Division III explodes onto the scene this weekend, with more than half of New England’s teams in action. It’s a deep region, with many of last year’s playoff teams returning talent and other teams waiting in the wings. Most of them have scheduled like they mean business, as you’ll see below, and it’ll prep them for what looks to be another year of tightly contested playoff chases and exciting conference tournaments. Here’s a conference-by-conference rundown of this weekend’s games.
The conference that came up just shy of regional and ECAC titles last season sees the bulk of its teams open up this weekend. Curry’s the only one that’s seen action already. They split a doubleheader down at Oglethorpe two weeks ago, with Kyle Connors’ 4-6, two-RBI, three-run day pacing the team. This weekend, the Colonels and five of their conference-mates will make their pilgrimages to sunny Florida. 2014 regular season runners-up Roger Williams faces probably the toughest slate, highlighted by a date with #7 Southern Maine next Thursday. Their Rhode Island rivals Salve Regina also take on ranked competition (#12 Marietta) next Tuesday. Eastern Nazarene, Gordon, and Wentworth are the other three squads that’ll be getting things started.
The GNAC has been this season’s early starter, with Saint Joseph’s, Anna Maria, and Johnson & Wales all having seen a field already. They’ll be joined by Suffolk, Norwich, Albertus Magnus, and Rivier down south this weekend. J&W and Albertus are both in Myrtle Beach, where the Wildcats will stay through Sunday, and the Falcons through next week. Albertus has the unenviable task of facing #20 Bridgewater, but they’ve also got some winnable AMCC and NEAC games scheduled. The other five are down in Florida. Preseason favorites St. Joe’s will look to improve on a 1-5 start on a trip highlighted by a doubleheader with Wheaton (who they lost two close games to in this matchup last year). Suffolk, the preseason #2, has the most grueling slate of the bunch. A single game with #9 Concordia-Chicago and two with #7 USM headline a week that sees some tough unranked matchups too. Last year, the Rams struggled through a 3-6 Florida trip before turning things on to the tune of an ECAC title up north. Finally, Norwich, picked a solid fifth, has managed to schedule every one of its games in Dodgertown against a Penn State-Something. (There’s apparently a Penn State-Beaver?) In any case, the Cadets return 2014 Freshman of the Year LaShawn Thomas as they look to return to the GNAC playoffs.
The Little East got hit hard by cancellations this weekend, but four teams will look to get games in. Keene State (doubleheader at SUNY Purchase) and Western Connecticut (at William Paterson) stay up north for another weekend, while Rhode Island College and Southern Maine both head to Florida. The Huskies enter the weekend at #6 nationally, the favorites to come out of a deep region for the third straight season. Every year, they head down to Florida, and every year, I think that there’s no way Ed Flaherty could come up with a tougher run of games for his team. This season, though, he’s outdone himself. Doubleheaders with 2014 playoff teams Suffolk, Roger Williams, and Worcester State sandwich a murderous run of games: #21 Rhodes, #11 UW Stevens Point, #13 Rowan, and a TCNJ team pegged as the dark horse in a deep NJAC. The Huskies have the talent to win more than they lose here, but this is a tough, tough slate.
Mass Maritime wrapped up a 2-3 Florida trip last week, and four other teams will hop in on the action this week. Preseason favorites Worcester State stay up north, where they’ve got a Saturday doubleheader down at SUNY Purchase. The trio of Bridgewater State, Westfield State, and Fitchburg State are also in action. Credit the Falcons’ first-year head coach Ryan Parker for Fitchburg’s schedule down in central Florida. Coming off an excellent 22-18 campaign, his team got picked 7th in the conference, but they’re still playing a top-notch slate down south. They open with top-25 vote-getter Rose-Hulman and #9 Concordia-Chicago. They’ll also see Bowdoin, Babson, and Suffolk before they head back north. Overall, should be another fun year in a conference that was tightly contested in 2014.
New England’s northern-most conference might not be getting many home games in anytime soon, but two teams have seen action already, and Husson and New England College will both open up in Florida this weekend. The Eagles have a reverse San Francisco Giants thing going, where they’ve won the conference in the last three odd years (2009, 2011, and 2013). They’ll hope that continues in 2015, and they play a typically solid Florida schedule to prep for NAC play. New England opponents include WPI, Suffolk, Rhode Island College, and Wheaton. The Pilgrims, who missed out on a playoff birth by only a game in 2014, see Westfield State, Becker, Daniel Webster, and Framingham State, among others.
Three teams have already seen action, and three more will join them this weekend. The highlight of the weekend is a conference series in Florida between Newbury and preseason favorites Mitchell. The Nighthawks have been in Florida since Sunday and are off to a 2-4 start that’s featured a sweep of Finlandia and three close losses. Nighthawk starters Jacob Pringle and Billy Stephen combined for 15 strikeouts in that doubleheader sweep. The Mariners opened up on Wednesday with a 12-4 win over Baruch. Gavin LaLima (4-5, BB, 2 R, 3 RBI) and Drew Doyle (5-6, 2B, 2 R, 3 RBI) led a 15-hit attack. Neither team sent anyone to the mound for more the two innings in their final tune-up games, a clear nod towards the importance of these early conference games. Along with these two teams, Daniel Webster, Becker, and Elms are all down in Florida.
The late-starting NESCAC has only two teams in action this weekend, Bowdoin and Wesleyan. Both teams start two-week southern trips. The Polar Bears, looking to rebound from missing the playoffs in 2014, have a New England-heavy slate down in central Florida. Fitchburg, Wheaton, RIC, RWU, Endicott, and WNEU all feature. The Cardinals, coming off a banner season and ranked #20 by Perfect Game, head to Arizona for two weeks filled with some great games. They’ll see #5 Cal Lutheran, #14 Linfield (also the 2013 national champs), and a solid Pomona-Pitzer team on their West Coast swing. The rest of the conference gets into action next weekend.
Six NEWMAC teams will play this weekend, including the preseason 2-3 of Wheaton and Babson. Both teams are playing schedules befitting title contenders. Wheaton mixes matchups with #9 Concordia-Chicago, #18 Webster, and #21 Rhodes into a week of solid in-New England matchups. That’s a schedule on par with USM’s as the Lyons look to return to the NCAA Tournament. The Beavers see #21 Rhodes and #22 Eastern Connecticut in the run-up to a conference doubleheader with Springfield that’ll close out their trip. Of the other four teams in action, WPI takes on a similarly New England-heavy slate, while Clark, Coast Guard, and Emerson will see more of the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest.
The team playing the biggest games this weekend is Brandeis, who’ll spend the week down at the UAA Championships. The pure round-robin format used in the past is no more. With NYU now in the mix, the Judges will only have to see Emory and Wash U once. A deep field, as usual, but Brandeis has the talent to pick up some wins here.
The New York Times ran a story on the NYU team that Brandeis faces. The Violets have resurrected their program after a 41-year hiatus. Emerson’s student paper previewed the Lions’ second season in the NEWMAC. And this weekend’s Top 25 from D3Baseball.com, as well as Perfect Game‘s, where Wesleyan’s ranked.