NEC Year in the Rear-View (Installment 1 of 4) – Notable Newcomers

With Memorial Day and the 2010-11 NEC academic year in the rear-view mirror, Overtime! will spend the first few weeks of summer highlighting some of the most-memorable moments that occurred over the past nine months.  The NEC Year in the Rear-View series will feature four installments, which will be released on a weekly basis beginning on Tuesday, May 31.  Each installment will feature five student-athletes/events.

The inaugural installment, entitled “Notable Newcomers,” examines five impactful first-year athletes who immediately came to mind when we took a look in the rear-view. (Note: This is not a top-5 list, nor a scientific study)

Jason Brickman (Men’s Basketball), Long Island
Brickman’s point guard play made opposing coaches jealous.  The freshman combined tremendous basketball instincts, great court vision, and precise passing to wow the crowd nearly every night out.

In fact, at their annual postseason meeting, NEC coaches were uttering the phrase “Brickman Stats.” 

For example, take a look at Brickman’s statistical performance during the Blackbirds’ 85-82 overtime win over Robert Morris in the NEC Championship Game – 15 points, 8 assists, and 3 turnovers.  The 15 points were somewhat uncharacteristic for Brickman, who averaged 6.2 points per contest, but the assist and turnover totals simply signify another day at the office for the freshman floor general. 

The 5-foot-10 Texan came off the bench in all 33 of LIU’s games this season, but a reserve role didn’t stop him from leading the league in assists (5.45 apg) and assist-to-turnover ratio (2.81).

Not even Roy Williams’ Carolina Tar Heels could prevent Brickman from putting up “Brickman Stats” in the NCAA Second Round.  The Met Writers’ Division I Rookie of the Year dished out 8 assists and committed 3 turnovers in 24 minutes against UNC.

Check Out Brickman’s Postgame Comments at 2011 NEC Championship Game…

Artemis Spanou, (Women’s Basketball), Robert Morris
The NEC’s rebounding leader was only a freshman.  In her first season competing for Robert Morris, 6-foot forward Artemis Spanou brought back images of two-time NEC Tournament MVP Chinata Nesbit.  Dangerous no matter where she has the ball, Spanou ranked amongst the league’s top-10 leaders in scoring, rebounding, and assists. She pulled down 9.6 boards per contest on her way to the NEC statistical title.  Her 13.1 points per game were sixth and her 91 assists in 30 games stood sixth at year’s end.

Spanou tallied 12 double-doubles on her way to the NEC Rookie of the Year award.  That total matched that of Sacred Heart’s Callan Taylor for the league lead. The Greek National Team member started all 30 games for Sal Buscaglia’s Colonials, only one of two players on the roster to do so, logging 38 three-point makes, 34 blocks, and 33 steals.

Assuming she stays healthy for four years, she’s a 1,000-point, 1,000-rebound, 500-assist candidate.

Check Out Spanou’s double-double against Wagner…

Denzell Jones (Men’s Indoor T&F), Central Connecticut
Central Connecticut stunned the crowd on hand at the 2011 NEC Indoor Track & Field Championships by snatching the program’s first-ever men’s team title.  The Blue Devils topped 2010 champion Long Island by a mere five points with Sacred Heart finishing only six points behind CCSU in third. Such a feat would not have been possible had it not been for the 16 points provided by freshman Denzell Jones.

After serving as a backup quarterback during Central’s run to a share of the NEC football crown in the fall, Jones hit the track where he harnessed his raw athletic ability and instantly became a title contender in the high jump.  Jones cleared 2.10m to out-duel pre-meet favorite David Fajoyomi (St. Francis [NY]), who high jumped over 7 feet on a couple of occasions during the season.  He also picked up a bronze medal in the triple jump en-route to being named the 2011 NEC Indoor Most Outstanding Rookie.

Nick Leiningen (Baseball), Sacred Heart
The freshman lefty burst onto the scene during the Pioneers’ trip to Mississippi State and LSU and followed by posting a 6-1 record during Northeast Conference play.  After capturing the NEC Rookie of the Year award, the 6-foot-1 hurler went out and threw a complete-game victory in his first career postseason start at the NEC Tournament. 

Leiningen has started 11 games thus far for the NCAA Regional-bound Pioneers, and gone the distance in seven of those contests.  He has allowed only 3 homers and 26 walks in 80.2 innings pitched.  This soft-tossing southpaw is a master at keeping hitters uncomfortable and off balance in the box. He limited LSU to one earned run over 6.0 innings in a hard-luck loss and twirled 4.0 scoreless innings to pick up a save against Mississippi State. 

