Coming off a tough weekend to end April, Division I got back on track. Bryant, Quinnipiac, and Rhode Island ensured they’ll stay in title contention with winning weekends, and Hartford, UMass, and Fairfield did the same to put themselves back into playoff contention. In Division II, a pair of great series– AIC and New Haven, Stonehill and SNHU– decided berths and seedings, and Bridgeport won its way to a historic conference title.
Team of the Week: After getting swept at home by UMass Lowell last weekend, I thought Hartford‘s playoff hopes were hanging by a string. They were still close to the fourth playoff spot in the AEC standings, but with a trip to league leaders Stony Brook on the docket for this weekend, I thought they’d have trouble making up ground. Matt Senk’s Seawolves, made famous by their run to the 2012 College World Series, entered the weekend at 12-2 in conference, not having lost an AEC series all year or a weekend since their trip to Gainesville in late February. None of that phased the Hawks, who went to Long Island and took home a massive series win.
After last weekend’s struggles, Hartford regained its footing with a 7-5 midweek win over Quinnipiac. Trey Stover led off the game with a homer, setting the tone for a 12-hit attack that led the Hawks to the win. After that, it was on to Stony Brook. In Saturday’s opener, the Hawks won a 10-9 slugging match that saw the teams combine 27 hits, six errors, and eight walks. It wasn’t the prettiest win the Hawks will get all year– they led 6-1 and 9-3 before nearly giving it up– but it was a big one. Every player in the lineup scored a run, and Jeremy Charles stranded the tying run on third in the bottom of the 9th. After dropping Saturday’s second game on Cole Peragine’s walkoff double, the Hawks came back to take the series Sunday. Hartford actually trailed 9-1 after four, but mounted a massive comeback that saw them score a run in the 5th, another in the 7th, five in the 8th, and four in the 9th to win. Chris DelDebbio’s collected five RBI (all from the 7th inning onward), and Joe Roberti’s 9th-inning single overturned a 10-9 deficit for the win.
With the series win and losing weekends for Albany and Binghamton, the Hawks move into the final playoff spot. They lie a half game behind Albany, a half game ahead of Maine, and a full game up on Binghamton. Both the Great Danes and Black Bears have two series remaining to the Hawks’ one (which is why they trail them both in the loss column), but a good showing at UMBC in two weeks, coupled with at least one of those teams dropping games, will see the Hawks into the playoffs for the second straight season. It’s far from a done deal, but it’s night and day compared to where they sat a week ago.
Elsewhere in the AEC, UMass Lowell took two of three from Albany to win its fourth straight conference series and stay in second place in the league. Like the Hawks, the Riverhawks dropped the middle game of their road series, but won the other two. Andrew Ryan’s seven strikeouts and Jimmy Ricoy’s three RBI paced UML in the opener, and Nick Kuzia, Steve Xirinachs, Tim Fallon, and Ian Strom combined for a four-hit shutout to clinch the series on Sunday. As of the end of the weekend, Ryan’s 2.22 ERA puts him third among the conference’s starters, and Strom’s .336 mark at the plate puts him in the top 10. The Riverhawks close out their league schedule with a home set against Stony Brook next weekend.
A trio of teams took steps in the right direction towards conference titles. Bryant went down to Sacred Heart and took three of four to move into a first-place tie with Wagner in the NEC. The Bulldogs’ only loss came in extra innings, and they outscored the Pioneers 40-7 in the other three games. Bryant got homers from Aj Zarozny, Daniel Palazzo, Robby Rinn, and Buck McCarthy in those three wins, bringing the team total to 34 on the year. That’s nearly twice as many as any other team in the NEC (Fairleigh Dickinson and Long Island both have 18). Rhode Island kept rolling in the A-10 to finish the weekend tied for first. Handed yet another tough series by the schedulers– George Washington at home– the Rams once again took care of business. Friday’s game was tied at 3 most of the way, but 7th-inning RBI for Martin Taveras and Nick DeRegis gave Brad Applin the opportunity to close Lou Distasio’s fifth win. Rhody dropped the middle game, but came back to walk off on Sunday. After GW took a one-run lead in the top of the 9th, Taveras tripled in the tying run, then scored on a wild pitch to win the game. Finally, in the MAAC, Quinnipiac logged its first conference sweep of the season to move into a tie for first of its own. A 7-3 scoreline in the middle game was the closest of the weekend, and it took two late runs from the Purple Eagles to make that one respectable. At the top of the order, Mike Palladino went 7-11 and scored in each game, and Vinny Guglietti, Robert Pescitelli, and Julius Saporito all homered in outscoring Niagara 29-13 on the weekend.
