We’ve turned the calendar to April, and it feels like the conference standings are starting to settle out. We’re a couple weekends into league play in Division I, and New England teams sit atop the standings in the MAAC, NEC, and Patriot League. In Divisions II and III, some teams have gotten some separation in the early going. Franklin Pierce’s 27-2 start has powered it to a 7-1 divisional mark, and they swept one of their direct rivals this weekend. Every one of the Division III conferences has seen a team race off to a perfect start so far. Husson in the NAC (10-0), Endicott in the CCC (8-0), Saint Joseph’s in the GNAC (6-0), Mitchell (6-0) and Becker (5-0) in the NECC, MIT in the NEWMAC (5-0), Western Connecticut in the LEC (4-0), Amherst (3-0) and Wesleyan (3-0) in the NESCAC, and Salem State in the MASCAC (2-0). It’s still early, of course, but in all three divisions, New England teams have set the bar high for the rest of the teams in their conferences.
Team of the Week: Coming off a MAAC Tournament bid in 2014 that sent Dan Gooley into retirement in style, Quinnipiac had to be feeling pretty good when it started off the season by winning two of three. Once the calendar turned to March, though, the going got really, really tough. The Bobcats started the month by losing 11 straight games, nine of them packed into one road trip from hell to Tennessee. When the lost a 1-0 squeaker to Rhody on March 18 to drop to 2-12, things seemed pretty bleak.
But since Quinnipiac started playing the games that matter, it’s been a whole different story. They’re tied for first in the MAAC at 6-3 and have yet to lose a series in conference. And this team hasn’t even played a home game yet. They had five conference games packed into this past week, and it proved to be their best yet.
The Bobcats turned in a 4-1 mark against a pair of MAAC contenders. It started on Monday, when they journeyed to Hartford’s turf for a doubleheader to wrap up their series with 2014 Cinderellas Siena (picked 4th in the preseason). The Bobcats gritted out a pair of 3-2 wins, getting a walkoff single from Matthew Oestreicher in game one and seven strong (11 K’s) from Justin Thomas in game two. This weekend, they traveled to Monmouth (3rd in the preseason) and won another series behind a 6-11 showing from shortstop Matt Batten. They also got six hits from his middle infield partner Scott Donaghue, who’s now up to .308 on the year. The Bobcats will finally open up at home this week before they travel to Manhattan next weekend looking to keep the wins coming in conference.
Holy Cross may have had a two-loss week, but they came out on top in a battle for Patriot League supremacy. Coming off a sweep of Lafayette, the Crusaders welcomed Navy to Fitton Field for their home opener. The Midshipmen had also started off Patriot League play 4-0 and featured left-handed ace Luke Gillingham, recently named Perfect Game‘s Midseason Pitcher of the Year. Gillingham was to much for the Saders in a 1-0 series opener, but after that, it was all Holy Cross. The stellar pitching from the Lafayette series was there again, giving up only five runs on the weekend. Eight scoreless from Ben White got them a doubleheader split Saturday. Six strong from Justin Finan, and a complete game from Brendan King on Sunday, and the Crusaders had a series win and sole possession of first place under their belts. It’s their best Patriot League start ever, and with a conference ERA of 0.68, you’ve gotta like their chances of keeping that up. A home date with Lehigh awaits.
Apart from that one loss to Navy, Cross’s only other loss on the week came against Harvard, who used that Wednesday win as a springboard to a 3-1 weekend in Ivy League play. After going on the road last weekend and losing four games by a total of five runs, the Crimson needed a weekend like this to recover, and the offense helped them do just that. They averaged 11 runs a game in their three wins, beating Princeton 8-1 and 11-8 and Cornell 14-2. Designated hitter DJ Link went 6-12, drove in eight, and scored six runs as part of a big showing in the wins. Harvard now stands at 14-13 ahead of road openers in the Baseball Beanpot (at UMass) and the Rolfe Division (at Brown).
Rhode Island used the momentum from a pair of midweek wins to catapult themselves to a big conference series win of their own. After beating Northeastern and UMass Lowell in the midweek, they hosted Davidson for three at Bill Beck Field. They dropped the opener, but came back to sweep a Saturday doubleheader against the Wildcats. They did so behind some stellar pitching. Lou Distasio and Brendan Doonan combined to give up just one unearned run in the opener, and Tyler Wilson gave up just three hits in eight scoreless in the rubber match. 3-3 in conference may seem like a pedestrian start, but a road win against Saint Louis and a series over Davidson is a marked improvement on a down 2014, when it was April 20 before they notched their third conference win.