Check Out Highlights from Leiningen’s NEC Tournament start…


Laura Williams (Women’s Outdoor T&F), Monmouth
The freshman sprinter helped make Monmouth’s three-peat possible.  Williams accounted for 15.25 points as the Hawks claimed their third consecutive NEC outdoor team title. 

She medaled in two events – 200m (third) and 400m (second) – and had potential to score in a third event (400 hurdles) had the team needed her in that spot.  Williams was named the NEC Outdoor Most Outstanding Rookie for her performance which also included running the leadoff leg of the Hawks fourth-place 4×400 relay team.

NEC Baseball Champion Sacred Heart Heads to South Carolina for Clemson Regional; Pio’s Will Face Top-seeded Tigers

Eight days after their celebratory dogpile at the NEC Championship in Norwich, Sacred Heart learned it would make the program’s second-ever NCAA Regional appearance at Clemson.  The Pioneers earned the No. 4 seed and will face site host Clemson in the first of two games on Friday, June 3 at Kingsmore Stadium.

Read more on NortheastConference.org.

Official NCAA Release

NEC Extra Innings – Baseball Champ Sacred Heart Learns NCAA Fate Today Plus Other NEC News

Sacred Heart (34-21) reached the pinnacle of Northeast Conference Baseball for the second time in program history eight days ago in Norwich.  After more than a week of enjoying the NEC Tournament title they clinched with a 9-2 win over regular season winner Monmouth, the Pioneers will finally find out where they’re headed next.

Set to make its first NCAA Regional appearance since 2006 when it visited Athens, GA, Sacred Heart will look on as the NCAA unveils its bracket on ESPN at 12:30 pm on Monday, May 30. … Regional Hosts Announced Plus ESPN’s take on where SHU could end up

Nick Giaquinto’s Pioneers hit a NEC-high .311 as a team over 55 games, including three at the NEC Tournament.  Their 319 runs were second only to Monmouth’s 327.

Sacred Heart’s pitching was no slouch either with a pair of hurlers (Scribner & Leiningen) named to the All-NEC Second Team.

Sacred Heart starters Troy Scribner, Nick Leiningen, and Kody Kerski, all underclassmen, threw complete-game victories while pitching to a 1.00 ERA at the 2011 Northeast Conference Tournament and one will hope to become the first Pioneer pitcher to win a NCAA Regional game.

In their first trip to the Big Dance, the Pioneers fell to site host Georgia, 11-0, before dropping a 4-3 heartbreaker to Jacksonville in the elimination round.

It’s all about the arms at this stage of the season, especially in 2011 when the new bats have brought about a glaring offensive downturn. If Sacred Heart has one thing, it’s capable pitching, leading us to believe that whoever is tabbed to face the Pioneers in the NCAA opener won’t be looking past them.

NCAA Conference Championship Central

I’ve Heard that Name Before! – Yes, Sacred Heart’s Troy Scribner is related to the former all-NEC hurler who took the mound for Central Connecticut in the middle of last decade.  Evan Scribner, a 2007 CCSU graduate, won the 2004 NEC Tournament MVP award while leading Central to the NCAA Regionals as a rookie. Seven years later his younger brother, Troy, garnered NEC All-Tournament Team honors for a second straight season competing for rival Sacred Heart.

Evan’s name has recently been in the transactions as he received a call-up to the Majors on April 25.  Scribner, 25, threw 2.0 scoreless innings in his MLB debut against Atlanta on April 26.  He was recently optioned back down to Triple A Tucson, but after six appearances and a 2.45 ERA out of the bullpen something tells us he’ll be back in The Show sometime soon.