Two other teams that find themselves in the thick of playoff races had big weekends as well. UMass notched a series win over a Richmond team that was leading the A-10 just a couple weeks ago. Mike Geannelis’s RBI single gave the Minutemen a walkoff win in 10 innings in Friday’s opener, and a two-run single from Adam Picard overturned an 8th-inning deficit to take the series with a 5-4 win on Saturday. That leaves UMass tied for seventh at 9-9. They’re part of a pack of six teams within one game of one another who’re all vying for the 7th and final playoff spot. In the MAAC, Fairfield got a big sweep of Saint Peter’s that vaulted them from the bottom of the standings to within a game of the final playoff spot. Sebastian Salvo collected three hits and three RBI to lead a 14-hit attack in the opener, and Mike Wallace and Kyle Dube both held the Peacocks to a single run in wins that closed out the sweep.
Co-Team of the Week: With a 4-1 week that included a massive series win over New Haven, AIC punched a ticket to the playoffs for the first time in 15 years. And the Yellow Jackets didn’t just make the field, they clinched a home playoff game and have an outside shot at hosting the weekend portion of the tournament. AIC kept the momentum from last week’s sweep of Adelphi going with two midweek wins, then sealed the playoff berth against the Chargers. Pitching had carried the Yellow Jackets’ winning run– the club scored no more than six, but let up no more than three in the five games leading up to UNH’s visit to Springfield– but the offense came out in force to grab a 12-5 win in the series opener. After UNH got out to an early 1-0 lead, Alex Lafayette’s third homer put the Jackets up 2-1 after two. A seven-run sixth sealed the victory. Six different hitters collected RBI, and Chris Starcun’s two-run double put AIC in front by a convincing 10-2 line that held up in the win. New Haven took the middle game, thanks in part to a strong start from David Palmer and a homer from Robert Petrillo, to set up a decisive third game with the two-seed at stake. As in the opener, the Chargers got out to a 1-0, but after a four-run third, AIC led for the duration and won 7-4. Tyler Geffert’s grand slam accounted for that big inning, and Michael Gentile went eight strong to seal the series victory. The two rematch on Tuesday in the opening round of the playoffs.
Co-Team of the Week: Bridgeport had a historic week of its own, using an excellent series win over St. Thomas Aquinas to share the ECC title for the first time ever. The Purple Knights got momentum going back on Monday, when they walked off in the 10th to hand a 30-win Wilmington team just its tenth loss of the year. Tim Bickford drove in the winning run, and Brian O’Keefe threw two hitless relief innings to get the win. On the weekend, Bridgeport took three of four from Aquinas to share the conference crown. The series was heatedly contested– four games saw a combined margin of three runs. Bickford came through with more late-inning heroics in Friday’s opener, singling home the go-ahead run in the top of the 9th to allow P.J. Martino to shut the door. In the front end of Saturday’s doubleheader, Anthony Alicki gave UB a nine-inning shutout, striking out 10 in the process in a narrow 1-0 win. It took STAC extra innings to beat them in the back end, but the New Englanders came back to win a 10-8 Sunday slugfest to clinch the series. Sharing the title with regionally regarded Dowling is quite the accomplishment for third-year head coach Joe Tonelli.
In the showdown between Southern New Hampshire and Stonehill, the Penmen wrapped up home field with a Friday win, but Stonehill swept Saturday’s doubleheader to take home the series. Neal Horan’s 10 strikeouts in 7.2 helped the Skyhawks take the opener, 4-1, and they reversed an 8th-inning deficit in the back end to edge SNHU, 6-5. Junior DH Brian Hocking collected three hits and drove in a pair on the day.
Elsewhere in the NE-10, a midweek win over Bentley helped Merrimack return to the conference tournament. Tyler Lyne and Cam Disarcina each collected four hits in a 9-3 win over the Falcons, and a Saturday split with Assumption sealed their playoff berth. Assumption‘s win in the back end was the Greyhounds’ first after a long losing streak. Anthony Perry got the win, and big days from Mike Coggeshall (4-5, 2 RBI) and Matt Murphy (3-4, RBI) led the Hounds. Besides clinching the playoff berth for the Warriors, Franklin Pierce‘s sweep of Bentley saw the Ravens wrap up a stellar 42-2 regular season. Its the sixth time FPU’s reached the 40-win plateau, and the first time they’ve done so since 2011.
For the second straight week, the browser decided to delete my draft of this section. Rather than give you a half-hearted effort at redoing it in the little bit of time I’ve got now, I’ll update it with a full look at tournament titles for Curry, Castleton, Salem, and MIT by Tuesday morning.