed the runner following back-to-back three-hit performances as Wagner’s DH, also picked up a base knock during his 7-3 victory on the mound.  The left-handed hitter posted a .412 batting average for the series while slugging 1.000.  Six of his seven hits went for extra bases – four doubles and a pair of home runs.  The 5-foot-9 New Jersey native has hit 13 doubles in 34 games this season, tying him for the NEC lead.

Names Every NEC Football Fan Should Know for 2011

As fall schedules pop up all over the world-wide web, the anticipation of another football season continues to build.  With nine Northeast Conference teams running through drills and preparing for the annual Spring Game on their respective campuses, Overtime! highlights what it sees as “The Best of The Best” for the 2011 campaign.

Although only 12 names are listed below, there will likely be a number of additional players who emerge as difference makers in 2011.  In fact, at this time last April, Jordan Brown was a second-semester freshman running back with hopes of winning a starting spot.  Twelve months later, Smith is the top returning rusher in the Northeast Conference.

Here’s who Overtime! sees as possible All-America candidates in 2011…

Offense

Game-Changers
Shadrae King, Robert Morris (Sr., TE, 6-3, 225) – 2010 All-NEC First Team; 2010 AP All-America First Team
2010 Stats: 43 receptions, 531 receiving yards, 7 TD receptions
The 2010 All-American has the hands and feet of an elite receiver with the body frame of a bruising tight end. King quickly became the favorite target of starting QB Jeff Sinclair and made 43 catches for 531 yards, numbers that topped all NEC tight ends.  His seven receiving touchdowns ranked second amongst all NEC receivers last season.  King, who made five receptions for 68 yards in RMU’s 2010 NCAA FCS playoff game at North Dakota State, has logged at one catch in each of his last 19 games, a record-long streak for a RMU tight end.

Jordan Brown, Bryant (Jr., RB, 5-9, 185) – 2010 All-NEC First Team
2010 Stats: 268 rushes, 1,410 rush yards, 15 rush TDs, 1,896 all-purpose yards
Brown was the engine for the Northeast Conference’s top-ranked scoring offense (31.3 ppg).  Stepping into a starting role following the graduation of all-NEC tailback Jerell Smith, Brown exploded for a league-high 1,410 yards over an 11-game schedule.  The 5-foot-9 Brown, who averaged 5.3 ypc, scored a NEC-best 18 touchdowns as a sophomore, including a pair of punt return TDs.

Other Names You’ll A lot Hear This Year
Dillon Romain, Albany (So., TB, 5-11, 210) – 2010 NEC Offensive Rookie of the Year
Romain became more and more of a factor as the 2010 NEC schedule wore on.  The 5-foot-11 tailback gained more than 100 all-purpose yards during each of his three November appearances as Albany closed the season as a winner of three straight.

Ron Dunn, Duquesne (Sr., OT, 6-6, 297) – 2010 All-NEC Second Team
Dunn has put his bookend tackle frame to good use, developing into an all-NEC player for the Dukes.  He has made 31 consecutive starts on the O-line.

Logan Miles, Robert Morris (Sr., C, 6-3, 295) – 2010 All-NEC Second Team
Miles is the leading returnee from an offensive line that paved the way for the Colonials’ NEC Championship season.  The 6-foot-3 Miles was the lone center to earn all-NEC recognition last year.

Gregory Ibe, Sacred Heart (So., RB, 5-9, 180)
Ibe showed flashes of brilliance as a red-shirt freshman.  Splitting time with senior Marcel Archer, Ibe rushed 73 times for 5.7 yards per carry.  He carried 11 times for 95 yards, including a 43-yard scoring scamper during Sacred Heart Red & White Spring Game on April 16.

Defense

Game-Changers
Jose Gumbs, Monmouth (Sr., S, 5-11, 205) – 2010 All-NEC First Team
2010 Stats: 76 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 1 INT, 8 PBUs, 2 FR
The hard-hitting Gumbs has projected pro potential at the cornerback position and has led Monmouth in tackles during each of the past two seasons.  The former NEC Defensive Player of the Year (2009) is looking to add All-America honors as well as a NEC title to his already-decorated collegiate career.

