Brooklyn Boro

LIU’s dream season ends with painful defeat

Softball squad denied NEC title in heartbreaking Game 7 loss to SFU

May 14, 2019 JT Torenli
Junior hurler Tallie Woodson saved the Blackbirds’ season once Saturday afternoon, but LIU was eventually sent home by three-time NEC champion St. Francis University in an 8-6 Game 7 loss in Downtown Brooklyn. Photo Courtesy of LIU-Brooklyn Athletics
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You’d think nearly a quarter of a century of guiding the LIU-Brooklyn softball team would prepare head coach Roy Kortmann for losses like the one his top-seeded squad suffered Saturday afternoon here in Downtown Brooklyn.

But some defeats resonate more than others.

“Tough loss, this one hurts” Kortmann told the Eagle after the Blackbirds saw their dreams of an NCAA Tournament bid derailed by No. 2 St. Francis University with a heartbreaking 8-6 defeat in the Northeast Conference title game at LIU Field.

As much as it must have pained Kortmann to see his surprising young team stopped a single win shy of capturing the program’s 11th conference crown during his 24-year tenure here, the Blackbirds still have plenty to be proud of and hopeful for going forward.

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“Really good team this year. 36 wins. Third most in our history,” he noted after LIU finished a sparkling 36-17, including a 14-2 mark in conference play and 13-2 record at “The Bird Cage” here in Brooklyn.

The Blackbirds entered Saturday’s action needing two wins over the defending two-time champion Red Flash to capture their first NEC title since 2016 in the four-team, double-elimination tournament.

They got half that mission accomplished behind the brilliant pitching of redshirt junior Tallie Woodson, who limited SFU to a run on four hits with four strikeouts and no walks in a complete-game, seven-inning gem that forced a winner-take-all finale.

Sophomore center fielder Ryleigh Bermea capped an outstanding NEC Tournament with a two-run homer in Game 7 against SFU, sparking a near epic comeback by the LIU-Brooklyn Blackbirds. Photo Courtesy of LIU-Brooklyn Athletics
Sophomore center fielder Ryleigh Bermea capped an outstanding NEC Tournament with a two-run homer in Game 7 against SFU, sparking a near epic comeback by the LIU-Brooklyn Blackbirds. Photo Courtesy of LIU-Brooklyn Athletics

Senior first baseman Schae Dickson sparked the offense in the 6-1 Game 6 win, going 3-for-4 with four RBIs and two runs scored.

She belted a two-run homer in the fifth inning to break open a tight 2-1 contest and added a two-run single in the sixth.

Woodson was back on the hill for the final contest, but she was reached for five runs on six hits over the first three frames as LIU fell into an early hole.

Even NEC Pitcher of the Year Elena Valenzuela, the Blackbirds’ staff ace and most reliable pitcher, couldn’t stem the tide as she was reached for three runs in the fourth, widening the Red Flash advantage to 8-0.

But much as they had throughout the campaign, the Blackbirds battled back over the last four frames, beginning with sophomore center fielder Ryleigh Bermea’s three-run blast in the fourth that cut the deficit to four runs.

Freshman catcher Alyssa Martinez drew a bases-loaded walk to pull LIU closer in the fifth and when fellow first-year standout Samantha Garcia delivered a pinch-hit, two-run homer in the bottom of the seventh, LIU appeared poised to complete a comeback for the ages.

Junior Katie Hinkle kept Blackbird hopes alive with a two-out base hit to right in the final frame, but SFU tournament MVP Christina Clark got redshirt junior Patricia Griffin to pop out to shortstop for the game’s last out, sending the Red Flash into celebration with their third straight NEC championship.

“We’re ecstatic, winning the (Northeast) Conference championship is still sinking in,” SFU head coach Jessica O’Donnell said after the Red Flash found out they’d be headed to Ann Arbor to take on No. 15 Michigan Friday in the NCAAs.

“The reaction and elation of the girls and the team is real. We’re excited for the challenge and to show what we can do.”

As are the Blackbirds, who will have to wait until next year to prove themselves as the best in the NEC all over again despite capturing their 12th NEC regular-season title under Kortmann this past season.

“With a mostly freshman and sophomore-laden team, [we’re] looking forward to the future,” Kortmann said.

Blackbird Notes: Despite failing to hold the Red Flash at bay in Game 7, Valenzuela backed up her huge freshman campaign during the playoffs, winning two of her starts. She went the distance in a 7-1 win over The Mount on Thursday in the tourney opener and saved the Blackbirds’ season with a five-inning gem against them on Friday. Valenzuela finished the year with a 19-4 record, 2.19 ERA, 17 complete games and seven shutouts. … Hinkle was the Blackbirds’ offensive MVP during the postseason, batting .500 (8-for-16) with four runs scored. … Bermea drove in a team-high seven runs for LIU. … The Blackbirds, soon to be renamed, will play next season on the LIU-Post campus before returning to Brooklyn when the team’s new field is completed here in our fair borough.

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