Sometimes, getting to the Big Dance is a lot more fun than actually competing there.
University at Albany’s thrilling upset victories in the championship round of the America East Conference softball tournament vaulted the Great Danes into this weekend’s NCAA tournament, but no matter what happens in Eugene, Ore., head coach Chris Cannata will never forget what her team accomplished in the first game of what turned out be a double-header against archrival Stony Brook on Sunday.
“It was the greatest coaching experience of my life, and I’ve been coaching softball for 20 years,” said Cannata. “The way we won it, coming out of the losers’ bracket, was very special for all of us. It was amazing at the end. They executed our game plan exactly, and it was as dramatic as you could make it.”
America East Rookie of the Year Liz Snow, a freshman catcher who was struggling with the bat all tournament long, blasted a three-run homer with two outs in the bottom of the 10th inning to give the Great Danes a 3-2 win over the Seawolves, forcing a second championship game. The Danes capitalized on their momentum and breezed to an 8-1 win in the second game, giving them their fifth America East tournament crown.
“Words can’t describe how I felt when I got that hit,” said Snow. “I was confident that somebody was going to come up with the big hit, and I had been making good contact in my previous at-bats.”
Now, the 33-11 Danes take on Wisconsin (34-18) in the four-team double-elimination regional Friday at 5 p.m. Also in the same pool are tournament host and No. 1 overall seed Oregon (49-7-1) and Utah Valley (18-40).
The senior members of the UAlbany roster were freshmen when the Danes last advanced to the NCAA tournament and traveled to Penn State, where they played Oregon in the first game.
“We are very excited to be going to Oregon,” said Snow. “But we are trying to refocus and do our thing. Realistically, we don’t know how far we can go, but we are definitely going out there to do our best.”
“Pitching, defense and timely hitting were the keys on Sunday. That’s what got us here,” said Cannata. “We are going to enjoy the process, but we are a team that could pick up a couple of wins. We are a hot team right now.”
Senior pitcher Brittany MacFawn was named the most outstanding player of the America East tournament after winning both games in the championship round. MacFawn has been the Great Danes’ most important weapon all season, posting a 19-6 record with a 1.82 earned run average and 194 strikeouts in 176.2 innings. She is the program’s all-time leader in wins and strikeouts.
“I’ve watched the video of last Sunday’s games over and over, and it was a crazy, special weekend,” MacFawn said. “We’re very excited to be in the tournament, but we can win some games there. We’ve got to stick to our game plan, and good things will happen. [Being under pressure] is something I love, because I know I have all the girls behind me.”
MacFawn was asked if anybody in the Oregon regional even knows where Albany is.
“Probably not, but hopefully, they will when we win a couple of games in the tournament,” she said.
Key hitters for the Great Danes are Maggie Cocks (.388 batting average, four homers, 33 RBI), Charlise Castro (.346, 10 homers, 34 RBI), Snow (.333, six homers, 30 RBI, Vicky McFarland (.306, three homers, 15 RBI), Kelly Costello (.289, four homers, 21 RBI) and Marlin Solano (.288, three homers, 29 RBI). The Great Danes are hitting .292 as a team.
Mackenzie Thompson (10-2, 2.16 ERA) is the other UAlbany pitcher.
UAlbany also won America East titles in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2011.