Samad Wagstaff, Bryant (Sr., CB, 5-8, 165) – 2010 All-NEC Second Team
2010 Stats: 45 tackles, 4 INTs, 5 PBUs, 3 INT Ret TDs
Wagstaff plays much bigger than his 5-foot-8 frame.  The lockdown defensive back made four interceptions in 2010, and returned three of them for touchdowns.  Wagstaff has earned credit for 15 passes defended, including six INTs, in two years as a starter.

Other Names You’ll Hear A lot This Year
Nolan Nearhoof, Robert Morris (Jr., DL, 6-2, 280) – 2010 All-NEC First Team
Nearhoof became the third player in RMU history to be named an ESPN Academic All-American after posting team highs in sacks (5.5) and quarterback hurries (6) as a sophomore.

Julian Stanford, Wagner (Sr., LB, 6-2, 215) – 2010 All-NEC Second Team
Stanford, an outside linebacker, made 12.5 tackles for a loss and an NEC-high 7.0 sacks in 2010.

Charles Williams, Central Connecticut (Sr., DL, 6-2, 235) – 2010 All-NEC Second Team
Williams, a second team all-NEC selection in 2010, made 12.0 tackles for a loss in 11 games.  His 6.0 sacks ranked third in the NEC.

Jakob DeMedal, Saint Francis (PA) (So., DB, 6-2, 190)
DeMedal saw significant time as a freshman in the Saint Francis (PA) secondary and proved worthy of the opportunity.  He ended his rookie season with 63 tackles and a pair of interceptions, one of which came against the NEC’s all-time passing leader Dale Fink.

Good Pitching Reigning Supreme Halfway Through NEC Baseball Schedule

Kyle Birdsall’s no-hitter reaffirmed the fact that it’s a good year to be a pitcher in the Northeast Conference.

Birdsall’s gem against Monmouth was only the fourth no-hitter, and just the third uncombined no-no, in the past decade of NEC Baseball. One of the others actually came courtesy of Mount St. Mary’s righty Kent Worthington last season, a diamond in what was a rough 2010 for NEC hurlers.   

Just last year, a 4.67 ERA was enough to crack the NEC’s top-10 leader board. Brent Almeida (1.94) and Kent Worthington (2.95), both seniors, were the lone two weekend starters with individual earned-run averages below 3.00.

In 2011, however, Birdsall, who has limited the opposition to a .198 batting average and 26 hits in 38.0 innings, ranks 10th amongst league leaders in ERA.  Quinnipiac’s senior right-hander allows only 3.32 earned runs per 9 innings.

This year, Bryant’s John Michael Ryan (1.74), Quinnipiac’s Derek Lamacchia (1.88), Mount’s Max Brittenham (2.12), CCSU sophomores Nick Neumann (2.19) and Todd Savatsky (2.45), and Monmouth veteran lefty Nick Meyers (2.75) all have sub-.300 ERA halfway through the Northeast Conference schedule.

Brittenham provides a perfect example of just how good the league’s arms have been this season.  Mount’s ace has yet to win the Akadema NEC Pitcher of the Week award, and it’s not been for lack of prime performances.

Brittenham threw his fourth complete game of 2011 last weekend.  He pitched 9.0 strong innings of winning baseball, scattering eight hits and permitting only one earned run in the Mountaineers’ 3-2 series-opening triumph over defending NEC champion Central Connecticut. Had Birdsall not thrown the no-hitter, Brittenham would have still had plenty of competition for the conference’s weekly pitching honor.

Wagner’s Jon Lucas pitched 6.2 scoreless innings in a 2-0 shutout of Bryant, striking out seven and walking none.  That performance came only hours after Bryant’s Sal Lisanti and Mark Andrews combined for a three-hit 1-0 shutout of the Seahawks.  Lisanti’s 3.03 earned-run average ranks eighth in the NEC, while Andrews ranks second amongst league leaders with six saves.

Dave Krasnowiecki twirled a three-hit shutout and fanned seven in CCSU’s 4-0 win over Mount in Game 2.  Long Island sophomore Chris Franzese, a NYC product from Howard Beach, went 8.0 innings, allowing only one earned run and issuing no free passes, for a 3-1 win over FDU in the series opener.

