Several Stony Brook softball players celebrate a run-rule win over Monmouth on Saturday, May 6. Stony Brook enters the 2023 CAA softball tournament as the seventh seed. BRITTNEY DIETZ/THE STATESMAN

Following a successful sweep in its must-win regular season series finale, the Stony Brook softball team will compete in its first ever Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) tournament this week.

After sweeping Monmouth over the weekend to punch their postseason ticket, the Seawolves (25-25, 10-13 CAA) captured the seventh seed in the 2023 CAA softball tournament. They will square off against the sixth-seeded Charleston Cougars on Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. in a win-or-go home matchup. The tournament will be hosted at Bill Edwards Stadium in Hempstead, N.Y., which is the home of the third-seeded Hofstra Pride.

Stony Brook did not play Charleston at all in the regular season. The Cougars finished their regular season 19-31 and went 11-12 in CAA play. Tuesday will mark the first time that the Seawolves meet the Cougars in their program’s history and the two squads are quite evenly matched.

Charleston’s biggest strength this season was its pitching staff. The Cougars finished the season with a 3.18 team ERA, which was third-best in the CAA.

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The biggest reason for Charleston’s success in the circle has been freshman starting pitcher Caroline Conner. The freshman appeared in 25 games (20 starts) throughout the season and posted a 2.93 ERA, which was seventh-best in the CAA. Conner struck out 99 batters on the season and held her opponents to just a .235 batting average in 119 ⅓ innings pitched.

Charleston starting pitcher Payton Lemire also pitched well. She posted a 3.30 ERA and only allowed two home runs in 29 appearances (25 starts) while striking out 110 batters, which was the third-highest total in the CAA. Lemire struggled with her command though, allowing a CAA-worst 84 walks and 26 wild pitches.

However, Stony Brook certainly has the tools to combat Conner and Lemire. The Seawolves were very successful at the plate during the regular season. The team’s .435 slugging percentage ranked first in the CAA, its .286 team batting average ranked second. Stony Brook had the third-highest on-base percentage (.348) and runs-per game rate (4.37) in the conference.

Like the regular season, the Seawolves’ offense will be powered by left fielder Alyssa Costello and catcher Corinne Badger.

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Costello followed up a sensational rookie campaign by posting even better marks in 2023. Costello finished second in the CAA with a .384 batting average and fifth in both home runs (eight) and RBIs (34). Her 1.052 on-base plus slugging was good enough for third in the conference and was largely fueled by her outstanding slugging percentage, where she ranked second at .651. Costello’s 11 doubles tied her for the sixth-most in the CAA.

Badger also had a tremendous year. Her 14 home runs led the CAA and her 32 RBIs placed her just behind Costello in the leaderboard rankings. Though she also led the conference by striking out 36 times, Badger finished eighth in the CAA with a .965 on-base plus slugging and fifth with a .583 slugging percentage.

Along with Costello and Badger, Stony Brook will hope to get key contributions from center fielder Alicia Orosco, right fielder Catherine Anne Kupinski and first baseman Ashley Jacobson.

Orosco was a very effective table setter for the Seawolves throughout the season. She finished the regular season tied for second in the CAA with 59 hits and 10th with a .347 batting average. Her 32 runs scored tied her for fifth-most in the conference. Her 11 doubles tied her with Costello for sixth-most in the CAA.

On the other hand, Kupinski and Jacobson are big power bats for Stony Brook. Jacobson slugged eight home runs, tying her with Costello for second on the team. She also collected 27 RBIs, which is tied for 10th in the CAA. Kupinski slugged six home runs on the year and added eight doubles and 22 RBIs. Each posted a solid .286 batting average.

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Stony Brook has another couple of bats in platoon roles that have played well this year. Left fielder Julianna Sanzone has often been used as a designated player this year and has found some success swinging the bat. In 35 games played (26 starts), Sanzone batted .291 in the regular season with a .361 on-base percentage. However, she did not hit for the same power that she hit for in her rookie year, as she only collected four doubles and did not go deep even once.

Outfielder Shauna Nuss has been used in both corner outfield positions and found success as a slap hitter, batting .292 in 37 games played (29 starts). She also posted a .373 on-base percentage and stole five bases without being caught.

Backup catcher Emily Reinstein had a good sophomore year and occasionally got starts as a designated player as well. She batted .294 with three doubles, a triple and two home runs, netting her a .510 slugging percentage. She is a tough strikeout as well, as she only struck out six times in 51 at-bats.

The longball will be a storyline worth watching in the contest. Stony Brook ran away with the CAA home run lead by crushing 43, but Charleston allowed only 12 during the regular season, which was the fewest in the conference.

Unlike the Seawolves, the Cougars’ lineup struggled throughout the season. Their team batting average ranks eighth in the CAA at .239. Charleston also comes in at eighth in the conference with 155 runs scored while slugging at just a .334 clip.

Despite Charleston’s struggles at the plate, second baseman Aniz Roman, third baseman Karlee Hughes and catcher Malaka Belser all had nice seasons at the plate.

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Roman certainly understood her role as a leadoff hitter, as her .443 on base percentage was good enough for third-best in the CAA. Her 30 walks were tied for first in the conference. She also finished tied for eighth in runs scored with 31.

Hughes finished the season hitting .299 with three home runs and 18 RBIs while posting an .817 on-base plus slugging. Belser led her team with four home runs and finished tied for seventh in the CAA with 31 RBIs.

Unfortunately for the Seawolves, their pitching staff was very inconsistent this year, creating some question marks surrounding how they will perform. Stony Brook comes in at sixth in the CAA with a 3.63 team ERA and has allowed the fourth-worst batting average against at .287. The team has also allowed 29 home runs, which is fifth-worst in the CAA.

Starting pitchers Mia Haynes and Ashton Melaas both had up and down seasons. Haynes posted a respectable 3.38 ERA through 34 games (24 starts) and finished second in the CAA with 16 wins. She also ate innings for Stony Brook, finishing third in the conference with 153 ⅓. Despite that, opponents also hit an alarming .294 against her.

Melaas also appeared in 34 games (23 starts) and posted a 3.52 ERA, but was susceptible to the longball. She allowed the second most home runs in the conference with 15. Melaas’ 147 innings pitched ranked right behind Haynes on the CAA leaderboard.

This will be the first playoff game Stony Brook has played since May 15, 2021 in the 2021 America East Conference championship game against UMBC.

The winner of the game will go on to face either the fourth-seeded Elon Phoenix at noon or Hofstra at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday. From that point forward, the tournament will be double-elimination with six teams remaining. Stony Brook did not fare well against the Phoenix or the Pride this season, as they were swept in three games by both teams to open up its conference season.

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