Previewing the CCC Tournament

Of the tournaments I’ve previewed so far, the CCC might have the most intriguing field. Two perennial conference powers at the top, a 3-4 matchup of two teams earning their highest seed in years, and two teams accustomed to competing for titles sneaking into the last two spots. Mix it all together, add plenty of on-campus games, and you’ve got an exciting weekend of college baseball to look forward to.

The History

When Western New England joined the CCC in 2008, they reeled off a string of five straight tournament titles from. In that stretch, head coach Matt LaBranche (who now holds the same position at Eastern Connecticut) led the Golden Bears to an impressive 177-66 mark, highlighted by a trip to Wisconsin in 2011. WNE won as a three seed in 2008, a two seed in 2009 and 2010, and the top seed in 2011 and 2012.

The Golden Bears’ run of success has been bracketed by Endicott, who’s won the last two tournaments and took three of four from 2003 to 2006. In both 2013 and 2014, the Gulls used the tournament as a springboard to success in the NCAAs, advancing to the final game in Harwich before falling to Southern Maine on both occasions. Last year’s team was led by Player of the Year Tad Gold, who spent last summer plying his trade in the Orioles organization.

Since 2000, Salve Regina and Roger Williams have also made trips to the NCAA Tournament through this one, the Seahawks in 2001 and 2005 and the Hawks in 2002. The two Rhode Island squads were the last teams into the tournament this season.

The Race

For a playoff race that could’ve gone anywhere ahead of the final weekend, the standings didn’t end up that close. Behind a 4-6, four-RBI day from David Neil, Salve Regina got the sweep of Nichols it needed to finish 8-8. Their closest competition, Wentworth, went just 1-3 in the final weekend to finish two games back at 6-10. (Eastern Nazarene helped to play spoiler by splitting with the Leopards on Friday.) Further up the standings, Curry’s sweep of Wentworth and split with Gordon gave it the barest edge over the Fighting Scots (10-6 to Gordon’s 9-6-1), so the Colonels earned the third seed. At the top, Endicott got the split with Roger Williams to clinch the one seed outright, while the Hawks’ win wrapped up the five seed.

The Format

Yeah, about this. The CCC does six-team double-elimination. No play-in, no pods. We play until five teams have lost twice and the last one standing heads to the tournament. It’s no seven-team double-elimination (it’s been tried) or anything like that, but I won’t be able to explain it any better than the CCC’s release does, so I’ll leave you with that link. A nice side effect is a lot of on-campus games, more than almost any other tournament in New England.

The Teams

For the second straight year, Endicott (22-15, 12-4 CCC) earned the top seed. The Gulls began the year with a 3-5 showing in Florida, but playing tough competition down there (three of those losses came against top-5 clubs) seemed to pay off. They won 12 of 14 upon heading back north. Since then, however, they’ve cooled off. They haven’t won more than two games on the trot since that run ended, and each of the 2 through 5 seeds took splits off of them in conference play. That said, any resume that boasts 22 victories and OOC wins over the likes of Amherst, UMass Dartmouth (x2), Suffolk, Salem, Worcester, Southern Maine, and Wheaton deserves home field throughout. On the mound, the Gulls are led by CCC Pitcher of the Year Nick Quattro (7-1, 1.40). He’s made 19 appearances without starting a game, but boasts just one save against seven wins. Quattro, in short, is a classic ace reliever, and the junior’s been a huge part of Endicott’s success this year. His in-conference ERA of 0.89 is even better than his miniscule overall number, and he won the Gulls key games against Curry and WNE down the stretch (not to mention the statistically obscene day he had against ENC earlier this year). If that weren’t enough, Endicott starters Owen Bautze (0.83) and JJ Branch (1.11) also sport microscopic ERAs in-conference. Pitching is crucial at this time of year, and the Gulls have plenty of it.

