The three-time defending CUNYAC Champion College of Staten Island softball team will be back at it again this weekend, setting their sights on their fourth consecutive crown and their 9th in the last 12 years as part of CUNYAC Postseason Tournament play at CSI on Friday and Saturday. The Dolphins will usher in the Tournament, weather permitting, on Friday at 12pm, hosting the winners of a play-in game between No. 4 John Jay College and No. 5 Lehman College.
The six team foray begins on Thursday with those single elimination contests with No. 3 Baruch College hosting No. 6 Brooklyn College in the other play-in game. Second-seeded Hunter College is the other team in the mix, like CSI waiting in double-elimination play on Friday. All double-elimination games are played at the College of Staten Island, running parallel to baseball championship play a few yards away. Strong opponents promise not to be the only threat for the Dolphins, as Mother Nature promises to throw a damper on the two-day event. Still, Head Coach Stella Porto is excited about the days ahead.
“This year has been a challenging one with the weather and we’ve played a lot of our games within the last two weeks,” Porto said. “I think a lot of teams would be tired but we really focused on our conditioning this off-season and it’s paid off because the entire team is ready and hungry. Everyone is really looking forward to these next few days.”
The Dolphins will undoubtedly be looked at as the favorite despite a tie in the conference standings with Hunter at 11-1. Not a single member of the Dolphins’ playing roster has lost a championship, and the Dolphins are the CUNYAC’s only school with an overall record above .500 (22-12).
“We always try to set the bar high,” explained Porto. “We see being the favorite as a positive thing because we want to be looked at as a regionally and nationally-competitive. We set our expectations extremely high and it improves our work ethic. Nobody on this team wants to lose, so it makes us work that much harder to meet those high expectations and leave everything we have on the field. We know that the other CUNY schools are coming after us, and that’s okay.”
The Dolphins have the numbers to back up their top-seed status. The team is batting a healthy .330 this season, even better against the CUNYAC at an eye-popping .486, with a slugging percentage of .786 and a team ERA of 0.54. The CUNYAC dominance is led by senior Christina Tufano, who sports a .406 average overall. CSI’s all-time leader in hits, RBI, and doubles, paces the team with another 34 RBI this season and a .660 slugging percentage. Sophomore Vanessa Joia (.382), and senior Chyanne Gilliam (.330) are also swinging hot bats, while the interior fielding of freshman Antoinette Galbo and platooning second basemen Ashley Notaro and Gianna DeCesare keep the Dolphins sound in the field.
In the circle, the Dolphins have one of the region’s best one-two punches in junior Jacqueline Cautela and sophomore Nicolette Trapani. Cautela is swinging a .382 bat with a team best 39 runs scored and 17 doubles, and in the circle has been spectacular with an 11-6 record and 1.87 ERA. Trapani is 11-4 in 15 starts, boasting a team-best ERA on 1.57. She is 6-0 with a 0.48 ERA against the rest of CUNYAC.
One thing is for sure, CSI has the personnel to win another title, according to their coach.
“We have an all-star type team and the beauty is that everyone contributes and everyone concentrates on the ‘we’ over the ‘me,'” said Porto. “Each day we play the players feel like they need to prove themselves out there. It keeps us hungry and striving for more and when you get to this point of the season, everyone knows what they have to do and everyone is at their best.”
There is a reason why the games are played, however, and that’s because Porto knows that in tournament play anything can, and most times, does happen. Teams showcase their best during this weekend, and with the sloppy weather holding court, CSI will need to keep the needle sharp if it wants to repeat again.
“Honestly, between the crowds and the cameras going off and the video, it’s easy to get tight and make mistakes,” said Porto. “That’s why we’ve been working so hard on situational play, so that we can program ourselves to zone out some of the other stuff, weather, included, and focus on just playing the game. So much of these games come down to being sharp mentally, so we practice it over and over again.”
The tournament’s champion will receive an automatic pass into the NCAA National Championship Tournament which begins next weekend. The Dolphins won their first national championship game in almost a decade last year, and are looking for advanced success. That all renders itself moot if the Dolphins can’t advance, so for Porto and the team the focus is squarely on the task at hand this weekend.
“We’ve been so busy that we really have no choice but to just focus on what’s in front of us, and right now that’s the CUNYAC Championship,” said Porto. “With the weather being what it is, you never know when you are going to play, so the only thing to do is just be ready at all times. That keeps us focused. Mentally, everyone knows what they need to so. We want to win it and we want to earn it.”
CSI will open the double-elimination portion of the tournament at 12 Noon on Friday against the John Jay/Lehman winner. From there, win-or-lose, the Dolphins will play again later on Friday as part of winner’s bracket or loser’s bracket competition. The tournament continues on Saturday for the championship. Should rain play a factor on Saturday, competition will be bumped a day later so that play will be on Saturday and Sunday. Weather related calls are expected to be made each morning.
Tickets to all legs of the championship are FREE but fans are required to register for tickets here.