Two years after finishing 12-24, Norfolk State enters the 2019 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) tournament as the top seed after claiming the program’s first Northern Division title in school history. The Spartans (24-18, 11-4 MEAC) led the conference with the most regular season wins and guaranteed themselves a winning season for the first time in six years – and the fourth time overall in Division I.
The Spartans will play the No. 4 seed from the Southern Division at noon on May 8 to open the MEAC tournament at the Ormond Beach Sports Complex in Ormond Beach, Fla.
Bethune-Cookman, who will host the 2019 Softball Championship on Wednesday, May 8 through Saturday, May 11, enters the tournament as the other No. 1 seed. The Wildcats (13-2 MEAC) had the same conference record as Florida A&M but gained the top seed after wrestling away the Southern Division title from the Rattlers by winning two of the three games between the two rivals in the final weekend of the regular- season.
Only the top four teams from each division will compete in the double-elimination tournament, which features a chance to earn the league's automatic berth to the NCAA Division I Softball Championship.
The elimination round begins Thursday at 12 p.m. with a pair of games, followed by the winners’ bracket games at 3 p.m. The winners of the 12 p.m. contests will square off against the losers of the 3 p.m. games Thursday evening at 5 p.m.
On Friday, the first championship game participant will be determined following the 12 p.m. contest, while the final participant won't be known until a pair of elimination games at 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.
The championship round is set for Saturday, May 11, beginning at 12 p.m., and will be broadcast live on FloSoftball with the team from the winners’ bracket needing only one win to claim the championship trophy. If the team that comes out of the losers’ bracket wins the first game on Saturday, a second game will be played 30 minutes after.
No. 1 Norfolk State
Norfolk State ended the regular season on a high note when sophomore Tuli Iosefa led off the bottom of the seventh inning with a solo home run to give the Spartans a walk-off, 1-0 victory against Howard.
"Being at our lowest, having a mindset we had to keep up was the hardest thing for us," said junior outfielder Shelby DesChamps, who leads the team in batting average (.386), runs (39), and OPS (.917). "The way we battled together as a team feels great."
Iosefa tied with teammate Kylee Lopez for the conference lead in home runs (8), along with North Carolina Central's Dalika Wallace. Lopez is tied with MSU's Haylee Bobos for second in the conference in RBIs with 36. Senior starting pitcher Hunter Halford is first in the conference (with at least 10 starts) in ERA (2.49), tied for third in wins (13) and fourth in strikeouts (89) while starting pitcher Skylar Swain is second in the MEAC in ERA at 2.52.
DesChamps is first in hits (57) as well as second in runs (40) and fourth in total bases (72). Hammond is tied for eighth in the nation in stolen bases per game (0.75), and DesChamps is tied for 44th (0.50). The Spartans are currently 14th among 295 teams in stolen bases per game at 2.07.
No. 1 Bethune-Cookman
Bethune-Cookman (22-28) used a challenging non-conference schedule that included nine Power Five teams to springboard itself into its second consecutive MEAC Southern Division title. The Wildcats advanced to the MEAC Championship for the fifth consecutive year.
The Wildcats are the defending champion and will by vying for its tenth tournament championship and 11th NCAA tournament appearance.
Kayla Traylor was named the MEAC Conference Player Of The Week for the last week of April after going 7-for-10 at the plate for a .700 batting average and scoring three runs while also driving in three runs. In the game two win over Florida A&M, Traylor when 2-for-3 at the plate and scored a run and drove in two for the Wildcats in a 7-1 victory that clinched the South Division's No. 1 seed for next month's conference tournament. The sophomore from Riverside, Calif. batted a team-best .421 during conference play.
BCU's Alexis Bermudez, the 2018 MEAC Rookie Of the Year and Most Outstanding Player in last season’s conference tournament, has dominated league play this year, going 10-2 with a 1.70 ERA against conference foes, while teammate Destiny Enriquez finished the regular season campaign with a 5-2 record and a 1.60 ERA, best in the MEAC with 10-plus starts.
Bethune-Cookman will face Coppin State while Norfolk State and North Carolina A&T State face each other on the opposite field. Florida A&M/Delaware State and Howard/North Carolina Central round out the first day of action, with both games slated to start at 3 p.m.
No. 2 Florida A&M
Florida A&M (22-23, 13-2 MEAC), which has won the MEAC Championship 13 times, is the No. 2 seed from the South.
