Early Days

Hey everyone. I’m going to ignore this and basically just hope it goes away, permanently. (At least it’s too cold for snow?) There’s baseball being played somewhere, thankfully, so click on for a division-by-division rundown of the early days of 2016.

Division III

(First thing’s first, if you’re looking for the comprehensive season preview that you all deserve, head on over to D3baseball.com and check out @JoshuaKummins‘s excellent season preview piece for the region.)

Worcester State, originally scheduled not to start the season till early March, decided to take advantage of the weird winter and met up with NAIA Fisher on February 2 in Northborough. The Lancers won 8-4, putting up all their runs in the first four innings. Junior leadoff man Jake Ryan had a two-RBI double in the second, scored twice, and reached base three times; classmate Josh Creamer added a pair of hits and an RBI from the nine-hole.

Southern Vermont is the only other D3 to have seen action. They suffered a doubleheader sweep at the hands of Frank Leoni’s Marymount squad on Valentine’s Day. Both games ended 7-2, but not without some bright spots: an errorless day, two RBI for RJ Pingitore, and two shutout relief innings from R.J. Henle in the opener.

At the moment, we’ve only got a preseason poll in from the NECC (expect more to come in soon). Unsurprisingly, two-time defending champs Mitchell got picked to repeat, with ElmsNewbury, and Becker also projected to make the four-team tournament.

A few squads will see action this weekend before the D3 action really heats up next month. SVC returns to southern Virginia to face, well, Southern Virginia and Washington & Lee. Castleton (they’ve dropped the State) and Curry both begin conference title defenses, the Spartans with a week in North Carolina and the Colonels with a three-gamer against Oglethorpe in Georgia. Finally, Derek Carlson will lead Brandeis into battle for the first time in a three-game Florida set with St. Joseph’s (Brooklyn).

Division II

Bentley kicked off New England’s season back in January (props) and was back down in Florida for the holiday weekend. On their first trip, the Falcons got swept by preseason #1 Tampa. (That’s the same Tampa that beat the Phillies last year.) They returned to the Sunshine State to take on Rollins for the holiday weekend and promptly avenged some close losses to the Tars last season when they took the Friday night game 4-3. Bill Sullivan, who lost almost all of the past two seasons to injury, went six solid to earn the win. He left with the lead in the sixth after Bryan Rocha’s RBI groundout put the Falcons on top 4-3. Jack Burke took the ball for the last three innings and kept Rollins off the board for the save.

In between those weekends, Saint Anselm was down in Frank Underwood’s hometown for a three-game set with Limestone. The Saints swept them in a Saturday doubleheader, but the Hawks rebounded to the tune of a 4-3 win on Sunday. Saint A’s got all four of their runs in the first on two-RBI singles by Allan McQuarrie and Connor Parent. Joseph Levasseur then gave the Hawks a stellar start (7.0 inn, 2 R, 4 H, 5 K, BB). Autrey Gates came on in the 8th with a 4-2 lead, and despite giving up five hits and a run, managed to strand to tying run on third in the 9th to close out the win.

Looking ahead, Post will be the next team to open up when they head to Virginia to play Mercyhurst, Mansfield (twice) and LeMoyne. Friday’s game with Mercyhurst, favorites in a strong PSAC West, will be the weekend’s sternest test. The Eagles, who finished second in the CACC last year thanks to a season-ending sweep of ranked Wilmington, got picked fourth in the conference this year.

After that, the Northeast Challenge in Myrtle Beach takes center stage. Seven of the region’s best– Bridgeport, Merrimack, New Haven, Southern Connecticut, Franklin Pierce, Southern New Hampshire, and Stonehill— will be making the annual pilgrimage to the Ripken Experience. The trio of FPU, SNHU, and Stonehill, besides being picked 1-2-3 on the NE-10 Northeast, also got some love from D2BaseballNews. Those folks, who are a great source for all things D2, have Stonehill at #5 in the East Region and the Penmen #2 regionally and #24 nationally. The Ravens, meanwhile, project as the top dog in the East Region and an impressive #3 nationally.

