Blackbirds eliminated after stunning top-seeded Bryant in opening round
By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Though it fell short of its ultimate goal this weekend in Lakewood, N.J., the LIU-Brooklyn baseball team flirted with capturing the Downtown school's first Northeast Conference championship since 1990.
Buoyed by the brilliant pitching of junior Justin Topa and the red-hot bat of fellow third-year standout John Ziznewski, the Blackbirds stunned top-seeded Bryant, 7-2, in Thursday's opening round to enter the winners' bracket as the No. 4 seed.
After a gutwrenching 8-7 loss to Sacred Heart on Friday, coach Don Maines' resilient squad had one more chance to reach the NEC title game with a shot at the NCAA Regionals on the line.
But the Blackbirds were thumped, 16-1, by eventual NEC champion Bryant on Saturday afternoon, ending their first appearance in the double-elimination tournament since 2011.
Topa, the Blackbirds' undisputed staff ace, was pounded for nine runs -- eight earned -- on nine hits in 6 1/3 innings during his previous start against Bryant on April 26 in Smithfield, R.I. The 6-foot-5 Binghamton, N.Y,. native cast a much more imposing figure on the mound Thursday, despite having to sit through an extended rain delay during a lights-out complete-game effort.
"I felt it early on, but the rain delay kind of messed things up," said Topa after yielding one earned run on five hits with six strikeouts and only one walk over the full nine innings. "I just focused on using my legs, really driving and throwing down-hill. [Bryant] is a great team and I just focused on making them get themselves out. We've battled all year and this is a testament of our hard work."
Ziznewski, who batted .354 with a team-high 68 hits and 41 runs scored as Maines' starting shortstop this year, was 5-for-5 with three RBIs in the Blackbirds' tournament-opening win, which forced Bryant to win three straight elimination games en route to the title.
"I was just trying to get good pitches to hit, pitches I could drive," said the native of Staten Island, who also happened to break the team's single-season hits record with his perfect performance at the dish . "[The record is] something I didn't know until after the game was over. I'm just glad we got a 'W' today. It definitely was some kind of upset for sure, being the No. 4 seed."
LIU, which didn't clinch a spot in the four-team tournament until the regular season's final weekend, was poised to grab a berth in Sunday's final. But the Blackbirds' bid at a ninth-rally fell just short Friday as eventual NEC runner-up Sacred Heart held on for a one-run victory.
That left LIU with another matchup against the Bulldogs, who got some revenge for the opening-round with a 16-hit bludgeoning of the Blackbirds on Saturday.
With a 1-2 slate in the tourney, the Blackbirds finished the year 21-33-1 overall, but an impressive 17-16-1 in NEC play.
Topa and Ziznewski both earned All-Tournament honors, and both should be back for another run at the NEC crown next spring.
Brooklyn College sophomore pitcher/designated player Kayla Hill was named the 2013 City University of New York Athletic Conference (CUNYAC) Softball Player of the Year last week, as voted on by the conference's head coaches.
"I am thrilled to be named the CUNYAC Player of the Year and to represent Brooklyn College Softball with this accomplishment,” said Hill, who attended Brooklyn's James Madison High School before joining the Lady Bulldogs. “I am truly appreciative to the CUNYAC for honoring me with their selection."
Along with Hill, freshman catcher Samantha Rodriguez (also a Madison alum), senior centerfielder Kim Konklewski and junior pitcher/third basemen Amanda Bisz were selected CUNYAC All-Stars.
Rodriguez and Konklewski were both named to the First Team, while Biz was picked for the Second Team.
BC's Bill Dumont was named the CUNYAC Coach of the Year after leading the Bulldogs to a 23-17 overall mark and a second-day showing at the annual league championship tournament.
Hill, a transfer from NCAA Division II Pace University, made an immediate impact in her first season at BC, posting an 11-8 overall record on the mound with a 3.01 ERA. Over 123 1/3 innings, Hill struck out 76 batters and tossed 17 complete games.
At the plate, Hill batted .333 (43-for-129) with 20 RBIs and 25 runs scored, to go along with seven doubles, six triples and a home run. She also posted a .504 slugging percentage and a .348 on base percentage. The Brooklyn native finished second in CUNYAC in strikeouts, third in wins, innings pitched and complete games and fifth in ERA. Offensively, she finished second in triples and sixth in total bases.
In other BC sports news, the Bulldogs announced earlier this month that Daryn Johnson will be the school's new head coach of men's and women's Cross Country.
"I am happy and excited that I was chosen to be the next head coach of both the Men's and Women's Cross Country programs at Brooklyn College,” said Johnson, who arrives at BC after a head coaching stint at the College of Mount Saint Vincent in Riverdale, N.Y..
“I'm looking forward to helping the running Bulldogs race to the front of the CUNYAC as they become fiercely competitive, hard working, yet humble student-athletes that maximize their potential both in the classroom and over hills and fields by setting, attaining, and resetting their goals," added Johnson. "Brooklyn College fans should stay tuned for great things to come!"
On the recruiting front, LIU-Brooklyn women's basketball head coach Gail Striegler revealed that "instant-impact" point guard Ashley Brown will be on the court for the Blackbirds come next fall.
Brown, a 5-foot-6 point guard from Indianapolis, who starred at Hill College in Texas last season, signed a National Letter of Intent to continue her collegiate career in Downtown Brooklyn.
Brown averaged 9.6 points and 3.9 rebounds per game with the Rebels last season, earning Honorable Mention All-Conference after putting up 9.1 points per game against league opponents.
The LIU-Brooklyn men's team, which reached the NCAA Tournament for a record third consecutive season earlier this year, has long been powered by recruits from the Lone Star State, a trend Striegler doubtlessly hopes continues on the women's side.
"Ashley will be able to come in and make an immediate impact," Striegler said of her new playmaker. "She is a vocal floor leader that can distribute the ball and make good decisions."
Brown joins an incoming class of six, including Shanovia Davis Brianna Farris, Mercedes Harris, Rachel McCoy, Aleisha Myers and Demi Tomlinson. Last season, the Blackbirds went a disappointing 7-22 overall, failing to reach the NEC Tournament for the first time since 2009.