A few other weekends of note. Boston College salvaged a Sunday win over Wake Forest behind Chris Shaw, who homered three times (once to each field) in three at-bats as part of a 4-5, seven RBI day. That won’t have hurt his already sky-high draft status. In the NEC, the two teams that met in last year’s title game both had winning weeks. Sacred Heart got off on the right foot in conference, taking three of four from Fairleigh Dickinson. Bryant, who had a first-weekend bye, came home from Philadelphia with two of three. The Bulldogs’ Trevor Lacosse threw eight scoreless, walkless innings in a Friday win over Villanova.
Co-Team of the Week: Two teams distinguished themselves this week, and national #3 Franklin Pierce was one of them. The highlight of a 5-0 week was a weekend sweep of Stonehill. The Ravens took the momentum from a Thursday walkoff into a Saturday doubleheader, where they notched 15-2 and 5-0 wins. Shortstop Justin Brock homered and drove in four in the opener, and Miles Sheehan got his fourth win of the year with eight scoreless innings to close out the sweep. Pretty good against a Skyhawk team that entered the weekend with four losses on the year. And with #2 Minnesota State dropping three games this week, you could see the Ravens move even higher nationally.
Co-Team of the Week: I haven’t written much about Bridgeport this year, but they had an excellent week, matching the Ravens’ 5-0 record while grabbing four conference wins in the process. The highlight came in the weekend opener, a 4-0 shutout of Mercy. Sophomore Anthony Alicki spun a shutout, striking out seven and allowing just three hits. Tim Bickford’s two RBI helped get him all the runs he’d need. 7-6 and 7-3 wins over the Mavericks helped them complete the winning weekend. At 7-4 in conference, the Purple Knights have moved up to third in the ECC. A meeting with second-place Dowling awaits on Tuesday.
Elsewhere, Bentley got a nice win over Southern New Hampshire on Saturday. Playing as the road team at their own DeFelice Field, the Falcons won a wild 8-7, 26-hit affair in extras. The game was 2-2 after two, 5-4 Bentley after five, and 6-6 after eight. In the 10th, freshman Nick Neshe came through with the big hit, a two-RBI single that put his team up 8-6. In the bottom half, a Manny Cruz solo shot had some hearts in mouths, but Bill Sullivan struck out Carson Helms to end the game. Further south, Southern Connecticut took a three-game series over division rivals AIC. A.J. Turnier’s complete game paced them in a 1-0 rubber-game win, with Joe Breen providing the only RBI. The Owls now stand at 3-4 in conference ahead of a big showdown with New Haven next weekend.
Co-Team of the Week: There’s no hotter team in New England than Husson right now. At 14-7 overall and winners of 12 straight, the Eagles haven’t lost a game since returning from Florida. Their week started with an excellent OOC doubleheader sweep of Saint Joseph’s. They swept a doubleheader from UMF on Thursday, then shut out Thomas in two games on Friday. Ryan Rebar walked off in the 11th inning of a 1-0 win in the opener, and Zach Sugar homered in a 13-0 drubbing in the back end. That makes a 10-0 start to NAC play, something that looms even larger with Castleton and Thomas splitting down in Florida this past week. All that, and not a single vote in the NEIBA poll. I know the NAC’s not the strongest league out there, but these guys played a tough slate down in Florida (as usual) and have flat-out dominated since coming back north. C’mon.
Co-Team of the Week: Salem State entered the NEIBA poll at #5 with a 5-0 week. They worked off of a strong midweek, notching wins over scuffling Roger Williams, hot Gordon, and regional powers Southern Maine ahead of a conference sweep of Bridgewater. Up until the last game of the week (a 4-3 win over the Bears), the Vikings won each game comfortably. Senior leadoff man Kevin Carens had a monster day against USM, coming up a homer shy of the cycle while going 5-6 with three RBI and four runs. The pitching staff did enough to win, with Pete Gonski’s 3.2-inning save proving the key. In the MASCAC doubleheader, Richard Fecteau drove in four, including the walkoff RBI in the back end that sent the Vikings to their perfect week.
Elsewhere in the MASCAC, Framingham State and Mass Maritime both had one-loss weeks in conference that left them on Salem’s heels in the standings. The Rams swept MCLA before splitting with a Fitchburg State team that’s played very good baseball this season. Zachary Kirby bested Fitchburg’s Ryan Magni in an extra-inning pitchers’ duel that saw the two combine to strike out 21 in 16 innings. The Bucs, meanwhile, took a single game off those same Falcons while also getting a split with Worcester State. Logan Sullo was a single short of the cycle in his 3-4 showing in the win over the Rams.
