Weekend Roundup — April 27, 2015

We always get a mixed bag of emotions in this great sport of ours, but even more than usual, this weekend saw some of the highest highs juxtaposed with the lowest lows. Tournament tickets punched, title games lost. Key series won, many more dropped. Playoff berths clinched, title bids up in smoke. Rookie coaches hitting it big, retiring veterans hitting the home stretch. Freshman leading playoff teams, and, what’s always the worst part of this best time of year, way too many careers coming to an end. Here’s a look at the action.

Division I

Team of the Week: In a week where a lot of teams fell flat, Northeastern set itself apart, winning a game at Fenway and keeping their perfect home conference record intact to vault into third place in the CAA. It all started on Wednesday, when they Huskies came from behind three times to beat Harvard in the Beanpot consolation. Walpole native Cam Hanley’s 3-5 day culminated in a two-out, 9th-inning single that gave NU the win at the Fens. After that, the Huskies returned to Friedman Diamond in search of their third straight winning weekend. Facing Hofstra, the Long Island club coached by former Vermont Mountaineers skipper John Russo, the Huskies pulled out a sweep, never trailing past the second in 5-1, 3-2, and 8-3 wins. Nick Berger struggled a bit with command on Friday, walking four and hitting two, but he held the Pride to two hits and an unearned run in 5.1. Mike Fitzgerald tidied things up with 3.2 hitless innings to earn his fourth save of the season. On Saturday, Hanley picked up where he left off in the midweek, doubling, tripling, and driving in all three of the Huskies’ runs. In relief, it was Aaron Civale’s turn to shine, going the final 2.1 of a one-run game with only one baserunner. On Sunday, Rob Fonseca’s big day (3-3, 2B, HR, 5 RBI) helped to complete the sweep, with Isaac Lippert coming in from the pen to strike out seven in three scoreless to ice the game.

For the Huskies to get three saves from three different guys on the weekend isn’t out of character. Civale (6), Fitzgerald (4), and Lippert (3) have combined for 13 saves in their 20 wins, a remarkable number.  When you look at a team that’s giving 30 points of batting average and more than a run of ERA to its opponents, it’s clear their work has been key to the Huskies’ near-.500 record. First-year head coach Mike Glavine generally uses Civale for single innings (they haven’t lost a game he’s worked in since mid-March), but prefers the relief-ace model for Fitzgerald and Lippert, often using them for multiple innings to great effect.

That bullpen will be invaluable come conference-tournament time in three weeks. Speaking of which, the Huskies are looking very good for a trip to South Carolina this year. After the sweep, they’ve moved up into third in the CAA, trailing only at-large shoo-ins College of Charleston and UNC Wilmington. NU has a tough run-in, with two trips south of the Mason-Dixon Line followed by a visit from #19 Charleston, but they’ve set themselves up well enough that even a 2-7 finish to leave themselves at .500 in the league should be plenty to see them into the postseason.

Elsewhere, Dartmouth joined Northeastern with a 4-0 week by virtue of its sweep of Harvard. The games didn’t matter much, with Dartmouth having wrapped up the division but with little chance of catching Penn or Columbia for Ivy title series hosting rights. Nevertheless, the Big Green looked good. None of the starters put up an eye-popping line on the hill, but Mike Concato, Duncan Robinson, Louis Concato, and Chris England each went at least six and surrendered no more than two earned runs. Offensively, second baseman Dustin Shirley earned himself a game-four start in the leadoff spot after driving in four in the first three games. Freshman Kyle Holbrook blasted his first collegiate home run in the opener. With Penn and Columbia in a tiebreaker after yet another great race in the Gehrig Division, Dartmouth will have two weeks to gear up for their eighth straight Ivy title series.

UMass Lowell didn’t get off to the hot non-conference start it did in 2014, but once again, the Riverhawks are carving out a place near the top of the America East. UML finished third in its inaugural season, and this year, they sit in second after a big road sweep of Hartford. In the opener, freshman Andrew Ryan set the tone for a great weekend on the mound, tossing a complete-game shutout. Things were much tighter in game two of the opening doubleheader, but nine-hole hitter Kelly Rooney came through with a 9th-inning RBI to break a 4-4 deadlock. In Sunday’s finale, the Riverhawks got a little bit of both– great pitching from Geoff DeGroot in a complete game and late RBI from Ian Strom and Matthew Sanchez to break a 1-1 deadlock. UML might not postseason eligible for another couple years, but they’re giving the AEC a pretty clear idea of what it’ll be like when they are.

