A Keene Swamp Bats Guide to the Spring Season

For some background to this post, check out this piece from a couple weeks back. I’ll cover as many summer teams as I can between now and the start of conference play, and take a look at how some of their players are faring nationally and locally, as well as their fans’ local viewing options right here in New England this spring. (Thanks to @KenLynes for recommending the Swamp Bats, let me know if there’s another team you’d like to hear about!)

If you’re reading this, you might be one of the 800,000 people who took in a collegiate summer baseball game in New England last year. It’s no secret that New England has a very special tradition in this department, but it’s also no secret that the support doesn’t translate as well to the NCAA season. I’m here to try and convince you that it should, and also to fill you in on what some current and former Swamp Bats are up to this spring.

First Off, Why College Baseball?

If you’ve enjoyed watching games during the summer, you’ll love what’s on display in the spring. Short seasons where every pitch matters and playoff races are always tight. Win-or-go-home conference tournaments, where every day is game seven. Players who aren’t afraid to show emotion, don’t take themselves too seriously, and aren’t just playing for their next free agent deal. Underdogs dogpiling, unforgettable tournament showdowns, and lots of laughs on and off the field too. Quirky ballparks, unorthodox playing styles, comebacks, walkoffs, and championships. A dirt cheap (and often free) price of admission. The ultimate prize of a College World Series trip to Omaha, Cary, or Appleton. No, it’s not pro baseball, but in many ways, what makes it different makes it great.

Swamp Bats Across the Nation

Things didn’t go well for the Swamp Bats on the field last summer, but when you’ve set the bar at 14 straight playoff appearances and four league titles, you can be forgiven for one down year. And of course, that didn’t mean Keene’s roster lacked the national talent that their fans are used to seeing each summer.

Last year’s national champions, the Virginia Cavaliers, wouldn’t have made an upset run to the title without power arms Nathan Kirby and Connor Jones, both of whom are Swamp Bat alums. Last summer’s roster included two of their teammates, Tommy Doyle and Bennett Sousa. Both pitchers joined Keene in July after concluding their time in Omaha, and Sousa had a 1.62 ERA in time split between the bullpen and rotation. And as if you needed any more evidence that Brian O’Connor loves sending his guys to Keene, Doyle and Sousa are slated to return in 2016, when they’ll be joined by Wahoo teammates Derek Casey and Daniel Lynch.

UVa wasn’t the only ACC power represented on the Swamp Bats’ roster last summer. Louisville, arguably the most talented team in the country in 2016, sent freshman righties Lincoln Henzmann and Kade McClure to spend the summer at Alumni Field. Both logged innings as part of Keene’s rotation (Henzmann’s 2.85 ERA was the best of their regular starters), and both are doing their part in the Cards’ 14-2 start. Henzmann has been one of Dan McDonnell’s most trusted relief arms (2.16 ERA, 1 save in 6 apps), and McClure has excelled as the club’s midweek starter (3-0, 0.56 ERA).

Switching gears to the Division II scene, one of the bright spots of the Swamp Bat offense was Eckerd’s Lucas Luopa, a Keene native. He appeared in all but one of the team’s games, hitting .261 with five doubles and a team-leading 13 steals. On the young season, he’s hitting .292 with five steals in the Tritons’ ultra-competitive Sunshine State Conference.

Swamp Bats in New England

Keene mixed this national talent with players from eight New England schools last summer, and many of those players are leading their teams in the region’s hot start to the 2016 season.

A pair of AEC pitchers headlined the Swamp Bats’ NECB contingent in 2015, and they’ve both been near-unhittable in 2016. Hartford‘s Kyle Gauthier and UMass Lowell‘s Andrew Ryan offer their teams college baseball’s most precious commodity– an elite Friday night starter. Gauthier keyed his Hawks’ program-best 5-0 start to 2016, throwing a complete game to beat North Florida on opening weekend, then firing seven one-hit innings against Radford a week later. Ryan has been just as important to the Riverhawks’ own winning start. It really says something that giving up one run in seven in a season-opening win over Nicholls State has been the low point of his season. He dominated Delaware State in week two to the tune of 10 strikeouts in seven one-hit innings, then got a big win over Santa Clara, fanning eight in eight scoreless. Those two should face off when their teams meet up in Lowell in the first week of April, and that’s definitely one to circle on your calendar.

