Eight Teams Jockey for 2011 BIG EAST Softball Championship in Louisville

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Just days after the Kentucky Derby dust cleared, eight teams gear up for the 2011 BIG EAST Softball Championship May 12-14 hosted by the University of Louisville for the fourth consecutive year. Notre Dame, DePaul, Syracuse, USF, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Rutgers and Providence are slated to participate in the single-elimination tournament with Notre Dame earning the No. 1 seed.
No. 1 seed Notre Dame (44-8, 19-1 BIG EAST) makes its 16th BIG EAST Championship appearance after winning the conference's regular season title for the second-straight year and 13th time overall. The No. 18/25 Irish head into tournament play riding a 13-game winning streak. Their last loss and only league loss this season came at the hands of Louisville April 17, a 9-6 decision.
Notre Dame holds a 29-16 (.644) record in the BIG EAST Championship, winning the crown six times and claiming runner-up honors four times. The Irish's last tournament title came in 2009, when they defeated DePaul 1-0. As the second-seeded team last year, Notre Dame lost to the Cardinals in the semifinal round 5-2. In quarterfinal round action tomorrow, the top-seeded Irish will take on No. 8 seed Providence at 4 p.m. Earlier this season, Notre Dame hosted the Friars, sweeping them in a three-game set, 12-4, 7-3 and 9-0 with the first and third games ending in five innings.
The Friars return to the BIG EAST Championship for the 10th time, looking for their first title since 1994. In 2011, the Friars set two program records. They set the single-season home run record with 56 and most walks in a season with 140. The previous home run record was 53, set in 2004 and the previous record for walks was 130, set in 2008. Those 56 homers include five grand slams with two coming from the sophomore bat of Jessie Bryant.  
With a 38-12 mark overall and a 19-2 record in conference play, DePaul earned the No. 2 seed. This marks DPU's sixth trip to the BIG EAST Championship. The Blue Demons hold an 8-4 (.667) record in tournament play, earning the title once in 2008. They put together a 16-game winning streak this season from April 5-May 5. The streak was snapped May 7 during the final week of regular season action in the series opener against USF. The Blue Demons made just four errors in those 16 games, compared to 30 for their opponents. DePaul lead the league in fielding percentage with a .979 mark overall and a .986 mark in conference play.     
The Blue Demons face No. 7 seed Rutgers tomorrow at 12:30 p.m. The Scarlet Knights hosted DePaul earlier this season in a doubleheader April 22. RU lost both games with the first being a 9-4 decision. The second game went 10 innings as DPU won 15-10. The Scarlet Knights make their second-straight BIG EAST Championship appearance and fourth overall. They are 1-5 in tournament play and are looking for their first championship crown.
No. 3 seed Syracuse (41-11, 15-5 BIG EAST) seeks to defend its 2010 BIG EAST Championship title in its eighth tournament appearance. The Orange enter championship play with an 11-game winning streak, the longest in program history. This year, they tallied the first 40-plus win season in school history. Syracuse leads the conference in home runs with 66 on the season. SU also leads the BIG EAST in ERA (1.82), opposing batting average (.193) and batters struck out looking (122). The Orange drew No. 6 seed Pittsburgh (34-16, 13-8 BIG EAST) in the first round tomorrow at 10 a.m.
The last time the Panthers and the Orange met was May 1, 2010 for a doubleheader at Syracuse. The teams split the doubleheader as Pitt won the first game 8-0 and SU won the second 4-0. This is the fifth time in the last six years that Pitt has earned a berth in the BIG EAST Championship. Also seeded sixth last year, the Panthers lost in the quarterfinals to Louisville 9-1 in six innings. Pitt looks to improve on its 1-4 record in tournament play with help from newcomer junior Kelly Hmiel, who tied the school's single-season record for home runs with 15 this year. She also set Pitt's single-season record for RBI, collecting 50.
No. 4 seed USF (33-20, 13-5 BIG EAST) makes its fifth appearance at the BIG EAST Championship, holding a 4-4 record in championship play. The Bulls' best tournament finish came in 2008, when they earned runner-up honors. The Bulls are led by freshman pitcher Sara Nevins, who leads the nation in saves with eight. She is second in the BIG EAST in opposing batting average (.199) and third in ERA (1.75) and strikeouts (187). USF put together a 10-game winning streak from March 20-April 10, including six wins over league opponents.
The Bulls take on No. 5 seed Louisville (34-17, 12-7 BIG EAST) tomorrow at 6:30 p.m. The last time USF and UofL met was May 1-2 of 2010 for a three-game series. The Bulls won the first game 4-0, while the Cardinals took the second 2-1. Louisville dropped the third game 5-0.
This is the fourth time Louisville has hosted the BIG EAST Championship and it is the team's fifth appearance in the tournament. The Cardinals are 9-4 in championship play, winning the crown in 2007. Last year, they lost in the final game to Syracuse 2-1. This season, the Cardinals registered a 12-game winning streak from March 26-April 13, the fourth longest in school history. This is the eighth-straight season Louisville has posted 30 or more wins.
The 2011 BIG EAST Softball Championship is an eight-team, single-elimination tournament. The Championship runs from May 12-14. The quarterfinals and semifinals will be streamed live on the BIG EAST's Championship Central site, while the championship game on May 14 at 5 p.m. will be televised live on ESPN2.