Previewing the Division III Tournament

If there’s a best week of the year in New England college baseball, this is it. Between Divisions II and III, more than two dozen NCAA Tournament games happen right in our backyards. For the third straight year, Harwich and Whitehouse Field are the lucky hosts of the Division III New England Regional. If you live anywhere near the Cape, there’s really no excuse not to catch a game or two. This is can’t-miss baseball.

The History

Although New England teams have been making regular trips to the Division III College World Series since Brandeis in 1977, we didn’t actually have a New England Regional until 1993. Prior to that, it’d been rolled in with New York in the Northeast Regional since Division III formed in the mid-1970s. By the time expansion of D3 caused changes in the tournament format in the 90s, BrandeisRhode Island CollegeEastern Connecticut, and Southern Maine had all had the honor of representing the region at the CWS.

Little East teams continued to dominate for the rest of the 90s, with ECSU and USM both making multiple CWS trips before the decade was out. Wesleyan was the first team to break up their monopoly, winning the region in the NESCAC’s first year back on the national scene in 1994. (The league hadn’t competed in NCAA Tournaments in any sport since forming in 1971.) Brandeis won the region for the second time in 1999.

In the early 2000s, the LEC reassumed dominance, with USM taking home back-to-back regionals in 2000 and 2001 and ECSU winning three in a row from 2002 to 2004. Trinity dominated the second half of the decade, sandwiching Appleton trips by Wheaton in 2006 and Eastern in 2007 with regional wins in 2005, 2008, and 2009. We had two straight years of new kids on the block taking home the regional title, UMass Boston in 2010 and Western New England in 2011. Wheaton got its second in 2012, and USM has won the last two.

As was the case last year, six of this year’s eight teams enter the regional looking for their first title. Top seeds USM and Wesleyan have both won before, but Ramapo (obviously), Salem State, MITCastleton StateCurry, and Suffolk are all looking to collect the honor for the first time.

The Selections

I took a much closer look at how the tournament field came together here, but the notable development is a drop to one at-large bid from last year’s three. That was Amherst, who’s been sent to Auburn to play in the New York Regional. Mitchell, the NECC’s autobid, has also been sent outside New England to the Mid-Atlantic Regional, where fellow Connecticuters (?) had such success a year ago. That leaves the tournament champions of the other seven conferences for the regional in Harwich. The nine teams is down from last year’s eleven, but still better than the straight eight that looked like a real possibility on selection night.

The Format

The teams playing in Harwich, Auburn, and York will all be playing under an eight-team double-elimination format. Basically, your seven regional mates have to lose twice for you to go to Appleton. Getting to 3-0 is the key here. It gives you an off-day Saturday while the loser’s bracket is sorted out and puts you a game of pitching ahead of whoever has to beat you twice on Sunday. USM won its first three en route to a regional win last year, but came out of the loser’s bracket after Endicott beat them in the 2-0 game in 2013.

The Teams

Top-seeded Southern Maine (31-13, Little East autobid) makes its 22nd total and fourth straight tournament in search of its third straight trip to Appleton. The Huskies’ seniors went 0-2 in 2012 but have beaten Endicott in two straight title rounds to reach the program’s 7th and 8th College World Series, all under 30th-year head coach Ed Flaherty. In 2013, they advanced all the way to the national title game before falling to Linfield. This year’s team features the Little East Pitcher and Player of the Year. Pitcher of the Year Andrew Richards (11-4, 1.62) became the fourth straight Husky to take home the award. The NCAA doesn’t track appearance or inning stats, but as far as I can tell, Richards’s 31 appearances and 105.1 innings pitched are tops in the country. (Read this great piece from the Portland Press Herald in 2013 for background on that.) Meanwhile, Player of the Year Sam Dexter (.460, 8 HR, 43 RBI) is the club’s shortstop, and his 10-20, four-XBH showing in the conference tournament was a big reason the club took home another LEC crown. Joining that pair on the all-conference First Team were starter Tyler Leavitt (the 2014 Pitcher of the Year) and outfielder Nick DiBiase (.343, 22 RBI). The Huskies started 2014 with a solid Florida trip, going 7-3 with their only losses coming at the hands of regionally ranked teams. They recovered from a shock LEC-opening sweep at the hands of Western Connecticut to go 10-2 the rest of the way to take home the regular-season crown.

