NORTHFIELD, Vt. – The Norwich University softball team begins its quest for its first Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) Tournament title on Tuesday afternoon when it hosts Emmanuel College at 3:30 p.m. on the NU Softball Field.
Norwich (14-19-1, 12-10 GNAC) is making its seventh GNAC postseason appearance in the last nine years. Emmanuel (15-19, 12-10 GNAC) is making its fourth straight GNAC Tournament appearance and is coming off a GNAC title game appearance last season.
The two teams will meet for the second straight year in the GNAC Tournament after also meeting in a second round game last season, won by Emmanuel 5-0 at Rotch Field in Boston.
WHAT'S AT STAKE: The winner of Tuesday afternoon's game will advance to the double-elimination portion of the tournament set to begin on Thursday. The winner will face No. 3-seed Suffolk at Saint Joseph's (Maine). No. 5 Univ. of Saint Joseph (Conn.) meets No. 8 Simmons in the other first round matchup on Tuesday.
Two-time defending champion Johnson & Wales is the No. 1 overall seed for the tournament. Saint Joseph's (Maine) is No. 2 and will host Thursday action, while Suffolk and Albertus Magnus round out the top four schools that received byes.
RECENT HISTORY: The two teams have split the season series each of the last four years. The last time a team swept the other was in 2013 when Norwich beat Emmanuel 10-6 and 13-5. This year, Emmanuel won 7-0, before NU bounced back for a 6-2 victory in the second. In 2016, Emmanuel beat NU 4-3 before the Cadets bounced back for a 6-4 win in the second game. In 2015, Norwich fell 7-3 before rebounding to win 6-1 in the second game with both games taking place on the turf at Sabine Field at Haynes Family Stadium.
THE COACHES: Norwich is led by Mike Kemp, who has guided the Cadets to a 15-9-1 record since taking over midway through this season for Julie Craig, who had to step down due to a military relocation assignment. Emmanuel is led by first-year head coach Kelsea Cheney. Cheney has guided the Saints to a 15-19 record after serving as an assistant coach for three seasons at her alma mater Southern New Hampshire University.
SCOUTING THE CADETS: Norwich is led offensively by sophomores Naomi Rinaldo (Middlefield, Conn.) and Madison Miller (Long Lake, N.Y.), who each have 45 hits this season. Miller has a .425 batting average, which ranks sixth in the GNAC to go along with 16 RBIs and 17 runs scored. Rinaldo has three home runs and 30 RBIs from the No. 3 spot in the order.
On the mound, the sophomore pitching tandem of Rachel Johnson (Stockbridge, Vt.) and Emily Oliver (Sagamore Hills, Ohio) have been a dynamic duo for the Cadets this season. Johnson leads the GNAC with 164 strikeouts and ranks in the top 10 in Division III for strikeouts-per-7-innings. She has also compiled an 8-4 record vs. league opponents and a 2.08 earned run average. Oliver is 4-6 with a 3.04 earned run average vs. the GNAC.
SCOUTING THE SAINTS: Emmanuel boasts one of the top offenses in the GNAC, hitting .306 as a team this season with 31 home runs. Freshman shortstop Sydney Rogers leads with a .376 average to go along with three home runs and 19 RBIs from the leadoff spot. Sophomore catcher Casey Sheehan is hitting .347 with six home runs and 22 RBIs.
Sophomore Ashley Skey has eight home runs and 35 RBIs with a .320 average, while senior Susie Kieselback rounds out the Saints' offensive leaders with five home runs and 25 RBIs.
On the mound, Jill Kilcoyne is one of the top pitchers in the GNAC. She has posted a 9-8 record with a 3.03 earned run average in 117.2 innings pitched. She ranks third in the GNAC with 130 strikeouts this season. Kilcoyne has been especially dominant over the years against Norwich, sporting a 5-1 record with a 1.44 earned run average in 34 innings pitched. She has 43 strikeouts and has given up just 23 hits.
BY THE NUMBERS:
Emmanuel: 185 (4th)
Norwich: 142 (7th)
Emmanuel: 288 (5th)
Norwich: 268 (6th)
Emmanuel: 31 (3rd)
Norwich: 4 (6th)
Emmanuel: 170 (4th)
Norwich: 118 (8th)
Emmanuel: .306 (4th)
Emmanuel: 4.06 (6th)
Norwich: 3.55 (5th)
Emmanuel: 186 (3rd)
Norwich: 211 (2nd)
Emmanuel: .939 (8th)
Norwich: .950 (6th)