Perhaps the most meaningful week came from Rhode Island. At 2-3, the Rams went below .500, but those two wins came in a massive road series win over VCU. In the opener, Mike Corin’s three-run homer turned a 6th-inning deficit into a 4-2 lead, and Lou Distasio cruised to his fourth win from there. Corin was at it again in the series clincher on Saturday, doubling and tripling in a 4-4 performance. The Rams trailed 2-1 after seven, but scored five times in the final two frames to win 6-3. Freshman phenom Tyler Wilson ran his record to 6-0, striking out seven in seven without giving up an earned run. VCU’s pitching staff locked things down to shut the Rams out on Sunday, but Rhody had already gotten what it came south for en route to a first-place tie in the Atlantic 10. After a tough 2014, these guys are well and truly back.

Division II

Co-Team of the Week: Lots of teams did big things for their playoff hopes this week, but none bigger than AIC. The Yellow Jackets went 4-0 in a week of Southwest Division play, moving past Adelphi into third place in the conference. Sitting a half game back of second-place New Haven, we could be talking about a home playoff game for AIC if they take their season-ending series from the Chargers next weekend. I caught the late innings of their closest game of the week, a 4-3 win in the series opener with Adelphi on Saturday. Chris Starcun’s clutch two-RBI single in the 7th and Colin Sledzik’s excellent start gave them the win. On Sunday, AIC got more stellar pitching in a massive doubleheader sweep. David Kerlejza gave up two runs in a complete-game, seven-strikeout performance in the opener. He was bested only by teammate Harrison Paige, who gave up just a run in a complete-game four-hitter to finish off the sweep. Next weekend’s home meeting with UNH will be the biggest series this program has seen in a long, long time.

Co-Team of the Week: Another week, another zero in the loss column for Franklin Pierce, who all but wrapped up the Northeast Division with a win over Southern New Hampshire and sweep of Assumption. It’s the same old story with the Ravens, who haven’t lost in more than a month. They executed in the late innings of another nailbiter with SNHU, with Jay Jabs’s conference-leading 11th homer breaking a late deadlock. On the weekend, they never trailed in a three-game sweep of Assumption that included a Senior Day send-off for a group that’s having a special final season in Rindge.

Speaking of the Chargers, New Haven did plenty to help its own playoff hopes with a 4-1 week. Junior righty Brian Caselli came through in the clutch in Wednesday’s 5-4 edging of SCSU. The reliever took the sting off four unearned runs and made a five-run 4th stand up with four no-hit innings to close the game. The offense took over in Saturday’s series opener with Le Moyne, pounding out 18 hits in an 11-5 win. The Chargers clinched the series on Sunday. In a 2-1 game that took just 1:48 to play, David Palmer’s seven strong helped to ensure an unearned run in the 4th was all the Dolphins would get.

In the CACC, a great season continued for Post, who’s won 5 of 6 and 9 of 12. On Thursday, the Eagles took care of business in a home sweep of last-place Bloomfield. They made their mark on the week on Saturday, when they went on the road to clinch a top-3 finish with a road split against second-place Chestnut Hill. The Eagles came back from a game one shutout to take home an extra-inning win in game two. Mike Costello started the 11-inning affair with five scoreless, and Nick Arnold finished it with four strikeouts in four innings. With one out in the top of the 11th, Joey Picone got the ball rolling with a single to center. Senior Dylan Pastor then tripled him in before he came home on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Erik Rodriguez. At 3-1, the insurance proved crucial when Arnold gave up a run in the bottom half, but he stranded the tying run at first to end the game. A Tuesday meeting in Waterbury with top dogs Wilmington will give Post a chance to hand the Wildcats their first CACC loss of the year.

Division III

Team of the WeekSuffolk became the first team in New England to punch its NCAA Tournament ticket by winning its fifth GNAC Championship (and first since 2009). The funny thing is, the Rams came in with just 13 wins, the fewest of any team since that 2009 title. After finishing third in conference (and that only by virtue of a tiebreak with fourth-place Lasell), the Rams had to win a play-in game against Albertus Magnus just to get a road matchup with Johnson & Wales to start the double-elimination part of the tournament. They won that game, 7-5, behind six solid from Frank Tierney and two RBI from Carlos Sanabria. Cal Carroll came on in the 9th to stanch the bleeding from a late JWU rally to take the Rams to Nashua at 1-0. In the winner’s bracket game, they exorcised the demons of five straight GNAC title game defeats to Saint Joseph’s edging the Monks 3-2. They Rams jumped out to a 3-0 lead after two, and tournament MVP Josh Desai’s complete game made the lead stand up. With that, it was on to the title round Sunday, where they faced Johnson & Wales. The Wildcats took the opener, 7-3, setting up an epic, winner-take-all title bout.

