Eric Emmerling's NH College Notebook: Concord's Bernier making her pitch at Eckerd College
Last weekend's paralyzing snowstorm reminded Northfield's Whitney Bernier why she headed south to play college softball.
While the Granite State prepared for the nor'easter, the Eckerd College junior pitched an economical complete-game victory under sunny skies at a tourney held in Clearwater, Fla. The temperature was 72 degrees.
When graduating from Bishop Brady of Concord after posting a career record of 42-7 (.055 ERA) and earning all-state accolades for four straight seasons, the 5-foot-5 righty sought an academically- challenging, warm-weather college that played competitive softball.
Eckerd fit the bill. Its St. Petersburg campus abuts sandy beaches along Tampa Bay. The Tritons compete in the nine-team Sunshine State Conference, a top notch Division II league in which six different clubs have earned a top-20 national ranking the past few seasons.
Bernier is currently 4-2 with a 1.99 ERA in 38 innings of work. She's pitched three complete games, including one shutout and was named her conference pitcher of the week in early February. Though Eckerd has posted losing records during her tenure, the righty has had ample opportunity to match her multiple-pitch repertoire against top notch talent.
She went 2-10 as a freshman on a team that finished 15-39, improving to 5-12 with a 4.33 ERA when Eckerd went 12-43 in 2012. Several of her victories came against nationally ranked squads.
"Whitney far exceeded our expectations the last two seasons and we're going to rely on her pretty heavily this year. When she pitches we have a shot at beating anybody," said Eckerd coach Josh Beauregard, who was born in Keene, and alerted to Bernier's potential by longtime Granite State acquaintances.
Beauregard was a star outfielder at Monadnock of Swanzey before playing four seasons at Eckerd followed by five summers of professional ball, the last three with the Worcester Tornadoes (2005-2007) of the Canadian-America Association, an Independent league.
He received plenty of emails touting Bernier's touted seven-pitch repertoire and her engaging personality. Against college-level hitters Bernier relies on four offerings while pitching to contact. She sets up hitters with her curve and change before spotting her fastball and screwball up and down in the strike zone.
"When she's on the mound she's all business but between innings her charismatic personality comes out. Bubbly is one way to describe it," said Beauregard, still surprised by his pitcher's between-inning behavior.
"She comes into the dugout and checks the scouting report on the upcoming hitters and then you'll never know what she might do or say. Not everyone remains focused like the Terminator the entire game," said Beauregard. "She keeps her teammates loose and that's a good thing."
Loose and relaxed, Bernier's teammates make defensive plays in support of her mound work. The well-tanned team is currently 6-4 and optimistic about the future.
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RUNNING TO FORM: Two Franklin Pierce University runners from Concord supplied personal best times at last Monday's Tufts Cupid Challenge. Sophomore Makopa Rugabirwa shaved 10 seconds off his personal PR to win the 3,000-meter event while junior Antoine Gisore finished third in the 5,000, coming within 5 seconds of the NCAA championship provisional qualifying time.
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NOMINATED: St. Anselm College senior Mike Richard of Derry is a semifinalist candidate for the 13th annual Joe Concannon Award, presented annually to the best American-born college hockey player in New England playing Division II or III hockey. The 6-foot forward and former Pinkerton Academy product scored 15 goals and added 10 assists while helping the Hawks to a 14-8-5 record.
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ROOKIE CONFERENCE HONORS: Keene State College freshman Alison Bartlett of Stratham won the 50 and 100-yard freestyle races, placed second in the 50 butterfly and swam a leg in three winning team relays at the last weekend's New England Intercollegiate Swimming and Division Association Championships to earn Little East Conference women's rookie swimmer of the week honors.
Colby-Sawyer College freshman Wol Majong of Manchester (Trinity of Manchester and New Hope Academy, Md.) nabbed North Atlantic Conference Men's Basketball Rookie of the Week honors for a remarkable three-game performance during which he shot 69.7 percent from the field and 64.7 from beyond the arc. He tallied a career-high 31 points in one game, sinking 12 of 14 shots.
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SPLENDID SOPHOMORE: Thus far this season Christan Wojtas of Amherst (Souhegan) has started every game for Keene and is the squad's second-best scorer, averaging 11.2 points a game. Employing a quick release and a soft touch, the 5-foot-10 shooting guard and forward has netted double digit scoring figures in 14 games.
Eric Emmerling's New Hampshire College Notebook appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.