Arielle Bruno, from Millville, makes a play for Central Connecticut State during a recent game. Bruno homered Friday for the Blue Devils against LSU in an NCAA regional softball tournament game.

College students across the country have begun their summer migrations away from campus and back home as the spring semester is all but over.

Not juniors Arielle Bruno and Jess Combs.

Bruno and Combs want to stay at school for a few more weeks.

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The former first-team Press All-Star softball standouts have helped their respective colleges reach the regional round of the NCAA Division I tournament this weekend.

Bruno and the Central Connecticut State University Blue Devils are playing in the Baton Rouge Regional with host Louisiana State Unviersity. Combs and Stony Brook University are busy in the Columbia Regional with host Missouri.

LSU and Missouri are national powers ranked in the top 10.

"We're all so excited," Bruno, a Sacred Heart High School graduate, said in a phone interview earlier this week. "It doesn't seem real that we've done it, but it's here now so we have done it. Not everyone gets to feel this."

Bruno and the Blue Devils gave No. 9 LSU all it could handle on Friday.

Bruno hit her 10th home run this season in the third inning to tie the game, but the Tigers went on to win 3-2.

Stony Brook kept No. 6 Missouri off the board until the fifth inning, but a three-run home run led the Tigers to a 3-0 win.

Central Connecticut and Stony Brook each play today in the next portion of the four-team double elimination regionals with their work cut out for them.

The winner of each regional advances to Super Regionals with the winners there moving on to the College World Series.

'Nothing to lose'

Central Connecticut may be a scary team to play. The Blue Devils already feel as if they are playing with house money after winning the Northeast Conference tournament and qualifying for NCAAs for the first time in school history. The Blue Devils have broken the school record for wins in each of Bruno's seasons.

"We have nothing to lose," Bruno said. "We want to keep playing how we've been playing, keep the same routine. We're just going to go out there and keep playing our game."

Combs and the Seawolves don't mind playing the role of underdog.

Stony Brook lost its first game in the America East Conference tournament before winning four straight to reach the NCAA tournament for just the second time in school history.

"I think we definitely have a shot," said Combs, former Press Player of the Year at Hammonton, in a phone interview earlier this week. "Whoever is the better team that day is going to win.

"We're excited and fired up to play. We have to look at it as just another game, just with better competition."

Bruno and Combs each batted leadoff and anchored their respective team's middle infields this season.

Bruno, primarily playing second base, batted .340 this season with 11 doubles, 31 RBIs and 40 runs scored heading into Friday's game. She had a .425 on-base percentage and slugged .583.

Combs is her team's shortstop. She batted .268 with 12 doubles, 23 runs scored and 21 RBIs entering Friday's game. She was 6-for-6 on stolen base attempts and had a .330 on-base percentage.

But as impressive as their stats are, Bruno and Combs are each known for their toughness and durability.

Bruno played every inning of every game during her first two seasons at Central Connecticut and played every inning but one this season.

"It takes a lot of mental toughness," Bruno said. "You have to know what you are working for, know what you got and get it. You have to realize you are doing it for a reason.

"You are doing it for your teammates, not just yourself, but for everyone."

Combs hasn't left the field once in her three years of college softball.

"It's just fun to get out there and play and make diving plays and things like that," Combs said. "Especially in key moments."

Bruno and Combs, who were teammates for one summer with the South Jersey Mystics, will each try and help their team get back on track today.

Central Connecticut will play against Northwestern State at 4 p.m. Stony Brook will play Oregon State at 3:30 p.m.

Combs said her finals were this week and that she will have to take them when she gets back to campus this week.

So did she bring her books with her to Columbia to study?

"I actually did," Combs said. "But I don't know if I'll be doing much studying."

Contact John O’Kane:


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