Second-seeded Wesleyan (28-9, NESCAC autobid) makes its third-ever and second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance. Mark Woodworth’s Cardinals are a veteran club, with 7 of their top 8 at-bat getters and their top 5 pitchers juniors and seniors. Three seniors who were named all-NESCAC a year ago lead the club in 2015. Two-sport star Donnie Cimino is their top hitter (.356) and on-base man (.422), Sam Goodwin-Boyd is tops in RBI (43), and starter Nick Cooney leads in wins (8) and K/9 (10.40). The Cards don’t have the deepest pitching staff (only nine guys have seen the mound all year), but it’s a good one, with a 2.86 staff ERA that’s more than two runs better than opponents. Their season has been highlighted by an 8-4 win over Cal Lutheran on their Arizona trip and their first sweep of Little Three rivals Amherst since 2002. Guy Davidson’s 12th-inning home run gave them the win over the Lord Jeffs in the NESCAC title game and assured them of a spot in the tournament.

Third-seeded Ramapo (28-14, NJAC at-large) is from New Jersey, and I know nothing about them. Okay, fine, I’ll actually put some effort into this. The Roadrunners come from a well-respected conference in New Jersey that landed two teams in the tournament. They finished tied for second with Kean, the tournament-winners and top seed in the Mitchell’s Mid-Atlantic Regional, two games behind regular-season champs Rutgers-Camden, who narrowly missed this year’s field. This year’s success is no fluke– 15th-year head coach Rich Martin has led the club to four NCAA Tournaments in five years after the Roadrunners hadn’t made one since 1988. Junior Joe Venturino has been a force at the dish, leading the team in everything from average (.399) to home runs (5) and OBP (.469) to sac flies (5). Ramapo actually played plenty of games against New England schools this year, (they beat Saint Joseph’s, Trinity, Western New England, and Western Connecticut, and losing to LEC duo Eastern Connecticut and UMass Dartmouth), so we’ve got some sense of how they’ll stack up in Harwich.

Fourth-seeded Salem State (25-13, MASCAC autobid) makes its fifth tournament appearance and first since 2013. Their four seed is tied for the program’s highest under the modern format (they were also #4 in Harwich in 2006). Third-year head coach Mike Ward’s landed junior Richard Fecteau and senior Kevin Carens on the all-MASCAC team. Fecteau (.371, 2 HR, 27 RBI) was the 2014 conference Player of the Year, and Carens is tied for tops in the MASCAC with 20 steals. A challenging regular-season slate saw the Vikings pick up wins over Southern Maine, UMass Boston, and Endicott. Andrew DeLoury’s MVP performance led the Vikings on a 3-1 run through the MASCAC Tournament. SSU opened with a pair of shutout wins and recovered from a Sunday loss to Worcester to beat the Lancers in the title game.

Fifth-seeded MIT (25-12, NEWMAC autobid) makes the program’s fourth NCAA Tournament appearance, all of which have come in the last five years under 12th-year head man Andy Barlow. The Engineers’ high-powered offense led a strong NEWMAC in nearly every category: runs, doubles, home runs, RBI, walks, average, on-base, and slugging. NEWMAC Rookie and Player of the Year Austin Filiere (.443, 13 HR, 53 RBI) has played a huge part in the attack, leading the team in a slew of offensive categories. One of those homers and five of those RBI came in the team’s second straight NEWMAC title win over Wheaton. Senior and tournament MOP Parker Tew (.422, 8 HR, 46 RBI) drove in five of his own in that series. The Engineers played a pair of games in Northborough before a 4-2 California trip, then returned home for a New England slate highlighted by series wins over Babson and Wheaton. The Engineers will look to improve on an excellent 3-2 showing in this regional a year ago.

Sixth-seeded Castleton State (31-10, NAC autobid) makes its fifth NCAA appearance and second straight under head coach Ted Shipley. I took in the Spartans’ title win in the NAC Tournament, and despite coming from the weak conference, Castleton’s got a very talented team. They put 6 players on the 11-man all-NAC team and took home both Player (Tyler Lord) and Pitcher (Sam Spencer) of the Year honors. Senior Lord (.373, .444 OBP, 21 SB) sets the table at the top of the order for the 3-4 tandem of Nick Swim (.412 AVG) and Dan Errico (47 RBI). The club notched a big win over Tufts in the early going, and they’ve won 22 of 25 since a 9-7 start. After beating Maine-Farmington 4-1 in the NACT opener, they blew out Thomas twice en route to a dogpile. The six seed is the highest the Spartans have ever received in the NCAA Tournament.

