Previewing the MASCAC Tournament

Some conferences see the same one or two teams contending for the tournament title year after year. The MASCAC isn’t one of them. In 14 years of conference tournaments, only one program has managed to repeat. That was Bridgewater, who did the deed in both 2003-2004 and 2011-2012. It’s a testament to the league’s parity that the Bears didn’t even make this year’s tournament. We also saw a three-way tie for first and a race for the final playoff spot that came down to the final weekend. Add that to the storyline of Bob Corradi’s title-winning sendoff at Mass Maritime, and you’re looking at one of the most compelling conference tournaments in New England.

The History

As I mentioned in the opening, no single team has dominated the tournament, but a few programs have set themselves apart. One is defending champions Worcester State, who’re tied for the conference record with five titles. Last season, the Lancers used hosting rights and a 2-0 start to overcome a loss to Salem to beat the Vikings in a decisive title game. The now-departed Andrew Wells tossed a complete game in a 5-3 win over Salem to take the title. Previously, Worcester won the championship in 2002, 2005, 2008, and 2010.

After the Lancers, a pair of qualifying teams have won two tournaments, Westfield State under Ray Arra in 2007 and 2009 and Salem State in 2006 and 2013. Salem’s most recent title team was lead by MASCAC Player of the Year Steve Buitkus, and Westfield’s last title run came from the #4 seed entering the tournament.

The other three teams in the tournament– Mass MaritimeFramingham State, and Fitchburg State— are all in search of their first titles.

The Race

Division III’s short seasons rarely leave us without final-weekend drama, but this year’s MASCAC was even better than usual. We went into the last day of the season with the host, first-round byes, home field, and playoff berths all very much up for grabs. The top three of Maritime, Salem, and Worcester all entered the final day at 8-4, and they all swept doubleheaders to finish in a three-way tie for first. A share of the regular season title had to feel special even for recent champions Salem and Worcester, but especially for Maritime, who finished atop the league for the first team in 33 years in head coach Bob Corradi’s final season at the helm. The tiebreaking procedures left Maritime with the host, Salem with a first-round bye, and Worcester forced to play a play-in.

At the other end of the standings, things were very tightly bunched heading into the final weekend. Westfield, Framingham, Bridgewater, and Fitchburg could all finish pretty much anywhere from hosting a first-round game to missing the tournament. Each of them won just a single game (Framingham and Bridgewater split a doubleheader, Westfield and Fitchburg went 1-3), but the end result was Framingham earning the home game at 7-7, Westfield safely in at 6-8, and Fitchburg beating out Bridgewater for the final spot by virtue of a tiebreak.

The Format

Part of the reason that final weekend is so exciting is that the MASCAC’s tournament format leaves a lot to fight for. You’d rather finish first than second to host the late rounds, second than third to save pitching from a play-in game, fourth than fifth to get home field in said play-in games, and sixth than seventh to make the tournament in the first place. A 3-6, 4-5 play-in on Thursday gives way to a four-team, Friday-Sunday double-elimination hosted by the top seed. Not since Bridgewater in 2011 has a team outside the top two taken home the title.

The Teams

Top-seeded Mass Maritime (17-10, 10-4 MASCAC) returns to the tournament for the first time since 2014 sporting the #1 seed. The Bucs made early statements of intent by taking splits off of Worcester and Salem. They went on to win their final six MASCAC games in a row to take home their first share of the conference title in 33 years. Conference Player and Rookie of the Year Logan Sullo has led MMA, hitting .492 with 16 XBH and slugging an ungodly .905. That said, with a staff ERA of 3.00 flat, pitching has been the team’s strong-suit. The two-headed relief monster of Kyle Kennedy (1.91, 4 saves) and Zac Cooney (2.60, 6 saves) has saved more than half the team’s wins, and starter Kevin Kwedor (6-2, 2.81) has a K:BB rate of better than 3 to 1. All that’s good for the third-best team ERA and top K/G rate in the tournament field. At home, and with the emotion of sending Bob Corradi off on a high note in his 43rd and final season, the Bucs will be tough to beat.

