BOSTON, Mass. - The number four seeded Simmons College softball team will take on fifth-seeded Johnson & Wales University in the Second Round of the Great Northeast Athletic Conference Tournament on Friday, April 24 at 5:00 p.m. at the American Legion Playground in East Boston, Mass. The winner of the game will take on top-seeded Suffolk University at 7:00 p.m., while the loser will play the following day vs. an opponent to be determined in the loser's bracket of the double elimination tournament.
Simmons enters the tournament with an 18-13 overall record, including 15-7 in conference play and is one of just two teams in the league that has beaten every team in the conference at least once. The team earned a first round bye, due to a top-four finish in the league standings. Johnson & Wales is 16-13 and 14-8 and advanced to the second round after defeating number eight seed Mount Ida College, 10-0, in five innings on April 21. Suffolk finished the regular season with a 24-10 mark and was 17-5 in GNAC play.
The Sharks split a doubleheader with Johnson & Wales less than a week ago on April 18 and also split their twinbill vs. Suffolk earlier this season. Simmons defeated JWU 5-3 in the first meeting behind the pitching and hitting of senior starting pitcher Lauren Backhaus (Windsor, Conn.), who allowed just three runs, while striking out five in a complete game victory. She also went 2-4 with two runs batted in for the game. The Wildcats took a wild game two, scoring the first eight runs of the contest, before the Sharks fought back to tie the game at 8-8. Johnson & Wales scored seven times in the eighth, but Simmons matched the scoring output with seven runs of its own to send the game to the ninth inning. The Wildcats took advantage of a shaky defensive effort by the Sharks to score three runs and hung on for an 18-16 victory. Junior catcher Kristen Solari (Old Bridge, N.J.) (four), sophomore first baseman Emily Gorecki (Bremerton, Wash.) (three) and sophomore designated player Emily Schaper (Pompton Lakes, N.J.) (three) combined to drive in 10 runs to lead JWU, while sophomore right fielder Katie Nosky (Dedham, Mass.) knocked in four runs and junior second baseman Mikaela Caracciolo (North Attleboro, Mass.) went 2-5 with three RBI to lead Simmons.
The Sharks finished the regular season by winning eight of their last 11 games, while hitting .312 (96-308) as a team. The Simmons lineup has also solidified over the last two weeks. Caracciolo has been outstanding all season, hitting .385 (37-96) to lead the team, while knocking in a team-high 27 runs to go with five home runs, two triples, four doubles, a team-best .625 slugging percentage and a .483 on-base percentage. The two-hitter could be the most frustrating hitter in the Sharks line-up to face, due to her combination of patience and power at the plate. Her defense has been second-to-none, going 147 chances without committing an error for the season and going 47 straight games and 201 consecutive chances since April 11, 2014 without a miscue at second base. Joining her up the middle is senior shortstop Hannah Cunningham (Cotuit, Mass.), who has been the catalyst of the offense from the leadoff spot in the order. The middle infielder leads the team with 25 runs scored, but has also shown some pop with nine extra-base hits, including six doubles and a homer to go with 18 runs batted in. She has combined with Caracciolo to help a Simmons defense that ranks second in the nation in double plays turned per game. Sophomore Kat Guillotte (New Bedford, Mass.) seized the starting third base job with a steady middle-of-the-order bat, hitting .304 (21-69) with seven doubles and 16 RBI, but also a sure-handed glove, committing just three errors in 103 chances for a .971 fielding mark at the hot corner. Senior Jess Uschmann (Feeding Hills, Mass.) rounds out one of the best hitting infield groups in the league with a .310 (26-84) batting mark. The first baseman has been red hot down the stretch of the season, hitting a blistering .563 (9-16) with three extra-base hits, including a homer, while driving in four runs in her last five games.
Senior left fielder Jen Field (Windham, Maine) has been an on-base machine from the bottom of the line-up all year, hitting .352 (25-71) with a .439 on-base mark and a team-high nine stolen bases. The upperclassman has been especially good with the bat over her last 10 contests, owning a .429 (12-28) batting average with 11 runs scored. Backhaus has also provided offense as the Sharks' clean-up hitter with a .323 (21-65) average and good production with 20 RBI and seven extra-base hits, including a pair of home runs.
Any good team wants to hit its peak when heading into the playoffs and Simmons has received great contribution lately from a number of hitters to establish their respective roles in the lineup. Junior center fielder Heather White (Westfield, Mass.) struggled at the plate to start the season, but has found her swing, hitting .345 (10-29) over her last 10 games, while knocking in nine runs and scoring 10 times. Sophomore Emma D'Arpino (Johnston, R.I.) has also made it easy to write her name on the line-up card or to pinch-hit, posting a .500 (6-12) batting average in her last four games to raise her season mark to .292 (7-24), while sophomore right fielder Brianna Rastello (Salem, N.H.) has caught fire as well, hitting .438 (7-16) in her last seven games.
While the Sharks hitting has come alive over the last two weeks, the team's pitching and defense has been a constant and carried them throughout the year. Backhaus owns an 11-5 record in 18 appearances, while hurling 13 complete games in 15 starts. The senior owns a 2.22 earned run average, while striking out 93 batters in 97 2/3 innings and tossing a pair of shutouts. First year Juliet Nelson (Cumberland, R.I.) has enjoyed a stellar first season as the team's number two pitcher, posting a 2.64 ERA, while boasting excellent control, issuing just 12 walks in 79 2/3 innings, while recording a 7-4 record. The rookie has been even better against conference foes with a 2.48 ERA and a 7-2 mark to go with a shutout and has allowed more than two runs just twice against league opponents. The Simmons defense has been exemplary all season as well, posting a .964 fielding mark to lead the GNAC and rank 44th in the nation.