Normally, we can’t wait to see the end of February. It’s the month of being snowed in, snowed out, snowed under, and put under by warm-weather teams who haven’t had to put a jacket on all winter. But this year, things have been different. Very different. In D1 and D2, New England teams are roaring out of the gates, and D3’s starting to get in on the action too. Click on for a roundup of the weekend that was in NECB.
Co-Teams of the Week: Bryant and Connecticut.
In a week of strong performances, Bryant set themselves apart in the studded field of the inaugural Tony Gwynn Classic in San Diego. For the Bulldogs even to make this field was a coup. Besides hosts San Diego and San Diego State, it featured power-conference denizens Arizona, Kentucky, Nebraska, Tulane, and UC Santa Barbara. That didn’t faze the Bulldogs, who made plenty of noise on the field. They started off strong on Friday, crushing co-hosts SDSU 10-2. AJ Zarozny’s four doubles led the offense against the Aztecs, and James Karinchak’s six strong on the mound earned him rave reviews from the national media. They stumbled badly in Saturday’s defeat to UCSB, but fought back impressively on Sunday to earn a marquee win over #22 Kentucky. The 7-4 scoreline flatters the Wildcats, to be honest. After frosh Nick Angelini provided the key hit with a three-run dinger to make it 7-1 in the 5th, the outcome wasn’t in much doubt. The Bulldogs passed the toughest weekend of their non-conference slate with flying colors, and their showing will mid-March’s visit to Maryland garnering national attention.
Although three others teams had perfect weeks, Connecticut set themselves apart. The Austin Peay Tournament’s field wasn’t quite what Bryant faced in California, but it was very strong for an early-season meet-up at a mid-major. Missouri State (#12 in the Collegiate Baseball poll coming in) basically came a scheduling conflict short of Omaha last year, hosts Austin Peay made three straight NCAA trips earlier this decade, and, well, Alcorn State was there too. Varying degrees of difficulty, but that didn’t make much difference to the Huskies, who played each of those teams off the field this weekend. Friday’s 12-4 drubbing of the top-15 Bears set a high bar, but the Huskies cleared it and then some. 19-4 over APSU, and 25-3 over poor Alcorn State. Not bad for a squad that lost four of its top five home-run hitters from a year ago. And on the mound, starters Kay, Montgomerie, and Zapata combined to strike out 25 in just 17 innings. Needless to say, lots of good signs for UConn as they head to Virginia for an intriguing series with Liberty next weekend. (And be sure to follow Husky announcer Chris Jones’s UConn Baseball Blog for a more in-depth take on them. You can find him on Twitter @JonesCcj.)
As mentioned, three other teams had perfect weeks– Boston College, Hartford, and Fairfield. After early wins over Chicago State and Indiana State saw the Eagles run to 6-0 on the year, it looked like the streak would end against Villanova (BC trailed 3-1, 7-2, and 10-8 in this one), but a strong relief outing from John Nicklas and a 12th-inning passed ball saw them pick up a hard-earned 11-10 win. Hartford, meanwhile, is off to their best start since 2000 after a three-game sweep of North Florida. Kyle Gauthier’s complete game and Chris DelDebbio’s two-run homer were enough for a 2-1 win in the opener, the offense won a 9-8 slugfest on Saturday, and TJ Ward’s two-run double provided just enough for the sweep in a 3-2 win on Sunday. Three close wins, but three good ones to have under the belt heading into series against Radford and UC Santa Barbara. Finally, Fairfield started the year off hot with a dominant sweep of Delaware State. They outscored the Hornets 39-6 in an offensive outburst keyed by MAAC Player of the Week Troy Scocca’s two home runs.
Some quick hits from elsewhere: Quinnipiac picked up a nice 3-of-4 series win down at Appalachian State; Maine, UMass Lowell, and Northeastern each split four-game weekends; and Rhode Island picked up a nice win at Big Ten contenders Maryland.
Tri-Teams of the Week: Franklin Pierce, Southern New Hampshire, and Merrimack.
I never, ever pick more than two teams from a division, but this week, these clubs gave me no choice. A matching set of 5-0 records in the same tournament in Myrtle Beach. As if we needed more proof that the NE-10’s Northeast Division is the cream of the East Region crop.
It’s not last year’s 16-0 start (yet), but Franklin Pierce couldn’t have asked for a better weekend. Five wins in five games, and they barely even broke a sweat. Mercy managed to keep the game tied till the seventh in the weekend opener, but FPU broke things open to win 9-4. After that, a pair of 8-1 games were the tightest things got. The Ravens rotation depth and talent was on display all weekend, the offense pounded out 23 extra-base hits, and senior Max DiTondo garnered NE-10 Player of the Week honors.
Southern New Hampshire‘s own 5-0 weekend was highlighted by a Saturday doubleheader sweep that saw as good a day on the mound as any Saturday doubleheader sweep ever, I’m guessing. In the opener, the Penmen had the chance to avenge last year’s NCAA Tournament loss to Wilmington, and Tim Viehoff delivered. The senior lefty threw a complete-game shutout, allowing just a hit and a walk while fanning seven. And if you thought that was good, junior Benjamin Criscuolo did him one better, no-hitting Nyack in game two, striking out 15 Warriors in the process without issuing a walk. And it was his first college start! All in all, a great weekend for SNHU.
And let’s not forget Merrimack. After sweeping Felician and winning two comfortable games on Saturday to begin the tournament, the perfect start hung in the balance when they trailed Queens 6-2 in the late going Sunday. A loud 7th inning changed that, however, as Tyler Lyne (RBI triple), Cam DiSarcina (RBI double), and Matt Nicholson (three-run homer) powered a five-run inning to put them on top 7-6. Nate Spielvogel would close things out for his second save of the weekend. Conference voters picked the Warriors to battle Bentley for the last playoff spot in the Northeast Division, but early signs are they could be in for much more than that.
Southern Connecticut had a strong 3-1 week of their own in Myrtle, a 3-2 loss to Dominican the only blemish. And down in Florida, Bentley earned a three-game sweep of Saint Anselm.
Still only a handful of teams in action in D3, but some good news to report out of the Little East.
Team of the Week: Western Connecticut.
They dropped the opener of a weekend series with Marymount by just a run, but senior righty Craig Frobel turned things around for his Western Connecticut team in a hurry in game two. The offense only got him a run (EJ Lavoie’s RBI double in the third), but that was all he needed in a seven-inning no-hitter. Hats off to him. In the rubber match, the bats awoke for a 10-4 win, with three RBI apiece from Matt Greene and Frank Vartuli helping WCSU take home a quality series win.
Elsewhere, Bates had a winning (3-2) California trip, and Emerson got a nice comeback, walkoff win over Wentworth in their season opener.