Seventh-seeded Curry (23-13, CCC autobid) went from worst to first in the CCC to make its second NCAA Tournament appearance. Dave Perdios, a shoo-in for conference Coach of the Year, has the Colonels dancing in his third year back from two years away from the dugout. Sophomore catcher Nick Crivello (.343/.427/.463) doubled double (10) and RBI (20) totals from his freshman season en route to an all-CCC First Team selection. In a year of dramatic conference tournaments, the Colonels’ story may be the best. Down 4-1 in the 8th to Roger Williams in a decisive final game of the conference tournament, Evan Morris’s three-run dinger tied it, and Kyle Connors’s walkoff single in the 9th cued a raucous celebration. The Colonels went 0-2 in their other tournament appearance in 2007 (Wheaton eliminated them in 16 innings), so a win this week in Harwich would be a program first.

Eighth-seeded Suffolk (18-24, GNAC autobid) reaches it fifth tournament and first since 2009. Senior Josh Desai (5-4, 3.00) was named an all-GNAC first-teamer for the first time. He paces the pitching staff with six complete games, his biggest coming in a crucial GNAC Tournament win over Saint Joseph’s. An average regular season had left the Rams in third, forced to play a play-in game to the weekend double-elimination. After winning that, Desai’s performance put them in the 2-0 driver’s seat, and even after a Sunday loss to Johnson & Wales, they came back to win the decisive title game in 13 innings. After losing in five straight title games, that win had to feel as good as any in New England.

Points West

These seven teams aren’t the only New England clubs taking the field this week. The region will also be represented at the New York and Mid-Atlantic Regionals.

Amherst (26-13, NESCAC at-large) checks in as the fifth seed in the New York Regional. It’s their third straight trip to New York in the third consecutive tournament appearance (they’ve made eight overall). The Jeffs will make the five-hour bus ride west to Falcon Park in Auburn, New York (about 30 minutes outside Syracuse). There, the offense will be led by junior slugger and defending NESCAC Player of the Year Mike Odenwaelder (.343, 7 HR, 28 RBI). Sophomore Yanni Thanopoulos, the league RBI leader, will drive in his 50th run of the year if he manages one this weekend. On the hill, John Cook (5-1, 3.06) is the lone senior, and sophomore Mike Castiglie has amassed six saves and a miniscule 0.67 ERA on the year. Apart from a three-game sweep at the hands of Wesleyan, the Jeffs haven’t lost consecutive games since their Florida trip. They’ll look to build on the momentum of last year’s third-place finish in this regional, opening up against #4 Oswego Wednesday morning.

Further south, Mitchell (32-5, NECC autobid) make their third NCAA Tournament appearance and second in a row. The Mariners will take the long bus ride to York, Pennsylvania’s Santander Stadium for the Mid-Atlantic Regional. (I took in an Atlantic League game there a few years back– it’s a gorgeous park.) At 32 wins, the Mariners sport the highest win total in New England and one of the best records in the country. The NCAA trip almost wasn’t to be when Elms upset them in the 1-0 game of the conference tournament, but Mitchell stormed back for three convincing wins to claim the title. NECC Pitcher of the Year Al Jordan Johnson came up big, mowing down 13 Becker hitters in a shutout in the opener before coming back to throw the last 2.1 innings of the clincher to earn his 10th win of the season. As the fifth seed in York, the Mariners will open up against 29-4-1 Salisbury in the early game Wednesday.

The Matchups

A few of the opening-round games will feature regular-season rematches. #1 USM swept #8 Suffolk in a season-opening doubleheader, but they did lose to potential second-round opponent Salem in early April. Whichever one of #4 Salem and #5 MIT faces Suffolk in the second round, it’ll be a rematch of a regular-season game the Rams lost.

As far as scheduling info goes, rather than reprint what D3Baseball has so meticulously collected, I’ll point you to their tournament field release and tournament scoreboard. Head there for game times, as well as links to the live stream if you can’t make the games in person.

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