Hoops NuggetLong Island, the 2011 NEC preseason favorite which wound up fifth in the NEC and 19-11 overall, have accepted a bid to the Preseason WNIT.  Gail Striegler’s Blackbirds will join a 16-team tournament field that contains Baylor, Norte Dame, and UCLA. NEC champion Saint Francis (PA) was a Preseason WNIT participant last year, eventually earning it first win of the 2010-11 season, a 77-69 defeat of MAAC member Iona, in the consolation bracket. http://www.womensnit.com/ … Turf’s Up – When most Brooklynites will be fleeing for the beaches, LIU Field will undergo a renovation this summer.  The playing field, which houses a number of the Blackbirds varsity programs, will be resurfaced.  Read more here … http://liuathletics.com/news/2011/5/27/GEN_0527112037.aspx?path=genJav’s A Way, Vin! – It wasn’t his best performance of the season, but it was still good enough to earn a him bid to the National Championships. Monmouth sophomore javelin thrower Vincent DuVernois hit a mark of 223’ 7″ (68.14m) to finish 12th  in a field of 48 at the NCAA East Region Championships, earning a ticket to the 2011 NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships which are slated for June 8-11 at Drake. DuVernois, who won the NEC title back on May 8, owns a seasonal best of 230’ 8” (70.33m).

NEC Extra Innings – Summing Up Sacred Heart’s Triumph at the 2011 Baseball Championship and more…

Although the doom and gloom of the early-week weather forecasts suggested otherwise, the 2011 Northeast Conference Baseball Championship went on uninterrupted.  With the league’s 19th annual championship tournament in the books, it’s time to run down the most notable nuggets that came out of the three-day event, which was hosted at Dodd Stadium in Norwich, CT.

Having been the runner-up in 2009 and 2010, Sacred Heart came away the winner in 2011.  Nick Giaquinto’s club went a perfect 3-0 to earn the program’s second NEC crown, and first since 2006.

“It was a great year guys started in the fall and came out on a mission after falling short the last two years,” said SHU’s long-time skipper. “It was just one of the most focused groups I’ve ever had and they really earned it.”

More than One MVP – Sacred Heart shortstop John Murphy was named the NEC Tournament MVP for his on-field play, but the unsung MVPs were the Connecticut Tigers management and Dodd Stadium grounds crew.  Rain hit the area hard for nearly eight straight days, but GM Andrew Weber and Co. had the playing field in prime condition for the championship event.

Fireworks!Nick Giaquinto’s boys had the bats working, to say the least.

The final numbers were somewhat astonishing compared to the rest of the field.  Northeast Conference champion Sacred Heart batted .321 and totaled 25 runs over its three victories at the 2011 NEC Tournament.  The next highest team batting average over the three-day championship event was .240, a mark that belonged to runner-up Monmouth. 

While the champion Pioneers were plating 8.33 runs per contest, Monmouth managed 2.75 runs per game and the Hawks were the best of the rest.  Defending champion Central Connecticut scored six runs in three games and No. 3 seed Long Island has two runs to show for two games.

Sacred Heart pounded out 16 runs and 24 hits in its first two NEC Tournament games, far more than any of the other three teams contesting the 2011 championship event. Central Connecticut and Monmouth each totaled three runs on 13 hits over their first two appearances.  Long Island, the first team to suffer elimination with losses to Sacred Heart and CCSU, managed to plate two runs on 12 hits in two games.

Team Batting Averages
Sacred Heart, .321
Monmouth, .240
Central Connecticut, .234
Long Island, .194

Team ERA
Sacred Heart, 1.00
Central Connecticut, 2.77
Monmouth, 3.86
Long Island, 5.62

Epps Right at Home in Norwich – Hailing from near-by Waterford, CT, Pat Epps contested his final NEC Tournament at Dodd Stadium.  While his son was busy belting hits, Epps’ father was working the turnstiles at the 2011 conference championship. Epps Sr. has been a ticket-taker at Dodd Stadium since the park opened in 1995 to house the Norwich Navigators who were the Double A affiliate of the New York Yankees up until 2001. After the NEC Tournament, Epps will begin his 17th season at the ballpark, which is now home for the New York-Penn League’s Connecticut Tigers (Single A affiliate of Detroit).

Closing out a remarkable career, Epps went 4-for-11 with two runs and a RBI over CCSU’s three games.  As a junior, he set the program’s single-season records for home runs (18) and RBI (73).  He will graduate as the Blue Devils’ all-time Home Run King, having hit 29 round-trippers.

Going the distance – Sacred Heart starters Troy Scribner and Nick Leiningen each notched complete-game victories in lifting the Pioneers to a 2-0 start at the 2011 NEC Tournament.  The two second team all-NEC hurlers allowed a combined two runs, 12 hits, and one walk as SHU out-scored LIU and Monmouth by a combined 16-2 margin.

Taking the ball in the championship round, SHU freshman Kody Kerski finished what Scribner and Leiningen started.  The rookie righty shut out Monmouth over the first 8.0 innings and went onto to complete all nine frames of the Pioneers’ title-clinching 9-2 win.

