We’ve gotten in a lot more non-conference baseball than we’re used to this year, but with the end of March, we’re finally getting into conference play. Leagues like the ACC, AEC, NEC, and NECC are in full swing now, and some fascinating title races are already taking shape. More on those, and on the slew of NECB clubs representing the region well as our center of gravity shifts from south to north in the weeks ahead.
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Team of the Week: Bryant came back from their first losing weekend of the year in style last week, going 5-0 and sweeping Central Connecticut in their NEC-opening series. After Robby Rinn’s triple, homer, and four RBI led a 16-5 romp over Delaware in the midweek, it was back north to visit the Blue Devils. Friday’s mound performances set the tone for a weekend in which the Bulldogs gave up more than a run just once, as James Karinchak K’d eight in seven, and Justin Snyder threw two scoreless to finish off a 6-1 win. Apart from his loss against Maryland, Karinchak’s given up just three earned runs in four starts, and Snyder’s been lights-out from the pen (0.55 ERA, 12.67 K/9 in 9 games). On Saturday, Brandon Bingel gave up just one in six to CCSU and hit his second homer of the series to win the opener, and James Davitt threw a seven-inning shutout to win game two. Sunday’s 5-4 finale was more interesting, but Matt Albanese’s home run, two RBI, and two runs provided just enough offense, and Oliver Powers retired a pair in the ninth for his first career save. The Bulldogs are now a glittering 14-4, and their strong schedule has them at #35 in the RPI and #22 in Boyd Nation’s ISR entering their home opener against Hartford on Wednesday. If you’re in the area, the two teams enter at a combined 23-9, the Smithfield forecast is sunny and 61, and tickets are just $5.
The Bulldogs were the only team to sweep the week, but they weren’t the only team that looked good. Rhode Island‘s series win at Towson means they’ve won four of five as they look ahead to A-10 play this weekend. Tyler Wilson was his usual self in Friday’s 7-2 win (7.0 IP, 2 R, 1 ER, 9 K), and Chris Hess and Mike Corin combined for a 4-9, two-homer, six-RBI day in the series-clinching 9-4 result on Saturday. Closer to home, Northeastern, Hartford, and Holy Cross each notched series wins in New England. Zach Perry’s 12th-inning walkoff set the Huskies on their way to taking two of three from Buffalo after Aaron Civale turned in a stellar start (9.0 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 10 K) in a 1-0 win. The Hawks started AEC play on the right foot by taking a series from Albany. Trailing 6-4 at stretch time in the opener, sophomore shortstop Ben Bengston drove in two in 7th to tie it and one in the 9th to walk off, 7-6. The Crusaders, meanwhile, took to the road and took a weekend from Yale. Phil Reese threw 7 2/3 scoreless in an 8-1 win in game two, and in the rubber match, 3 2/3 scoreless from the bullpen trio of Jon Escobar, George Capen, and Sean Gustin helped freshman Kellen McCormick’s 7th-inning RBI double make the difference in a 4-2 win.
Elsewhere, we had winning weeks for Sacred Heart (3-1 in NYC and Philly) and Harvard (3-2 in Florida), and UConn and Brown both picked up nice wins over USC and UCF, respectively.
Team of the Week: When a team’s gone 65-6 over the last two seasons, it’s probably bigger news when they’re not the team of the week, but here we are again with Franklin Pierce. The Ravens had a 5-1 week that include a win over a Mount Olive team that’s been to 9 of the last 10 NCAAT’s. A five-run third and eight solid from Gage Griffin earned them a 7-3 win over UMO on Monday, and they went 4-0 on the weekend with wins over Dowling (x2), Dominican, and Pace. Paul Covelle pitched into the ninth and gave up just two runs in game one win against Dowling, and Jay Jabs was a double shy of the cycle in a monster game two. Matt Burns’s 3-4, 3-RBI day helped them take advantage of five Dominican errors in a 9-6 win there, and four late runs made the difference in the closest game of the weekend, a 6-4 win over Pace. That’s good for a 17-2 start and a #3 ranking nationally. Rindge greets the Ravens with balmy 51 degree temps for their home opener Wednesday, and after that, it’s on to a big road trip to Stonehill.
