LIU’s Valenzuela continues to dazzle NEC foes
Freshman hurler enjoying epic debut campaign in Downtown Brooklyn
LIU-Brooklyn freshman pitching sensation Elena Valenzuela admits that moving from her native Whittier, California to Downtown Brooklyn was a bit of an adjustment.
But the Blackbird softball team’s undisputed staff ace hasn’t missed a beat on the mound since bringing her formidable skills to our fair borough.
“Playing in Brooklyn has been a huge transition for me, from the different weather to the different people to the different environment,” Valenzuela told the Eagle via e-mail just hours after she had been named the Northeast Conference’s Pitcher and Co-Rookie of the Week for the fourth time this season.
“I love it here and there’s no place I’d rather be playing, no team I’d rather be on and no coaches I’d rather be playing for,” the 5-foot-9 first-year dynamo added.
Valenzuela, who starred at La Habra High School and was an All-Area (Whittier) First Team selection during her senior season, is in the midst of a record-setting campaign with the Blackbirds.
She has already thrown an NEC-leading 11 complete games with a league-best six shutouts through her first 23 appearances, including 16 starts, for the Blackbirds (21-13, 3-1 NEC), who are one game behind Bryant for first place.
Last weekend, Valenzuela helped LIU open its NEC slate by picking up a pair of complete-game victories, including a scintillating five-hit shutout at Sacred Heart in Fairfield, Connecticut on Saturday.
She backed that performance up Sunday by yielding an unearned run on five hits over seven strong frames against Fairleigh Dickinson in Hackensack, N.J., improving her season record to an eye-popping 11-3 with a 2.48 ERA.
Her NEC numbers are even more awe-inspiring as Valenzuela is riding a 15-inning scoreless streak — her second-longest of the season — against conference foes going into Saturday’s Alumni Weekend-opening doubleheader vs. Mount St. Mary’s at LIU Field.
This level of dominance from a freshman, who has already enjoyed a 21-inning scoreless streak against non-conference opponents this year, is certainly not typical, according to long-time Blackbirds head coach Roy Kortmann.
“Elena is a low-heartbeat pitcher with the ability to stay on task,” Kortmann told the Eagle last week.
“This a very rare attribute for a freshman pitcher,” he added. “We are extremely pleased with her early development and she has given us a solid presence on the mound.”
That presence may just give the Blackbirds, who had won six in a row before dropping a 2-1 decision to FDU in the nightcap of Sunday’s twin bill, a strong shot at returning to the NCAA Regionals for the first time since 2016, which would be Kortmann’s 11th title in his quarter century of coaching on Flatbush Avenue.
It is also boosting Valenzuela’s candidacy for NEC Pitcher of the Year honors as well as the league’s Rookie of the Year award.
“Being able to experience what I’m experiencing now as a freshman is truly incredible,” she said.
“To be able to be a part of a successful team and take part in helping with the successes is really a dream come true. I admire how eager this team is to win and the work ethic we all have to try and be the best we can be, collectively.”
Despite the whirlwind of individual success, Valenzuela remains focused on being a great teammate and helping to guide the Blackbirds to their ultimate goal: a conference crown and the opportunity to pitch against the nation’s best during the Regionals in May.
“If we continue to work hard and continue to stay humble, I really believe this team can conquer any goal ahead of us,” she said. “We just need to take each game one at a time and handle things like I know we are all capable of.”
In other local college sports news, a pair of well-decorated basketball players from St. Francis College have been recognized for their work in the class room.
Grad student guard Glenn Sanabria and senior sharp-shooter Amy O’Neill were both named to the 2019 Division I-AAA Athletics Directors Association 17th Annual Scholar-Athlete Team.
Sanabria, who concluded his basketball career at SFC last month by earning All-NEC Third Team honors, boasts a 3.89 grade-point average in management.
O’Neill, an accounting major who led the entire nation with 8.6 assists per game this past year, came in with a 3.86 GPA and joined Sanabria as the only NEC players on the coveted list of 20 student-athletes.
“We’re extremely proud of both Amy and Glenn for being named to the DI-AAA ADA Scholar-Athlete Team,” said SFC Director of Athletics Irma Garcia.
“This is a significant honor for both student-athletes who have been great representations of St. Francis College whether it be in the classroom, on the court or in the community. I wish them nothing but continued success in their bright futures.”
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