Western New England (18-16, 11-5 CCC) finished a game back of first to net the second seed. For the second straight year, the Golden Bears had a sub-.500 March, but they once again recovered to put together a fine season in conference. They’ve gone 16-8 since getting swept by Gordon in a March 30 doubleheader and won 4 of 5 in the week leading up for the tournament. I caught their only loss during that stretch, and even in that 5-4 defeat to RPI, they showed the ability to execute on offense. WNE boasts a league-high four players on the all-CCC First Team: senior Steve Buckley and juniors Eduardo Colmenares, Kevin Marciano, and Doug Milne. That quartet is all hitting in the .340s, helping pace one of the league’s best offenses.

At this time last year, Curry (19-12, 10-6 CCC) was sitting at home after finished dead last in the CCC. This year, they’re hosting a playoff game as the three seed. The turn-around has been remarkable, but nothing less than we’d expect from Dave Perdios. In his first stint in Milton from 1999 to 2010, he won four regular-season titles in his final six seasons and led the program to its first NCAA Tournament in 2007. Since returning to the dugout in 2013, it’s taken him little time to turn the Colonels back into a winner. His team’s template for success this year has been gritting out low-scoring games. The Colonels’ three biggest conference wins? 2-1 over Endicott, 1-0 over WNE, and 2-0 over Gordon. In each of those games, a starter (Brian Burke against Endicott and Gordon, Thomas Fitzpatrick against WNE) has pitched lights out, and the offense has done just enough to win. Getting that caliber of work on the mound will be key to any tournament run the Colonels make.

Checking in as the four seed is Gordon (15-17-1, 9-6-1 CCC). Under first-year head coach Rob Mansfield, the Fighting Scots posted their highest conference win total since 2010, and that year, they needed six extra games to get there. After going just 2-7 in Florida, the Scots have posted a 13-10-1 record up north. Unlike some of the other teams in the field, Gordon wins with offense– their .294 mark was tops in CCC play. Second-team all-conference shortstop Alex Smith leads them with a .342 average. His 25 runs scored are also a team high. Junior Wes Arning (2-4, 3.29) has led the way on the mound, beating WNE and Endicott and pitching well in a 1-0 loss to Salve. As the only team in the field never to reach an NCAA Tournament, you can be sure the Scots will come into this weekend hungry.

Roger Williams (15-18, 9-7 CCC) might enter the tournament with the most losses in the field, but don’t let that fool you, the Hawks were one of the best teams in the league down the stretch. A tough early schedule left RWU at 2-12 at the end of March, but they’ve gone 13-6 since. That run includes a seven-game winning streak in mid-April and a final-weekend split with Endicott that clinched their playoff spot. The Hawks give something to their opponents at the dish (a .248 team average to a .270 OBA), but they make up for it on the mound. Junior all-CCC first-teamer Troy DeLeon headlines a staff whose top three innings-getters (DeLeon, Tyler Campo, and Jimmy Smith) all sport sub-3.00 ERAs. It was DeLeon who dominated in a crucial win over Endicott on the final day of the regular season, one-hitting the Gulls and fanning ten in a seven-inning complete game. If that trio pitches up to the billing, the Hawks will make noise this weekend.

It came down to the final weekend, but Salve Regina (22-14, 8-8 CCC) clinched another postseason berth, and they’re level with top-seeded Endicott for the highest win total in the field. Those wins have come at the right team– the Seahawks won ten in a row to finish the regular season. (That’s comfortably the longest streak posted by anyone in the league this year.) That’s not just the schedule talking, either. That stretch includes wins over Gordon, Curry, Johnson & Wales, and Suffolk. Salve’s been led by one of the stories of this season in Division III, freshman Alex Perry. He was recently named both Player and Rookie of the Year in the conference, and it’s easy to see why: .441/.484/.802, 10 HR, 52 RBI. 23 of those RBI and four of those homers have come in Salve’s season-ending 10-0 run. Whoever comes out on top, his battles with some of the league’s best arms this weekend will be fun to watch.

The Matchups

Thursday, April 30

#1 Endicott vs. #6 Salve Regina — 4:00 PM — North Field, Beverly, MA

#2 Western New England v. #5 Roger Williams — 3:30 PM — Trelease Park, Springfield, MA

#3 Curry v. #4 Gordon — 3:00 PM — D. Forbes Will Field, Milton, MA

Friday and Saturday, May 1-2

Games will be played.

Sunday, May 3

Title round — Highest remaining seed

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