Softball looks ahead to playoff stretch

Bryan Lipiner

Anytime you hold the Northeast Conference leading Robert Morris Colonials to just one earned run over a doubleheader, it is considered a clear accomplishment. The Quinnipiac softball team did just that Saturday afternoon, splitting a twinbill with the Colonials and only allowing a single earned run to pitcher Heather Schwartzburg, who threw all 14 innings.

“It’s incredible,” Quinnipiac head coach Germaine Fairchild said. “As many at-bats as their upperclassmen have seen from Heather Schwartzburg. For her to be able to come out and reinvent their approach to keep those hitters off balance, that’s awesome.”

Schwartzburg has stood out for the Bobcats in 2012. She has a 15-5 record while striking out 163 batters in 150 innings pitched and a 1.54 ERA.. Last season, Schwartzburg led the team in wins (23) and ERA (1.42). Schwartzburg also struck out 296 batters in 232.1 innings pitched in 2011, a single-season NEC record.

Quinnipiac squares off in a nonconference game Wednesday against the University of Hartford, before returning to another NEC doubleheader Sunday against Bryant, one of the last non-conference matchups the Bobcats have. The Bobcats were scheduled to host Saint Francis (Pa.) on Sunday, but the doubleheader got rained out. Fairchild said the team is looking to give Schwartzburg some rest in the coming games.

“What’s import going forward is to get Christy [Cabrera] and Katie [Alfiere] back on the mound,” Fairchild said. “We need to get everybody back in the mix pitching wise.”

One of the biggest differences between this year and last year’s playoff run has been the absence of last season’s NEC Rookie of the Year, Jordan Paolucci. The Bobcats have been without the sophomore star hitter since mid-March, and she had powered Quinnipiac to the NEC Championship Game in 2011, most notably hitting a program-record 15 home runs.

In her absence, Cabrera, Mina Duffy and Alex Alba have stepped up. Cabrera has led the squad in walks (18) and is second in batting average (.322). Duffy has also assisted in leading the team in home runs (seven) and RBI (25). Finally, Alba has stepped up hitting a team-leading .350 batting average, drilling five home runs, and notching 22 RBI.

On this day last year, the Bobcats held a 25-20 record, and went on to finish 7-6 down the stretch. Entering Wednesday, Quinnipiac holds a 24-16 record, including a 10-6 record in conference play.

The Bobcats remain two games behind Robert Morris, who also has two conference matchups left in their schedule, leaving the Bobcats mathematically in contention for the No. 2 seed. Quinnipiac and top-seeded LIU-Brooklyn both have four conference games remaining, while Robert Morris has two conference games left before the conference playoffs, which start May 11.

“For our own confidence, and just to prove that we’re one of the top teams in the conference, we want the No. 2 spot,” Fairchild said.