Previewing the Division II Tournament

Regular Northeast-10 watchers have always known the conference provides an excellent brand of baseball, but the national recognition the conference has earned recently has been nice. Attention from scouts, lots of draft picks, and success on the diamond have all built the league’s profile. As this year’s NCAA Tournament field shows, that momentum has kept on rolling. Franklin Pierce, Southern New Hampshire, and Stonehill have engineered great campaigns to separate themselves as the top three teams in the East Region. New England may have missed out on Cary last year, but it’ll be a shock if one of these teams isn’t on a plane to North Carolina next week.

The History

Before the turn of the 21st century, this regional was New Haven‘s to lose. Legendary head coach Frank Vieira, who spent 44 seasons at UNH from 1963 to 2006, led the Chargers to 26 tournament appearances and made 17 trips to the Division II College World Series. His career was highlighted by a 32-4 season in 1978 and national runner-up finishes in 1980 and 1989. Simply put, there’s a reason the field’s named after him.

Since Jayson King arrived at Franklin Pierce in 1999, there’s been a changing of the guard. King has led the Ravens to six College World Series trips since their first in 2003. FPU’s finished as high as third (in 2006) during that stretch.

A few other programs have made trips since 2000, as well: UMass Lowell in 2001 and 2002, Bryant in 2004, Southern Connecticut in 2005 and 2011, and Southern New Hampshire in 2012.

The Format

The East Regional uses a single-host, six-team double-elimination, just like D3’s Little East Conference. If you want to go to Cary, you have to be the last team standing after five others have lost twice. Unlike four-team or eight-team double-elim, a winner and a loser have to face off in the second round, so depending on whether a team is eliminated in that game, the rest of the tournament can go a few different ways. I recommend the schedule down the bottom of FPU’s Championship Central page if you’re curious about all the possibilities.

The Teams

Hosts and top seed Franklin Pierce (46-2, NE-10 autobid) makes its 11th consecutive appearance and 12th overall. In 2015, the Ravens have had the best season of any team in the modern history of New England college baseball. This is something we’ve never seen before and probably won’t ever see again.

The Ravens haven’t lost since March 25, putting together a streak of 27 straight wins. Both of their losses came by one run. Just 11 of their 46 wins have been decided by three or fewer runs. Their pitching staff leads the country in ERA, WHIP, and shutouts. They outhit opponents .323 to .197, and their staff ERA is more than five runs better. Eight players have double-digit steals for a team total of 204, 168 more than their opponents. They put 12 players on the all-conference team and seven players on the all-region team, including NE-10/East Region Player of the Year Jay Jabs and Pitcher of the Year Brendan O’Rourke.

FPU began the year with a 5-0 run through the Ripken Experience field, then took its only losses in March, 6-5 to Mount Olive on the 17th and 3-2 in 10 innings to Southern New Hampshire. Since then, they’ve been perfect, sweeping Stonehill in early April and winning two midweekers over SNHU to take the season series. In the NE-10 Tournament, they beat Merrimack in the play-in, New Haven in the weekend opener, and Stonehill twice to claim the autobid. The Skyhawks took them to the brink in a 7-6 finale, leading 6-2 after 6.5, but a five-run 7th propelled them to victory.

Franklin Pierce’s first-round opponent is St. Thomas Aquinas (27-17-1, ECC autobid), the defending regional champions. The Spartans’ only matchups against New England teams came at the beginning and end of their campaign. In Florida, the lost a series to Bentley and won, tied, and lost to Stonehill. They lost a series to Bridgeport at the end of the regular season before beating the Purple Knights twice in the conference tournament.

Second-seeded Stonehill (33-13-1, NE-10 at-large) makes its third NCAA Tournament appearance and first since 2010. Pat Boen has been at the helm for all three of those tournament trips since arriving for the 1998 season. This year’s edition landed eight players on the all-conference teams, including a pair of first-teamers, shortstop Dan Fratus (.320, 21 2B, 37 RBI) and outfielder Chris Hoyt (.347, 33 SB). The team’s top six at-bat getters are all upperclassmen, as are its top three starters. That pitching trio– senior Armand Rugel and juniors Neal Horan and Patrick Nicholson– all have ERAs south of 3 and account for more than half the team’s wins. The Skyhawks were sitting at a respectable 16-9-1 after losing to Southern Connecticut in April 12, but they’ve gone on a tear since, finishing the year at a 17-4 clip without losing consecutive games. Sitting behind SNHU in regional rankings for much of the year, they played their way into the #2 seed with a series win over SNHU to close the regular season, a play-in round win over the Penmen, and a deep run to the NE-10 title game. Their first-round opponent is #5 Dowling (27-15, ECC at-large), who’s appearing in their 10th tournament and second in a row. The Golden Lions earned an at-large despite a two-and-cue showing at the ECC Tournament. They’ve faced New England competition in New Haven (W, 4-2), Franklin Pierce (L, 6-0), and Bridgeport (regular-season series win, tournament loss).

Third-seeded Southern New Hampshire (30-12, NE-10 at-large) makes its fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance. Whatever happens this weekend, the Penmen seniors will leave as the most successful class in school history. They’ve taken a program that had never been to the national postseason to four straight regionals, including a College World Series trip as freshman in 2012. That senior class landed three members on the all-conference teams– first-team first baseman Mike Montville (.405, 6 HR, 35 RBI) and starter Cole Warren (2-1, 2.08 ERA, 12.81 K/9), and third-team Alejandro Diaz (.317, 13 2B, 37 RBI). The Penmen pitching staff is young (only three upperclassmen among the top 10 innings-getters), but very, very good. The staff ERA of 2.40 is three and a half runs better than their opponents’. They’re second in the country in ERA, WHIP, and K/9. SNHU is one of only two teams to take a game off of Franklin Pierce, a feat they accomplished on March 25. They trailed 2-0 after three, but six gutsy innings from Warren and lights-out relief from Jake Walkinshaw, Ben Criscuolo, and David Gibson gave the offense the opportunity to fight back. A Carson Helms homer and Montville single forced extras, where Kyle McGinnity’s triple won it in the 10th. SNHU’s first-round matchup is #4 Wilmington (33-12, CACC autobid). The Wildcats won the CACC Tournament to reach the tournament for the fifth straight year and seventh time overall. Despite calling Delaware home, Wilmington’s faced plenty of New England competition: they’ve beaten SNHU, swept AIC, and split with Bridgeport, but lost to Stonehill and were swept in doubleheaders against Merrimack and Post.


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