Both teams had fresh starters lined up for the game. JWU’s Ryan Cabral saw his first action of the tournament, and Suffolk’s Chuck Gibson had last pitched in the Tuesday play-in win over Albertus. Both hurlers put in solid six-inning shifts. A 6th-inning RBI single from JWU’s Lou Umberto gave the Wildcats’ a slim 3-2 lead, which Suffolk answered in the bottom half of the 7th with a run off a two-error sequence. From that point on, inning after inning passed with neither team willing to blink. I tuned into the webcast just in time for a dramatic bottom of the 10th. Jake Marchessault, who had thrown 7.2 on Thursday and four innings that afternoon, was in his fourth inning of relief. Ram catcher Jon Lapolla doubled to lead off the frame, and after a pair of intentional walks sandwiched a sac bunt, the bases were loaded. With all that work on Marchessault’s arm, I figured the game was over, but on a 3-2 count, the junior induced a grounder right back at him. He went home to catcher Brandon Cesino, who fired on to Mike Davlos at first. Inning-ending double play. You can imagine the scene in the Suffolk dugout.

After that, we settled in for a few quick innings. Some hits here and there, but overall, a lot of nervy swings early in counts and few real threats. Bryan Quinlan relieved Marchessault after 11, and for Suffolk, Cal Carroll had been putting up zero after zero since the 7th. It held at 3-3 until the bottom of the 13th. Drew Carter led off the Rams’ inning with his only hit of the game, but it was a big one, a double to the left-center field gap. After a mound visit and an intentional walk, Alec Costanza came up with orders to sacrifice the runners over. Nothing, however, could have prepared the defense for his inch-perfect, down-spinning bunt down the third-base line. It was always going to be bang-bang at first, but the throw to the runner-side of the first base bag sailed just wide and down the line. Carter came sprinting around to score, cuing our first dogpile of 2015. Hats off to both teams for a fantastic game of college baseball.

You can’t top that, but there was plenty of tournament and playoff-race action elsewhere that tried. In Worcester, Wheaton bested WPI in a wildly entertaining NEWMAC semifinal. Early on, it looked like Wheaton would take the opener. Michael Bruemmel had a 2-0 lead after six and had allowed only two runners past first. WPI had other ideas. Sean Kelly’s RBI double halved the lead in the 7th, and Vinny D’Ambrosio scored an error to knot things up in the 8th. At that point, Dan Bettigole came on and won this one for the Engineers, tossing four hitless innings of relief. By staying the Wheaton offense through 12, he set up a walkoff wild pitch that scored Sean Greene to win it, 3-2. The Lyons stormed back in the second game, winning 12-3 on a 9-14, six-RBI day for their 2-3-4 hitters. That set up a decisive Sunday finale that lived up to the billing. Wheaton scored two quick runs, but WPI exploded for a seven-run first to take a commanding 7-2 lead. Credit the Lyons, though, they battled back to trail just 8-7 after 3.5. A three-run 6th proved to be enough to hold off WPI’s rallies in the late innings and take home a 10-9 win. The Lyons will look to avenge last season’s defeat MIT in the finals when they travel to Cambridge next weekend.

(At this point my browser deleted my draft of the rest of the post, and I had to re-do it quickly. Apologies for not giving these teams more space, they had great weeks.)

Elsewhere, five conferences saw regular-season titles clinched. In the NECC, Mitchell continued its stellar season (25-3 overall, 17-1 in April) with a marquee win over #21 Wesleyan and a weekend sweep of SVC. Outscoring the Mountaineers 45-11, they wrapped up the NECC title and hosting rights for the tournament two weekends from now. In the NAC, Castleton‘s been just as good down the stretch. They went 11-0 in a full NAC slate this week to wrap up their fourth straight outright regular-season title. Mass Maritime clinched a share of the MASCAC title, the school’s first in 33 seasons. This Cape Cod Times piece on head coach Bob Corradi, coaching his 43rd and final team, is well worth a read. In the CCC, Endicott‘s Saturday split with Roger Williams clinched the Gulls’ third straight regular-season title. In the NESCAC, Wesleyan got a big sweep of rival Amherst to wrap up the West with a week to spare, and and Tufts‘s series win over Bates wrapped up the East.

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