This Weekend in Division III — March 12, 2015

If you’re in Florida this week, I’m jealous, and not just because of the weather. A good chunk of New England’s best start their spring trips this weekend, and they didn’t mess around with scheduling either. I usually do a Ranked Matchups section, but that’d be a post by itself this week. If you’re in Winter Haven, Auburndale, or Port Charlotte this weekend, you’re in for some great baseball.

In the Midweek

Southern Maine, ranked #8 nationally by D3Baseball, has looked every bit a top-10 team in their 4-0 start. Roger Williams took them to extras in the front end of a Thursday doubleheader, but the Huskies escaped on Paul McDonough’s walk-off home run in the 10th. Apart from that, they’ve looked comfortable in doubleheader sweeps of the Hawks and Suffolk. Sophomore Matt Bender has driven in eight in the four wins. Three ranked matchups await USM in the next few days: #14 Rhodes on Friday, #10 UW-Stevens Point on Sunday, and #23 Rowan on Monday. If they come away with two wins in those three, look for them to move up in the Top 25.

One of the Huskies’ chief rivals for regional supremacy is off to a 4-0 start too. Wesleyan has surrendered only six total runs in four wins out in Arizona. That includes two shutouts of Carroll, in which Nick Cooney and Sam Elias combined to strike out 20. Top-25 tests come up this weekend in the form of #5 Cal Lutheran on Friday and #21 Linfield on Sunday.

Becker was the third and final team to put up a perfect midweek, recovering from a 1-3 start to their trip to win five straight. They put up a lot of runs in non-conference wins over SUNY Poly and New England College, but most importantly, they swept an NECC doubleheader over Daniel Webster on Thursday, 6-5 and 7-5. Credit DWC here: the conference’s last place preseason pick, they gave the preseason #2 a couple of great games, but the Hawks proved to be too much. In the front end, Becker trailed 5-4 in the late innings, but a Niko Bedell homer tied the game and an RBI single from nine-hole hitter Trevor Read put them ahead for good. The Hawks looked more comfortable in the back end, leading for the entire game en route to the win.

A pair of Becker’s fellow NECC contenders had great weeks as well. Preseason favorites Mitchell continued their hot start, going 3-1 on the week. Elms followed suit, going 4-1 in a week that included a pair of 8-2 wins over Emerson. Other one-loss weeks were turned in by Rhode Island College (DH sweep of Husson, split with Bowdoin) and Fitchburg State (wins over Bowdoin, SUNY Canton, and Gordon).

Challenging Trips Starting Up

Endicott, regional runners-up the past two seasons, have a grueling eight-game visit to central Florida ahead of them. The Gulls open up with two against #3 Cortland State and also play #7 Birmingham-Southern. If that weren’t tough enough, the Gulls’ “off days” come against Bowdoin, UMass Dartmouth, and Amherst. The Gulls are right on the cusp of the Top 25, and they’ll certainly crack it with a good showing here.

And as far as tough schedules go, you’ve heard me rave about USM and now Endicott, but Eastern Connecticut‘s takes the cake. In eight games, they’ll face six teams that are either in the Top 25 or receiving votes (that’s on the heels of an opener against now #6 Kean). Their Florida slate includes #23 Rowan, #3 Cortland, #7 Birmingham-Southern, and a Webster team that just dropped out of the rankings, along with two others receiving votes. The final two teams? Babson and Ramapo, both picked to finish in the top half of two of Division III’s best conferences. Matt LaBranche can’t schedule things much tougher than this.

Elsewhere in the LEC, Dennis McManus’s Plymouth State team opens up their coach’s final season. McManus has led the Panthers for 31 seasons, and he’s just 10 wins shy of 500 for his career. Plymouth will look to close in on that mark with opening doubleheaders against the Liberty League’s St. Lawrence and Skidmore. Staying in the LEC, UMass Boston heads to southwestern Florida for a tough trip of their own. They open with Top-25 vote-getters Heidelburg (the Student Princes — don’t ask me for an explanation), then see #17 Baldwin Wallace and #16 Marietta before their schedule eases up.

The MASCAC’s contenders will see ranked teams as well. Favorites Worcester State, coming off a midweek loss to UMass Dartmouth in Northborough, start up in Florida with doubleheaders against Wheaton, Trinity, and #8 Southern Maine. Two-pick Salem State will get #17 Baldwin Wallace and #3 Cortland, a pair of World Series teams from 2014. Framingham State, picked fourth, will take on Amherst and #1 UW-Whitewater. With preseason #3 Westfield State off to a 6-2 start, this trio will be looking to keep pace.

Back North

Very little action up north. Most teams are either waiting till next weekend or canceling games. If you’re really itching for some D3, Bates and MIT have reshuffled schedules to play a doubleheader at Franklin Pierce on Sunday. First pitch is at 3:00 PM. Really hope FPU’s game staff gets overtime pay (or at least a space heater) for all these extra games.

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