KEENE, N.H. 5/7/12 – The wait is over for the Keene State College softball team. For the first time since 2007, the Owls will be returning to the NCAA Division III softball tournament.
Despite being eliminated from the Little East Conference tournament last Saturday, the Owls earned an at-large berth to the 61-team tournament on Monday. Keene State (25-10-1) will be the fourth seed in the eight-team, double-elimination regional at Amherst College and will face fifth seed St. Joseph's College (Me.) in its first game on Thursday (12 p.m.).
St. Joseph's College earned the automatic berth from the Great Northeast Athletic Conference after capturing its tournament. The teams in the bracket include SUNY-Cortland (38-8), Keuka (N.Y.) College (21-12), Husson (33-11), University of New England (26-12), Plattsburg State (31-9), and host Amherst College (34-4).
"This is something these kids have earned for four years," said KSC coach Charlie Beach. "We were disappointed the past two years when we weren't selected. They finally agreed with us that we belong at the NCAAs. I'm very pleased for these kids."
The NCAA berth was especially good news for senior Katie Bradford of Lebanon, N.H., who was attending a special graduation ceremony for Owl athletes on Monday morning. A two-sport athlete who also played soccer, Bradford is finally getting an opportunity to play in an NCAA tournament. "After a combined nine seasons, I'm finally getting there," she said. "It's the perfect graduation gift."
Bolstering their tournament credentials by playing a strong schedule during their spring week trip to Florida, the Owls also finished second in the highly competitive LEC conference.
The Owls received an offensive contribution from several players during the season. Bradford led the team in hitting with a .413 average, while junior Nicole Dupuis (Fitchburg, Mass.) had a team-high 31 RBIs to go with a .314 average. Twin sisters Laura and Haley Chandler (Wakefield, Mass.) both had strong seasons at the plate. Laura batted .376 with six home runs and 21 RBIs, and Haley posted a .347 average with a team-high seven home runs as well as 24 RBIs.
Seniors Sara Stocklinski (Newton, N.J.) and Emily Albin (Bethel, Conn.) were the top two pitchers in the Owls' rotation. Stocklinski went 10-5 with a 1.77 ERA, and Albin was 11-4 in the circle with a 3.37 ERA.
The Owls will be making their fifth appearance in the NCAA Division III tournament. They also went to the Division II tournament in 1994. KSC has had several successful trips to the Division III tournament, advancing to the regional finals in 1999, 2000, and 2003.
In addition to claiming three ECAC titles, this group of eight seniors has the distinction of winning more games (113) than any other group of four-year players in the program's history. "It would have been terrible to win so many games and not have the opportunity to play in the NCAA tournament," said Beach. "Now they're going to get their shot."