At the plate: The Pioneers aren't a power threat by any means (10 homers on the season), but they have some good contact hitters that can start rallies from the heart of their order. Junior shortstop John Murphy batted .347 this season and has made two straight All-Tournament teams in the NEC, attesting to his ability to play in the clutch. DH Dan Perez follows Murphy in the lineup and leads the team with 36 RBI so far this season. Freshman infielder/outfielder/jack-of-all-trades Matt Charmello may look small, but he's shown some pop in his bat in limited at-bats this season.
Still, this is a team that averaged just over 4.3 runs per game in 2012. They'll need more firepower than that to win a game in Raleigh, and they'll have to do it against the best pitching they've seen all season. It's going to be quite a challenge for this Connecticut school.
On the mound: Sacred Heart got three straight sterling performances to carry them to the NEC title, and they'll hope to repeat that in Raleigh this week. Troy Scribner, Kody Kerski, and Nick Leiningen all threw complete games as the Pioneer bullpen earned the week off in Norwich. The trio combined to allow just three runs over that span, highlighted by Leiningen's five-hit, five-strikeout shutout against top-seeded Monmouth.
Scribner, Kerski, and Leiningen make up a solid but unspectacular rotation for the Pioneers. All are pitchers who can eat up innings, but only Scribner has the polish to be a real strikeout threat on the hill. When they traveled for a series against a sub-.500 Kansas State team, they combined to allow 31 baserunners and 18 earned runs in 17 innings of work. That wasn't even the worst series they had all year - they also allowed New Mexico State to put up football-style numbers in seven-inning games against them back in March. The less said about that, the better.
Complete games aren't rare at SHU - that trio combined for 17 of them this season. When you look at their bullpen, it's easy to see why. The Pioneers don't have a reliever with an ERA under 4.90. Jeff Stoddard leads the team in appearances with 15, but also boasts an ERA of 7.01 and has 17 walks in just 35 innings.
Overall outlook: Sacred Heart finished fourth in the Northeast Conference's regular season, but benefitted from league leader Bryant's final year of probation, which left the 24-8 squad out of the conference tournament. The Pioneers swept their way through the NEC tourney to finish their regular season at 25-30, making them one of only two teams in the NCAA Tournament with a losing record.
The best team that they faced all season ended up as a moderate two-seed, and the Pioneers ended up allowing 60 runs over the final 21 innings of that series. While they finished the season much stronger than they started it, it's tough to imagine things being too different than last year's NCAA appearance, where Sacred Heart bombed out of the Clemson Regional behind a pair of 10-run losses. It would be one hell of a Cinderella story if the Pioneers could win a game in Raleigh, but their past history suggests that this just won't be the Pioneers' year.