Want more? Then, just look back to the first NEC weekend in April when four starters threw at least 7.0 scoreless innings in winning efforts.  Brittenham was not one of them, however, as he “settled” for a nine-inning complete-game 18-1 victory over Fairleigh Dickinson during which he walked none.

We haven’t even begun to discuss the stark contrast in team pitching stats from 2010 to 2011.

At 4.81, Bryant was the 2010 NEC team leader in ERA, and the lone team in the conference under 5.00.

With only five NEC weekends remaining, five of the league’s nine teams sport sub-5.00 ERAs.

As one would expect with the rise in pitching, home runs are way down this season.  NEC hitters have hit only 68 home runs over 254 games, a rate of one long ball every 3.74 games.

In 2010, NEC arms let up 431 home runs in 490 games, nearly one per contest.  This year, opponents are averaging one round-tripper every 2.5 games against Northeast Conference hurlers.

Barring a month-long league-wide offense eruption, 2011 will go down as a Year of the Pitcher.

The history of NEC women’s tennis: Classic rivalries? Check. Classic matches? Check. Larger than life characters? Check.

The Northeast Conference (NEC) Tennis Championships are near and dear to our heart here at Overtime!  Flying under the radar, the event year-in and year-out produces some of the most gripping postseason drama the Conference has to offer.  And with 19 teams set to convene at Mercer County Park in West Windsor, NJ from April 15th to 17th, the latest chapter will be written in a sport – especially on the women’s side – that is deserving of a long-form retrospective, if not its own DVD box set.

The annual women’s tournament has had it all over the last 13 years since the change from an individual to team-flighted format. 

Classic rivalries?  Check.  Classic matches?  Check.  Larger than life characters?  Check.

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Back To The Beginning
The drama in the women’s division started back in 1998 in the very first event under the new scoring format.  Playing at the historic Concord Resort in Kiamesha Lake, NY, the quest for the NEC Championship came down to defending champion Central Connecticut State going up against NEC newcomer UMBC.  While the state schools made have shared many similarities, the two coaches were a study in contrasts.  A quiet, steadying influence on his troops, UMBC’s Keith Puryear was looking to make a splash in the Retrievers’ first-ever trip to the NEC’s postseason extravaganza.  On the other side, CCSU was led by the late Vic Stone, one of the great coaching characters in league history, irrespective of sport.  With a boisterous presence and no shortage in confidence, Stone had the Blue Devils on the cusp of repeating as champions.  With the match tied at four-apiece, it all came down to the #3 doubles match between the CCSU team of Cristina Argueso and Emily Athas and the UMBC tandem of Karina Mosling and Danielle Martinez.   Over the last two games of the match, both UMBC and CCSU failed to capitalize on three championship points apiece. After the Retrievers successfully fought off a match point to tie the contest at eight games apiece, the momentum swung decidedly to the Baltimore school. The Retrievers took a 6-3 lead in the tiebreaker, but the Blue Devils rallied to win the next five points and take a 7-6, and then an 8-7 advantage. The Retrievers would not surrender, and took advantage of two CCSU unforced errors to win the last three points of the match and earn the title.

The First Rivalry
That championship was only the beginning for the Retrievers, who would win five straight titles before departing for the America East in 2004.  But while UMBC was dominating the circuit, another program began to emerge as a worthy foil for the Retrievers. It wouldn’t be long before Quinnipiac would go from the hunter to the hunted.

Like UMBC, Quinnipiac also joined the NEC in time for the 1998-99 season.  In retrospect, that time period was a pivotal one for the sport of tennis in the conference.  With both programs supplying an influx of talent, the bar was raised for a slew of would-be challengers on both the men’s and women’s sides.  While the remainder of the league played catchup, the Bobcats had their own championship aspirations.  Brooklyn native Mike Quitko had built a national caliber program at the Division II level and saw no reason that success couldn’t translate in the NEC.  Following a third place finish in Quinnipiac’s initial postseason foray in 1998, the Bobcats would go on to make four straight appearances in the NEC title match.  On each occasion, however, UMBC thwarted Quinnipiac’s title dreams.  While a bitter pill to swallow, Quitko had an ace up his sleeve.  His teams were becoming tournament saavy and continuing to improve each season.

