We’re almost ready to turn the calendar to April, which means more teams than not are playing conference games that really matter. Some have already kicked things off, with A-10 leaders UMass getting off to the most auspicious start. Here’s a preview of the action.
In the Midweek
Big-conference Connecticut and Boston College were the big winners this midweek, with both offenses feasting on midweek pitching. The two teams entered the week on different trajectories (the Huskies having won 7 of their last 9, the Eagles having lost 8 of their last 9), but both went 2-0. The Huskies won a pair of blowouts, 18-1 over Yale and 17-2 over Central Connecticut. Vinny Siena led a merciless offensive attack, going 6-11 with five runs and nine RBI over the two days. Starters Andrew Zapata and William Montgomerie each picked up their first wins in five-inning performances. The Eagles’ attack was similarly potent on Tuesday in a 22-1 rout of Northeastern (Strem, Shaw, and Maselli each drove in five), but Holy Cross played BC close in a 4-2 game on Wednesday. The Eagles led from the 2nd inning onward, with two Crusader runs in the 8th the only blemish.
I caught the last few innings of Brown‘s 6-5 win over George Mason on Tuesday. Dan Kerr had a 3-5, two-RBI game as the Bears held off a late Mason rally for their third straight win. On Wednesday, I visited George Washington’s Tucker Field, where UMass and URI will both hope to be playing in late May for the A-10 Tournament.
In one of the perks of power-conference baseball, UConn gets to spend the weekend in the 70s while the rest of us are stuck up north. The Huskies kick off AAC play with three games in New Orleans against Tulane. The Green Wave cracked some Top 25’s with an 11-2 start, but they’ve since fallen to earth a bit, losing three of the last four and two of their last three series. Still, though, they’ll give the Huskies a stern test in what promises to be an entertaining series. If you’re anywhere near Turchin Field, you won’t want to miss the opener. Look for UConn’s Carson Cross (5-1, 1.74, 58 Ks in 41.1) to face off against Tulane’s own Friday-night stud, Corey Merrill (1-1, 1.33, 36 Ks in 40.2),
High-flying UMass also comes up against a stiff test south of the Mason-Dixon line. The Minutemen will be in Richmond for three with VCU, one of the A-10 favorites entering conference play. At 3-5 on the season, UMass has played fewer games than almost anyone else, but that didn’t phase them in a road sweep of Dayton last weekend. Senor Paul Yanakopulos is hitting .429 on the year, and fellow senior Rob McLam is right on his heels at .381. Getting even one against a VCU team that’s won 10 of 13 would put the Minutemen in a very good position ahead of their A-10 home opener next weekend.
Road Warriors in the Rolfe
The first of two weekends of inter-divisional play in the Ivy League sees New England’s Rolfe Division stalwarts hit the road. Travel partners Dartmouth and Harvard get the short end of the stick here, as they play flipped doubleheaders with 2014 Gehrig Division co-champions Columbia and Penn. Brown and Yale will see Cornell and Princeton in the same format. For the first time in a few years, the Crimson enter this stretch of play looking the best in the division. At 10-8, they’ve been my Team of the Week on a couple occasions and have won numerous individual accolades. The Bears and Bulldogs have had good stretches as well, and even as Dartmouth’s scuffled to a 2-14 start, no one’s counting out the seven-time defending division champs. In all, it’s a division that looks well-positioned to send a team to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010.
Road Tests in the MAAC
Differing fortunes for our two MAAC teams in the first week of league play, with Fairfield dropping a series at Manhattan, but Quinnipiac winning one at Saint Peter’s. A series win for either would be a great result this week. The Stags take the long bus ride to Buffalo, where they’ll play league favorites Canisius in a matchup of the preseason 1 and 2. Fairfield’s off to a 3-11 start, but that’s against a grueling schedule, and with more performances like Mike Wallace’s complete game two-hitter last weekend, they’ll put on a good showing out in western New York. Quinnipiac, after some relocating, will play once at Hartford and twice in Loudonville against 2014 NCAA Tournament darlings Siena. The Bobcats didn’t manage a ton of offense against Saint Peter’s last weekend, but did hold the Peacocks to only five runs in the series. Thomas Jankins’s seven scoreless in the series opener set the tone for the staff.
Central Connecticut and Holy Cross both head to the Keystone State this weekend. CCSU balances what’s been a home-heavy schedule with a trip to Penn State. The Nittany Lions aren’t a traditional baseball power, but they’ve won 4 of 5, including games against the ACC’s Pitt and high-powered Indiana. Should be a good test ahead of the start of NEC play next weekend. The scenery won’t hurt either. The Crusaders have a different sort of matchup, as they start Patriot League play against Lafayette. These are the two teams that missed out on the playoffs last season (HC for the first time since 2011), and both will be itching to get that taste out of their mouths in this four-gamer. Sophomore Anthony Critelli enters the weekend with a team-leading 16 RBI, and freshman Cam O’Neill is hitting .394 with 10 of his own.
The Times-Picayune down in New Orleans looks ahead to the Tulane-UConn series. Florida State’s DJ Stewart (formerly of the Y-D Red Sox) was named the NCBWA’s National Player of the Week. And the Heights has an entertaining piece on BC’s field woes.