That said, the tournament’s last two champions are right there with them. Second-seeded Salem State (22-12, 10-4 MASCAC) may not have reeled off a 12-game winning streak like the one that highlighted 2014, but the Vikings have had a strong campaign, losing out on the top seed only because of a tiebreak. A so-so Florida trip gave way to an 8-game winning streak up north, a run that saw SSU beat the likes of Suffolk and Southern Maine. After battling out a split with Worcester on April 21, the Vikings won their last five league games on the trot to finish in a tie for first. Statistically, Salem sports the best staff ERA in league play (2.41), as well as the lowest walk total (25). Mike Richardson (5-2, 1.41) has helped to lead that charge, as has freshman and top innings-getter Will Twiss (3-2, 2.70), who beat Worcester on the 21st. With 2014 conference Player of the Year Richard Fecteau hitting nearly .400 and leading the league in doubles, the Vikings are a force to be reckoned with.

Third-seeded Worcester State (23-14, 10-4 MASCAC) returns to the field after winning it all in 2014. The Lancers reached the 20-win plateau against an OOC slate that saw them beat Wheaton, Southern Maine, MIT, and UMass Dartmouth, and they missed out on the one seed only by virtue of a tiebreak. The Lancers also boast a five-game winning streak coming into the tournament. All-MASCAC first-teamer Adam Barry collected hits and RBI in all five of those games, going 3-6 with a pair of RBI in a big season-ending win over UMD. On the hill, WSU’s been bolstered by SNHU transfer Zach Zona, who leads the starting corps in strikeouts (48) and OBA (.216). With last year’s experience under their belts, this team has as good a chance as any of taking home the title.

Fourth-seeded Framingham State (24-16, 7-7 MASCAC) boasts the highest win total in the field. A nine-game winning streak that stretched from Florida to early April helped the Rams to that mark, as did splits with Worcester and Salem and OOC wins over Western New England and Southern Maine. Second-year head coach Mike Gedman’s team is led by all-MASCAC first-teamer Billy Desrosier, who comes in to the tournament leading the team in OBP (.484), home runs (10), RBI (36), and steals (18). Desrosier reflects a team that loves to hit for power (32 HR to opponents’ 10) and run (112 steals to opponents’ 40). Classmate Zachary Kirby, the league’s Pitcher of the Year, has had a stellar season as well, running away with top MASCAC totals in innings pitched (67), strikeouts (89), and K/G (11.96).

Fifth-seeded Westfield State (20-12, 6-8 MASCAC) has cooled off a bit after a 17-5 start, but the Owls are still a talented team. Their non-league slate boasts wins over Saint Joseph’s and Western New England, and they feature two MASCAC first-teamers in outfielders Danny Dimatteo and Dan McCormack. The juniors both hit above .300 and combined for 28 extra-base hits on the year. On the hill, senior Tommy Nowlan leads the club in innings (32.0) and strikeouts (27).

Sixth-seeded Fitchburg State (12-18, 5-9 MASCAC) makes its second straight tournament appearance. The Falcons notched wins over Bowdoin, Gordon, Suffolk, and Clarkson on an excellent Florida trip, then did just enough in conference to beat out Bridgewater in a tiebreaker for the last spot. The Falcons shared top honors with Maritime on the MASCAC First-Team with three selections. Sophomore Kyle Cutler (4-2, 1.09) leads that trio on the mound, while older brother Brendan Cutler (.289, 5 2Bs) leads it at the plate.

The Matchups

Thursday, April 30

#3 Worcester State vs. #6 Fitchburg State — 3:00 PM — Lyons Diamond, Worcester, MA

#4 Framingham State vs. #5 Westfield State — 3:00 PM — New England Baseball Complex, Northborough, MA

Friday, May 1

#1 Mass Maritime vs. Framingham/Westfield — 3:00 PM — Commodore Hendy Field, Buzzards Bay, MA

#2 Salem State vs. Worcester/Fitchburg — 3:00 PM — Central Campus Field, Salem, MA

Saturday, May 2

1-0, 0-1, 1-1 games — Commodore Hendy Field, Buzzards Bay, MA

Sunday, May 3

Title round — Commodore Hendy Field, Buzzards Bay, MA

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