FAMU is in a familiar place entering the MEAC Softball Championship. The Rattlers had a shot at the division’s top seed, but Bethune-Cookman won the head-to-head tiebreaker by virtue of winning the regular-season series. They were in the same position last year when Bethune-Cookman came to Tallahassee, Fla., and swept a three-game series and then beat the Lady Rattlers twice in the MEAC Tournament to win the conference crown.
Florida A&M’s string of conference championships puts them in some exclusive company. Only Florida State with 16 ACC titles and Louisiana-Monroe with 14 Sun Belt crowns have won their conference championship more times than the Lady Rattlers.
FAMU, which is second in the conference in ERA (1.52), is led by pitchers Kyaira Brown, who went 3-1 and had a league-leading 0.98 ERA in six appearances (4 starts) during conference games, and Brandice Boatwright, who went 4-1 with a 2.01 ERA in six conference appearances (5 starts).
No. 2 Howard
Howard (16-27, 8-7 MEAC) earned its way to the No. 2 seed in the North by virtue of Morgan State being ineligible for postseason play. The Bison takes on the No. 3 North Carolina Central (NCCU) in the opening round.
In the conference, Howard has three Bison top 10 in batting average. Camille Navarro, Xzarria Simmons and Kalita Dennis are hitting over .400 apiece. Dennis averages .410 with 37 runs, 30 RBIs, 12 doubles and six home runs. Simmons bats .411 and responsible for 21 RBIs, 15 runs and 10 doubles. Navarro leads the Bison with a .412 batting average, along with 32 RBIs, 30 runs and 15 doubles. These three Bison are each having a great season, but the fact that they are all freshmen, makes it a bit more fascinating.
No. 3 North Carolina Central
NCCU (21-24, 10-5), which clinched its second consecutive MEAC softball postseason berth since rejoining the league, will represent the South Division as the No. 3 seed. The Lady Eagles enter the tournament after posting a stunning 3-1 upset win over the top 25-ranked University of North Carolina last week.
Sophomore pitcher Kiara Hurley was instrumental in the victory as she kept a nationally-ranked team to just four hits and one run. NCCU finishes its regular season with four consecutive wins and a 21-24 record. The 21 wins are the most by the Eagles in the programs’ NCAA Division I era.
No. 3 Delaware State
Delaware State (10-30, MEAC 7-8 MEAC) emerged as the No. 3 seed after sweeping Maryland Eastern Shore during the final weekend of conference play.
Delaware State will face FAMU in the opening round of the MEAC Tournament. The Rattlers won last year’s contest 8-4 in Ormond Beach, Fla. The Rattlers started quickly in the 2018 meeting, scoring three runs in the bottom of the first inning. The Hornets scored two runs in the top of the second inning and one in the third to tie the game, but the Rattlers added two runs in the third and fourth innings to regain control of the game.
Delaware State is seeking its second MEAC Tournament championship. The Hornets captured their lone title in 2008.
No. 4 Coppin State
Coppin State (9-30, MEAC 5-10) claimed the No. 4 seed in large part due to Delaware State sweeping the series against Maryland Eastern Shore.
Coppin State third-baseman Brissa Alvarado enters the tournament after closing the regular season on a hot streak, good enough to have been named the MEAC Softball Rookie of the Week. Alvarado finished the week 8-for-11 (.727) with a run, two RBI and three doubles in five games. Alvarado totaled a 1.000 slugging percentage for the week. In the three-game series against Morgan State over the weekend, Alvarado hit .625 with a run and two doubles, recording a pair of hits in games one and three. Alvarado leads the team with a .358 average and five doubles while scoring three runs and driving in eight.
No. 4 North Carolina A&T State
North Carolina A&T State (8-29, 5-10 MEAC) enters as the South’s No. 4 seed and will face top seed Norfolk State.
The two teams played earlier this year, a doubleheader sweep for the Spartans at home on March 15. They scored 11 runs in the second inning of game 1, an eventual 15-4 victory. In the second game, NSU had just two hits but got a strong effort from pitcher Skylar Swain in a 1-0 win.
The Aggies lost to Norfolk State 15-4 in Game 1 despite freshman Nikki Varela going 3-for-3 with two RBI in the game. In the second game, the Aggies were defeated 1-0 despite senior Mohagony Headen pitching a complete-game two-hitter where she struck out five.