After an exciting first couple weeks, the Little East standings remain as packed as ever. Western Connecticut stands as the only club at a perfect 4-0, a mark they maintained with a sweep of Plymouth State on Sunday. In a 4-2 win in the opener, cleanup man Matt Greene doubled twice and drove in three. A complete-game shutout from Todd Lyons (who’s 3-0 on the year) completed the sweep. Rhode Island College built on a 6-4 Florida trip to the tune of a 5-1 week. They scored double digits in four straight wins over Becker, Brandeis, and LEC foes Keene State, then got a nice split with UMass Boston on Saturday. In a hard-fought opening game, the Anchormen scored five in the middle innings and got three lockdown relief frames from Joe Brooks to win 6-3. UMass Dartmouth joined RIC with a one-loss of its own. After dropping the opener of a Monday doubleheader against UMB, the Corsairs came back to win 12-11 in a topsy-turvy, ten-inning game two. Taylor Cacciola came off the bench to grab two hits and the game-winning RBI. UMD went on to get a nice midweek win over Worcester State, then swept Keene State on Saturday. And in the matchup of the league’s two titans, Southern Maine (#21 in this week’s D3Baseball poll) swept Eastern Connecticut. A seven-run second powered the Huskies to a 12-6 win in game one. They trailed 4-0 after seven in game two, but scored two each in the 8th and 9th to extend it to extras, where they won in the 13th. Andrew Richards struck out eight in eight innings of relief.
The NEWMAC East Division looks like it’ll be as entertaining as we’d hoped. Wheaton and Babson both sit three games north of .500, but it’s MIT that stole the show this week. The Engineers played 45 innings of conference baseball this week, and they trailed for all of a half inning. It started on Thursday, when Parker Tew’s 6-8, two-double, two-homer day keyed a sweep of Springfield. The club then took care of business in a three-game series in Emerson. They trailed after a half inning in Friday’s opener, but Hayden Cornwell’s 4-4 day helped them to a 6-2 win. The offense completed the perfect week with a pair of 14-run explosions on Saturday. They’ve yet to face division rivals Wheaton or Babson yet, but when they do, it should be quite the show.
Weather killed much of the weekend in the NECC, but Mitchell pushed its record to 12-2 with a perfect week. The Mariners got a pair of 2-1 wins over Nichols on Wednesday. On Saturday, they kept their perfect conference mark intact with a sweep of Daniel Webster. Kenneth Olszewski went 7-8, drove in four, and scored six times between two blowout wins. Elms, meanwhile, got on the board in conference with a Tuesday sweep of Lesley in Northborough. Tom Weldon struck out seven in a seven-inning shutout to win the front end, 3-0.
In the CCC, Endicott has kept rolling after a hot start in their return to New England. They recovered from a narrow midweek loss to Eastern Connecticut to sweep doubleheaders from Wentworth and Nichols. Veteran second baseman Harry Oringer drove in five in the sweep of the Leopards, and Owen Bautze threw a complete-game one-hitter against Nichols to close out the perfect weekend. The Gulls now stand at 8-0 in conference, head and shoulders above the rest of the CCC (and that’s with games against fellow top-halfers Salve and Wentworth out of the way already). Elsewhere, Gordon earned itself second place with a sweep of Western New England and a split with Roger Williams. Salve Regina got a nice 17-4 midweek win over Eastern Connecticut.
Like Endicott in the CCC, Saint Joseph’s has raced out to an early lead in the GNAC standings. Playing six conference games in three days between Thursday and Saturday, the Monks went a perfect 6-0. Their pitching staff gave up more than two runs in just one of the games, sporting a 1.71 staff ERA in that stretch. Alex Valenti’s seven-strikeout, seven-inning shutout of Lasell in the weekend opener set the tone for the next three days. Offensively, Joe Coyne doubled four times in a week he ended with a .416 batting average. (He also started five of the six games behind the dish.) Albertus Magnus had a winning week of its own, outslugging Purchase in an 18-13 midweeker and sweeping Norwich on Thursday. The Falcons are in a tie for third in conference. Johnson & Wales got some nice midweek wins over Bridgewater State, Wentworth, and Castleton before splitting a doubleheader with Lasell.
Weather messed with the NESCAC’s weekend, but the sweep-happy West Division stayed in character, with favorites Wesleyan and Amherst both taking home 3-0 weekend. The Cardinals blew out Williams 14-2 in their opener, but then got a couple good games from the Ephs. That included a 7-6 win in the finale that saw them come from behind twice and throw out the potential tying run on the basepaths in the 9th. Donnie Cimino went 4-5 with five runs scored in the opener, and Jonathan Dennett reached base six times in the final two games. In the series between the Lord Jeffs and Middlebury, meanwhile, the Panthers pitching woes continued. Amherst swept the series by scorelines of 22-2, 18-2, and 20-10.