The Classic Rivalry
By the time the 2004 NEC Tournament rolled around, the roles were suddenly reversed.  A heavy favorite for the first time, the Bobcats rolled over second-seeded Long Island and put the championship trophy on a bus headed back to Hamden.  Little did anyone know at the time but a fresh new rivalry was born over those three days in West Windsor, NJ, one that would blossom into perhaps the fiercest and most compelling in the history of the conference.

A year later, the two teams found themselves on a collision course once again, but the song remained the same with Quinnipiac winning its second straight NEC crown with a 4-0 conquest of the Blackbirds. 

Fast forward one year later and the rivalry would just about explode.  With the soft-spoken Asi Phillips assuming the reigns of the LIU program, the Blackbirds and Bobcats would go toe-to-toe in a 2006 match that is now part of NEC lore.  In fact, what went down in 2006 and continued on through 2010 would become the subject of an award-winning feature by the NEC’s own Ralph Ventre last year.  Here it is reprinted in its entirety:

Rivalries are everywhere.  The Northeast Conference is no exception, and its ongoing tussle between two women’s tennis programs has been nothing short of exceptional.

Mike Quitko and Quinnipiac had already won the NEC title twice before Asi Phillips arrived on the scene at Long Island.

“All I kept hearing was Quinnipiac, Quinnipiac, Quinnipiac,” said Phillips, who became the Blackbirds’ head coach for the start of the 2005-06 academic year.  “I wanted to see what their team was all about.”

The first-year coach wouldn’t fully find out all he needed to know about Quitko’s Bobcats until 10 minutes prior to midnight on April 23, 2006.

After inclement weather pushed back the start time by six hours, the NEC Championship was finally underway at 7:00 pm that evening.  Nearly five hours later, Quinnipiac and Long Island were deadlocked at 3-3 and the conference title was hinging on the outcome of the lone unresolved match at No. 6 singles.

“It all came down to sixth singles, which came down to a third set, which went to a tiebreaker,” recounted Phillips of the gut-wrenching, nail-biting  battle between Quinnipiac’s Danielle Rodriguez and Long Island’s Claudia Arteaga.

Holding a 7-6 edge under the lights at Mercer County Tennis Center, Arteaga was one point away from sending the Blackbirds to their first-ever league crown. 

Rodriguez, however, wasn’t ready to let go of the title she and her teammates had held for each of the past two years.  The Quinnipiac junior won three consecutive points to clinch the Bobcats’ third straight championship match victory over the Blackbirds.
 

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“My player did not choke,” said Phillips. “Their player just rose to a higher level.”

Not only was it the third straight season that Long Island would pose with the runner-up up trophy, but it was the fifth time in five years that the Bobcats ended the Blackbirds’ season.  Quinnipiac posted 4-0 semifinal victories over LIU in 2002 and 2003.

“It hurt a lot,” remembered Phillips.  “I cried, not in front of the team, but I cried.”

When the rookie head coach pulled into his driveway that night, the tears began to flow. 

Not all was lost though.  The defeat taught Phillips a valuable lesson, one that he would constantly remind his team of during the coming seasons.

“From that match, I realized that Quinnipiac wasn’t going to give it to us.  If we wanted it, we would have to take it from them.”

It seemed as if 2007 would be the year that the Blackbirds were ready to take it. 

Facing none other than Quinnipiac in the title tilt, Long Island held a 3-2 edge and needed to win only one of the two remaining matches.

LIU’s Liliana Cortes had just about locked it up.  She sprinted out to a 6-1 lead in the third-set tiebreaker of her No. 4 singles match against Quinnipiac’s Amanda Petruzzi.

The year before, Rodriguez staved off one championship point in the Bobcats’ dramatic victory.  This time, Petruzzi would need to do that five times over just to give Quinnipiac a chance, and she did.

