Softball to Open NCAA Tournament Friday at No. 8 James Madison
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For the first time since 2008, the Princeton softball team is back in the NCAA tournament.
While it'll be the first NCAA tournament experience for all the Tiger players, they'll be led there by a staff headed by Lisa Van Ackeren, who had the pitching win for Lehigh that eliminated Princeton from the 2008 tournament, the second of three NCAA trips for her. All three members of the Princeton staff played on NCAA tournament teams, including assistant coaches Christie Novatin at Hofstra and Nicole Arias at William Paterson.
Princeton's 2016 NCAA tournament will begin in Harrisonburg, Va., at James Madison, which is hosting a regional for the second straight year. Last season, the Dukes held the No. 15 overall seed but were stunned by a second-day sweep, losing first to eventual regional champ North Carolina State and then to Fordham. It'll be the fifth NCAA bid for James Madison and the Dukes' fourth in a row.
Princeton will open against the host Dukes at 4:30 p.m. Friday, while North Carolina will take on Longwood at 2 p.m. Ranked No. 8 in both national polls this week, James Madison will be the highest-ranked opponent Princeton has faced since playing No. 4 Stanford to a 1-0 defeat in a 2009 regular-season contest.
Princeton gained its NCAA tournament bid after taking two out of three games from Harvard in the Ivy League Championship Series that concluded May 9. James Madison got there by winning the Colonial Athletic Association tournament, while UNC received an at-large bid out of the ACC and Longwood won the Big South tournament.
In James Madison, the Tigers will be facing a team that can boast some outstanding numbers, including a 46-4 overall record and an 18-1 CAA mark. Elon handed the Dukes their only CAA loss, a 5-4 15-inning defeat on April 30, while the other three defeats were to Virginia Tech, 2-1 on April 6, to No. 23 Nebraska 8-4 on March 11, and to No. 5 Alabama 2-1 on Feb. 13. Opponents have hit just .161 against the Dukes while the pitching staff has just a 1.14 ERA. Jailyn Ford (17-2, 0.92 ERA) and Megan Good (29-2, 0.96 ERA) have handled all but 12 of the team's 337 2/3 innings.
James Madison is also the only team any of the current Tigers have faced. All three of JMU's seniors and five of the six Princeton soon-to-be grads played in at least one game of the teams' March 20, 2013 doubleheader at JMU, where the Dukes swept the Tigers 1-0 and 2-0. Shanna Christian and JMU's Jailyn Ford faced off in the first game, with Ford yielding just two hits and a walk, striking out six. Christian gave up just four hits and a walk, striking out nine.
Princeton will face either North Carolina or Longwood Saturday. Friday's two winners will play at 2 p.m. with an elimination game between Friday's two losing teams taking place at 4:30 Saturday. The team that wins the 4:30 game will play the team that loses the 2 p.m. game at 7 p.m. Saturday, with that winner moving on to Sunday to face the winner of Saturday's first game. If the team that entered Sunday unbeaten wins Sunday's 2 p.m. game, the regional is complete. Otherwise, a second, winner-take-all game will follow Sunday's first.
UNC and Princeton have played six times, with Princeton winning five. UNC won the last meeting in 2009. The Tar Heels have played in all but two NCAA tournaments since making their tournament debut in 2001.
UNC made the ACC tournament as one of the league's top eight teams in the regular season and, as the fifth seed, won a first-round game over Boston College before falling to top-seeded Florida State in the semis. With a No. 35 RPI, North Carolina gained an at-large bid to the NCAA field.
Longwood is in the tournament for the third time in four years after winning the Big South tournament and, if the Tigers and the Lancers meet, it'd be the first game between the teams. Longwood was the top seed in the Big South but fell to fifth-seeded Campbell in the tournament's second round and had to win four games in a row to get the automatic bid.
Friday, 4:30 p.m. vs. James Madison
|2016 Record||23-26, 14-6 Ivy||46-4, 18-1 CAA||31-23, 13-11 ACC||38-18, 19-5 Big South|
|Top Hitter (by avg., min 2.5 PA/team gm.)||Kaylee Grant, .331, 44-133||Morgan Tolle, .342, 53-155||Kristen Brown, .397, 60-151||Emily Murphy, .381, 59-155|
|Top Pitcher (by IP)||Shanna Christian, 6-9, 3.41 ERA, 102 2/3 IP||Megan Good, 29-2, 0.96 ERA, 189 IP||Kendra Lynch, 27-17, 3.84 ERA, 282 1/3 IP||Elizabeth McCarthy, 19-10, 2.37 ERA, 184 1/3 IP|
|Series Notes||In the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008||Leads the series with Princeton 3-1 and has won the last three||Princeton leads the series 5-1 with UNC winning the last meeting in 2009||Princeton and Longwood have never met|