“It was tremendous,” said Giaquinto of SHU’s starting staff. “They pitched well all year, but when we needed it in the championship that’s when they pitched their best.”

Monmouth starters Nick Meyers and Pat Light, who were responsible for the Hawks’ two wins at the tourney, each went the distance in their respective starts.

Power shortage – Sacred Heart’s John Murphy hit the first home run of the 2011 NEC Tournament in the Pioneers’ 10-1 victory over Long Island in Game 2. It was the first of two total long balls launched during the three-day event. Drastically different from the 2010 installment, the 2011 NEC Tournament statistical summary lists a total of 13 extra-base hits. During the 2010 tourney, there were a total of 35 extra-base hits over seven games.

Teams combined for 10 home runs over seven games at the 2010 installment of the league’s double-elimination tournament.

Murphy was the lone player to triple in the 2011 postseason event after four three-base hits one year ago.

Fifteen different players connected on a double during the 2010 NEC Tournament with six of them doubling twice.

Power Numbers Comparison
2010 vs. 2011
21 doubles vs. 10 doubles
10 home runs vs. 2 home runs
4 triples vs. 1 triple

The Bottom Line – Sacred Heart starting pitchers threw all 27.0 innings, allowing 4 runs (only 3 ER) on 18 hits and ONLY 2 WALKS!

Look for some of the aforementioned names and accomplishments when Overtime! Unveils Its “Best of the Best” for the 2010-11 academic year… Installment No. 1 “Five Impactful Newcomers” will be unveiled on Tuesday, May 31.

NEC Baseball Playoff Scenarios Sort Themselves Out; Monmouth, LIU, Sacred Heart, and CCSU Are Postseason Bound

Heading into this week of Northeast Conference Baseball, which marks the end of the nine-week long regular season league schedule, three teams had already secured a spot in the NEC’s four-team postseason tournament. 

Defending NEC champion Central Connecticut was not one of the three postseason-bound programs.  At 15-13 in league play, Charlie Hickey’s Blue Devils entered the week 3.0 games ahead of Wagner, the lone other team still alive in the race, with four games to play.

The Blue Devils do not open their final regular season weekend series until today, but their cross-state rival took care of business for them.

Sacred Heart (20-9) won its series opener over Wagner (12-17) on Thursday, eliminating the Seahawks from playoff contention and making room for the defending champions.

Sacred Heart’s “good-will” gesture toward the Blue Devils came only four days after the Pioneers completed a four-game NEC sweep of Central.

It’s doubtful that the thought of helping the rival Blue Devils even crossed the minds of Nick Giaquinto and his Pioneers.  Instead, Sacred Heart took the field on Thursday with an outside shot at stealing the NEC regular season title and the No. 1 seed in next weekend’s tournament, which will unfold May 19-21 at Dodd Stadium in Norwich, CT.

The Pioneers’ hopes of claiming the top seed for a second consecutive season were dashed when the news came across that Monmouth (23-6) had handled Mount St. Mary’s in its series opener.

As a result, Dean Ehehalt and the Hawks are NEC regular season champions for the third time in 10 years.

As the No. 1 seed, Monmouth will look to become the first team since 2005 (Quinnipiac) to win both the NEC regular season and tournament titles.

Monmouth has won two NEC Tournament titles in the past four years, but neither came with Dean Ehehalt’s club holding the top seed.

The Hawks last won the NEC Tournament in 2009, doing so as the No. 4 seed only 12 months after then fourth-seeded Mount St. Mary’s claimed the conference crown.

While Monmouth is locked into the top spot, Central, Long Island (18-9), and Sacred Heart will jockey for the other three positions on the final weekend of the NEC schedule. 

Regardless of where they wind up in the field, they’ll all have a chance to play for NEC supremacy when the league’s 19th annual postseason tournament opens on Thursday, May 19 in Norwich. 

All games can be seen live on NortheastConference.TV.

Breaking the Law! – Oh, and, I almost forgot!  There is a new Home Run King at Monmouth.  Tied atop the Hawks’ all-time home run list with former two-time All-American Jay Law heading into yesterday’s game, New Jersey native Nick Pulsonetti (Old Tappan, NJ) blasted a pair of long balls in the Hawks’ 9-2 win over the Mount. Having hit 36 round-trippers, Pulsonetti stands alone in Monmouth history.