Valenzuela shines in LIU home opener
Freshman sensation tosses five one-hit innings in shutout of Columbia
Elena Valenzuela finally got a chance to show off her formidable pitching skills in Downtown Brooklyn on Wednesday afternoon.
And the results were more of the same as the Whittier, California native tossed five one-hit innings to pace the LIU-Brooklyn women’s softball team to a home-opening 8-0 victory over visiting Columbia at LIU Field.
The freshman pitching sensation spent the first six weeks of her initial campaign with the Blackbirds (16-12) dominating opponents across the nation during the team’s season-opening tournament slate that saw Valenzuela make mound appearances in Florida and California.
She racked up three consecutive Northeast Conference Pitcher and Rookie of the Week honors during that stretch, winning all but three of her 11 pitching decisions while picking up a two-inning save against previously unbeaten Florida Gulf Coast in Fort Myers, Florida back in February.
Valenzuela, coming off a stellar three-year career at La Habra High School, which included a First Team All-Area selection during her senior season, has already pitched herself into the NEC Rookie of the Year conversation.
She may also vie for the league’s Pitcher of the Year award if she continues at her current record-setting pace.
In her first 18 appearances, including 13 starts, for the Blackbirds, Valenzuela has amassed an eye-popping eight complete games, including five shutouts. She has struck out 40 batters across a team-high 89 2/3 innings, improving to an impressive 9-3 with a 2.03 ERA following her taming of the visiting Lions on Wednesday.
Bolstered by their newfound ace, the Blackbirds went 15-11 during their participation in six national tournaments, with Valenzuela picking up the win in more than half of those victories.
After pitching 2 2/3 innings of scoreless relief during last week’s 4-3 loss at Hofstra, Valenzuela was finally poised to pitch on Brooklyn soil against Columbia and didn’t disappoint.
She set down the first six batters she faced in order before yielding a leadoff walk in the top of the third.
Valenzuela didn’t allow a hit until surrendering a leadoff double in the fifth, but got the next three hitters without allowing only her third baserunner of the game to advance beyond second.
Redshirt junior Patricia Griffin, sophomore infielder Alina Castillo and freshman catcher Alyssa Martinez combined for seven of the Blackbirds’ 11 hits and each drove in a pair of runs to help kick off the Brooklyn portion of the team’s schedule with a bang.
LIU, which is seeking its first NEC title and NCAA Tournament bid since 2016, was scheduled to host Hofstra on Thursday afternoon before opening the all-important league slate with a doubleheader against Fairleigh Dickinson in Teaneck, N.J., on Sunday.
That twin-bill will likely feature the next starting appearance from Valenzuela, who just may provide the key to long-time coach Roy Kortmann’s crew returning to the national spotlight during the NCAA Regionals in May.
In other local college sports news, the St. Francis men’s basketball team finally saw its season come to an end last Thursday night in Hampton, Virginia.
Freshman Stevan Krtinic scored a career-high 19 points and junior Rosel Hurley added 18 for the Terriers in an 81-72 loss to host Hampton in the opening round of the Collegeinsider.com Tournament.
SFC (17-16), which received its first postseason bid since getting an at-large nod to the 2015 NIT, trailed Hampton by seven points at the half and stayed within striking distance of the Pirates (16-16) until the very end.
The game also featured the final minutes of grad student standout Glenn Sanabria’s playing career with the Terriers.
The only member of the current squad to have competed in the 2015 NEC Championship game, Sanabria had five points and five assists in his SFC swan song, finishing his career ranked 12th all-time in scoring at the diminutive Remsen Street school with 1,347 points.
The Terriers, who were eliminated from NCAA Tournament contention with a heartbreaking overtime loss to Robert Morris in the opening round of the NEC Championships earlier this month, are still seeking their first-ever trip to March Madness, a feat the women’s hoops squad achieved back in 2015.
The LIU men’s baseball squad saw its three-game winning streak snapped Tuesday with a 3-2 loss to Manhattan at LIU Field.
Blackbirds freshman starter Alec Huertas recorded nine of LIU’s season-high 18 strikeouts on the day, but Matt Padre’s pinch-hit two-run single in the eighth inning provided the go-ahead runs for Manhattan (7-15).
Junior Tim Bechtold drove in a run in the ninth for the Blackbirds (7-14), who are slated to host NEC rival Bryant for a three-game series in Downtown Brooklyn this weekend.
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