Division I

It’s a bit hard to believe for those who remember the debate, but this’ll be the ninth season of Division I’s common start date. I’m not going to rehash things here (though here’s an AP piece from 2008, if you’re really interested), but one of the nicer side effects is the feel of a true opening day, which is coming up this Friday. Programs do a pretty good job of hyping it on social media, and the season starts with a lot more of a bang than when it was some Pac-10 school playing Hawaii-Hilo in the middle of the night our time. Perhaps as a result of last year’s weather woes, fewer New England teams are jumping at this first chance to open, but we’ve still got seven teams in action.

For the third time in four years, Rhode Island opens up with a ranked opponent, #20 Florida State. The Seminoles are ranked a bit lower than they’d like after losing First-Team All-American slugger D.J. Stewart and ACC Tournament MVP arm Boomer Biegalski, but they’re always a force to be reckoned with. (Since Mike Martin took over in 1980, they’ve never won fewer than 40 games– one of the most impressive streaks in college sports, imo.) That said, I see the Rams showing pretty well here. Besides knowing what it takes to take down a national power (just ask UNC), they return two rotation arms and the bulk of a lineup that went 15-9 in conference and came up one step short of a tourney trip in 2015. There’s no shame in a sweep, of course, but a win would help spur them on to what could be a big season.

Rhody won’t be the only one taking on a power-conference opponent this weekend. Maine makes its regular trip to Clemson, under new management for the first time in decades after ex-Black Bear Jack Leggett was let go this offseason. Northeastern heads to the Midwest for four games with Pete Hughes’s Oklahoma team, tabbed to finish fourth in a competitive Big 12. Holy Cross, finally, makes the long trip west to face Long Beach State, who got three first-place votes in the Big West. It says something about the Crusader program that this is their easiest opener in recent memory. The Dirtbags are no slouches (only Fullerton and Irvine were projected ahead of them in the Big West), but compare them to the Crusaders’ last five opening day opponents– LSU, Texas A&M, Virginia Tech in their regional-hosting year, Mississippi State, and A&M again– and you’ll see what I mean. And considering that HC took a game off A&M in 2012 and split with MSU two years later, LBSU should be on its guard.

Elsewhere, our resident power conference schools, Connecticut and Boston College, take things comparatively easier in anticipation of grueling league slates. The Huskies visit UTSA, and BC will be in Arizona for three with Northern Illinois. The final team in action is Bryant, which heads to Cary to face Army, Monmouth (twice), and Penn State as they prep for the loaded field at the following weekend’s Tony Gwynn Classic in San Diego.

I’ll leave the other squads until the coming weeks, but here’s a quick run through the preseason polls. In the AEC, Hartford and Maine go 3-4, consistent with their recent finishes, and UMass Lowell comes in last. (That shouldn’t phase the River Hawks too much, though, as they’ve comfortably exceeded preseason expectations in their first two seasons in the conference.) In the NEC, Bryant holds a narrow edge over Sacred Heart at 1-2, with the teams’ near-even split of first-place votes setting up the storyline for this NEC season (they meet up in Smithfield in late April). Central Connecticut, meanwhile, got picked to return to the playoffs after missing out in 2015.

In the A-10, Rhode Island‘s two first-place votes helped put them in third. They miss favorites Saint Louis, but have a big home series with second-place VCU in early April. UMass is projected to tie for 11th. Quinnipiac‘s strong 2015 earned them a second-place selection in the MAAC– a big set with favorites Canisius comes in mid-May. Conference mates Fairfield were pegged for 8th.

Elsewhere, UConn was picked fourth in the eight-team AAC, not bad at all for a team that lost some big names after 2015. Northeastern is tied with Elon in third in the CAA, and Holy Cross checks in at second in the Patriot League, and, finally, Boston College comes in last in a competitive ACC Atlantic Division.

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