In the field, NEC rivals Bryant and Central Connecticut both contributed a position player last summer. The Bulldogs’ Dan Cellucci has been the everyday shortstop for a team whose early wins over San Diego State (Mountain West favorites), Kentucky (#22 at the time), and Maryland (picked 2nd in the B1G) have had them receiving top 25 votes. In the 2-0 win over Maryland, he collected two of Bryant’s six hits and scored the decisive run. CCSU catcher Connor Fitzsimons, meanwhile, has been a part of some early-season success for the Blue Devils. In a road sweep of Patriot League favorites Navy, he went 4-5, drove in three, and caught wins for Andrew Hinckley and Brett Susi.

The A-10’s two New England members, Rhode Island and UMass, also sent players to Keene in 2015. The Rams’ Connor Foreman, who had two homers and 12 RBI for the Swamp Bats last summer, has held down first base on a URI team that’s expected to compete for the A-10 title. His walk numbers are helping him to get on base at a .340 clip in the early going, and he went 2-4 with a double in Rhody’s own win over Maryland. The Minutemen’s Mike Geannelis, meanwhile, got 91 at-bats while also performing well in the rotation (2-3, 3.09) last summer for Keene.

Finally, Keene featured Granite Stater Carmen Giampetruzzi of Boston College and Franklin Pierce hurler Paul Covelle. Last summer, the dynamic duo had eerily similar identical statlines (both made 17 appearances and had a 1.61 ERA in 21.1 innings) that were distinguished only by the BC lefty’s (you really thought I was going to spell that name twice?) slightly better OBA and Covelle’s three saves and six extra strikeouts. His bullpen mate has only seen limited time with the Eagles so far, but Covelle’s been stellar in the rotation for the 13-1 Ravens, sporting a 3-0 record and a 1.17 ERA.

Keene’s 2016 NECB cohort will be smaller, but still features some great talent. The aforementioned BC pitcher is back, and will be joined by a fellow D1er Rhode Island‘s Taso Stathopoulos (#PrayForKeenesAnnouncer). Covelle’s FPU teammate Zach Hart comes on board, as does Southern New Hampshire‘s Ivon Clough and Jake Walkinshaw (that’s only 10). Out-of-NE players Jacob Niggemeyer, Jordan Getzelman, and Parker Sniatynski will naturally be making their way to southwestern New Hampshire too. Jarrod Saltalamacchia Bobblehead Day is set for the home opener against North Adams on June 11.

While We’re in the Area…

The Keene area isn’t blessed with a ton of spring baseball, but the quality more than makes up for the quantity.

The most convenient option is Keene State. The Owls play less than ten minutes from Alumni Field at the KSC athletic fields just south of the main campus. They play in the Little East, arguably the best of New England’s eight Division III conferences. (Yes, NESCAC and NEWMAC fans, your complaints are duly noted.) Their biggest home date comes on April 30, when they welcome two-time D3 champions, 2013 and 2014 CWS participants, and preseason LEC favorites Southern Maine for a doubleheader at noon. Swamp Bat fans will recognize their manager Marty Testo, who serves as the associate head coach under the Owls’ Ken Howe.

And about a half hour down the road in Rindge, some of the best Division II baseball in the country will be on offer this spring. Franklin Pierce, the team of Covelle and Hart, plays a competitive Northeast-10 schedule at a gorgeous on-campus ballpark. The purists out there will love that the league uses wood bats, and anyone with a pulse will love what’ll be on display there on the afternoon of March 30 and under the lights on April 13: the annual showdowns between Franklin Pierce and Southern New Hampshire. They entered today’s sporting top-10 rankings after getting off to a combined 26-1 start. Their games showcase some of the best talent and competitiveness that New England college baseball has to offer– there’s a reason they’ll both be sending players to the Swamp Bats this summer. Bottom line: do whatever you have to do get to Pappas Field for one of these games.

 

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