“After Petruzzi’s comeback, we all ran over to the other court where [Quinnipiac’s] Mary Wilson had been trailing [LIU’s] Ashley Harvey,” remembered Quitko.

As the Quinnipiac coach hustled over to catch a glimpse of the No. 2 singles match, Wilson had just evened the third set at 4-4.

“They took it from us again,” said Phillips, who watched Wilson complete a 6-4 victory that brought the four-hour, 45-minute slugfest to an end.
 

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The 2008 NEC title match was not a marathon, nor did it have a dramatic finish.  Still, the opponents were the same, and, much to Phillips’ chagrin, so was the result.

Posting a 4-2 team victory, Quinnipiac clinched its fifth consecutive league crown when Wilson completed a 6-4, 6-3 win over LIU’s Selma Babic.

“You have to attribute at least part of it to luck,” said Quitko of the 15 consecutive victories his team strung together in NEC Tournament play from 2004 through 2008.  “Training plays a factor as does pure ability, but it’s never easy to repeat when that target on your back gets bigger and bigger.”

Despite more postseason disappointment, Long Island never took its eyes off that target. 

“In order to be the best, you have to beat the best,” Phillips kept reminding his team.

The NEC’s two best collided again in 2009.

Accomplishing something it had failed to do in any of the prior five meetings, Long Island opened the match by taking the doubles point.

Then, returning the favor for her 2008 defeat, Babic handed Wilson a straight-set loss at No. 1 singles.

Quinnipiac freshman Natalie Duckor put the Bobcats on the scoreboard with a win at the No. 3 spot, but moments later LIU received victories from seniors Ashley Harvey and Amy Hosotsuji and the Blackbirds were NEC champions.
 

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The tears began streaming down Phillips’ face, but this time he wasn’t afraid to show it.

“Tears of joy,” said the coach, who had the weight of an anvil lifted off his chest.

“We just came out and took it from them.”

Nearly as remarkable as Long Island’s resiliency is the rivalry itself. In no other NEC sport, have the same two teams made their way to the conference title match on six consecutive occasions.

The frequency of their postseason meetings has fostered a mutual respect between the two juggernauts.

“We all knew every time you took the court against LIU, you had to do your best,” said Quitko.

Phillips sees the situation no differently.

“I respect and admire Quinnipiac. They bring out our best tennis.”

That piece was released just prior to the 2010 NEC Women’s Tennis Championships. To no one’s surprise, Long Island and Quinnipiac met for the ninth straight year in the postseason.  What was shocking was that it wasn’t with the title at stake.  Following a six-year stretch that saw the two programs meet each year for NEC supremacy, fans would have to settle for a semifinal battle this time around.  LIU won the match, 4-1, en-route to its second straight conference championship.

The Future
In just a few days, the setting will be a familiar one with Mercer County Park serving as the tourney host for the 11th consecutive year.  Likewise, the Championship will feature names synonymous with NEC tennis.  There’s FDU head coach Ira Miller, a seven-time NEC Coach of the Year who career with the Knights dates back to the mid-80s and the inception of tennis as an NEC-sponsored sport back in 1987.  How about Monmouth women’s coach Patrice Murray, who has guided her alma mater for the past 24 years.  Then there is Quitko, perhaps the face of the sport in the Conference over the last decade with a resume that includes nine NEC championships and nine NEC Coach of the Year awards since 2004.

Is a tenth title in the offing for the Bobcats?  Quitko’s defending champion men’s team is seeded third, while the women’s program has regained the top seed after a one-year absence.  There will be no shortage of contenders at this year’s event.  On the men’s side, a deep field includes #1 seed Sacred Heart and #2 seed Fairleigh Dickinson, who have combined to win three of the last four NEC crowns.  The Knights are also the women’s #2 seed, but who is it lurking as the #3 seed?  You guessed it.  Asi Phillps and his Long Island Blackbirds.

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Could the two programs meet for a tenth consecutive year in the postseason?

Well, history has been known to repeat itself…in NEC women’s tennis.

Stay tuned.

For more information on the 2011 NEC Tennis Championships, visit the Tournament Headquarters page and follow all the action on Twitter.

(Posted on April 13, 2011)