Elsewhere, not a whole lot doing in a fairly light week for D2, though Merrimack did go 3-1, beating AIC in the midweek and taking a road series from Queens. Senior first baseman Sean O’Neill was stellar in the two wins over the Knights (7-10, 2B, HR, 6 RBI), and PJ Browne struck out 14 in 7 in the series clincher. Besides that, Southern New Hampshire went 2-2 against some tough oppo down in Florida, and Assumption and AIC split a cross-divisional doubleheader in Worcester. Tyler Geffert homered in AIC’s win, and Tom Horstkotte struck out 10 in Assumption’s.
Co-Team of the Week: With a 4-0 finish to a perfect Florida trip, Western New England propelled itself into the top 25 for the first time since March of 2013. The Golden Bears edged Trinity (6-5) and Clarkson (10-8) before flying home on the back of comfortable wins over Franklin & Marshall and Calvin. The week-opening win against the Bantams, which came on T.J. Wyrebek’s walkoff double, will have felt the best, and the Golden Bears headed north hitting well over .300 as a club. It’s the best start in the history of a program that’s been very, very good in recent years, and all in all, not bad for a club picked to finish fifth in its league.
Co-Team of the Week: An extra-inning loss was all that separated Amherst from perfection in a 5-1 week that rocketed the
Lord Jeffs to the cusp of the top 25. Playing a pretty tough bunch of teams, they handed Mitchell just their second loss of the year, got solid wins over Salem State and Bethel, then closed out the trip with 4-0 win over Augustana. (Riley Streit tossed a complete-game four-hit shutout in that one.) Streit and rotation mate Jackson Volle sport a combined 1.20 ERA as they head back north, and the offense’s .350 mark is more than 100 points better than opponents. Combine that with the big win Wesleyan got against Cal Lutheran this week, and it’s looking like another fun year in the NESCAC West.
Co-Team of the Week: Yeah, I went with three. But when you go 4-2 in a week that included four top-25 games, like Wheaton did, there’s no way I can leave you out. Against #25 Rutgers-Camden, 3.1 hitless relief innings from the pen allowed late RBIs from Matt Lavanchy and Zachary Goodwin-Boyd to decide a 4-2 game. The Lyons also walked off against #13 UW Stevens Point, with senior Mike Beneduce doubling in classmate Justin Silvestro for the game winner. Lavanchy hit .439 for the trip, and rotation arm Jack Fant didn’t give up a run in 13 2/3 innings. Along with Amherst, the club is now rightfully just a strong week away from a top 25 spot.
Plenty of strong performances elsewhere in the conference-by-conference rundown.
In the CCC, Endicott took home the honor of the week’s nicest win, taking down consensus #1 Cortland by an 8-3 scoreline. The Red Dragons, 2015’s D3 national champions, hadn’t lost since their 2015 regular season finale against St. John Fisher. Cortland led 1-0 after a cagey first three innings, but it was all Endicott from there. They put up a touchdown in a fourth inning capped by Matt Paola’s two-out, two-run triple. From there, Will Ferreira finished a solid start (5.0, 3 ER, 6 K) to put himself in line for the win, and senior righty Davarn Nova delivered four scoreless to close things out. Couldn’t have been a bigger win for the CCC favorites. Elsewhere in the league, Gordon got a nice 7-6 win over WPI, and Eastern Nazarene swept a doubleheader from Lyndon.
Out of the GNAC, Johnson & Wales had a perfect 4-0 week at home, beating Coast Guard, Curry, and Thomas (twice). Frank D’Amato drove in four between the 9-5 and 6-5 wins that started the weekend, and the pitching took over against the Terriers. Keith Grant gave up just two hits and a run in a seven-inning CG in the 4-1 opener of Sunday’s doubleheader, and Brandon Rainville fanned eight in six scoreless in a 3-0 win to finish the week. Elsewhere, Albertus Magnus finished a winning week in Myrtle on a 5-0 run, taking three from Alfred State and two from Principia. That stretch was highlighted by an 11-9/11-10 doubleheader sweep over the Pioneers. Third baseman Justin Poirier drove in five in the opener, and in game two, Ted Gravel drove in the walk-off winner on a day where he fell just a triple short of the cycle. Further south, Suffolk‘s 5-2 week saw them finish up an excellent 8-2 Florida trip. Regulars Jon Lapolla, Rob Marks, and Seth Coiley are all hitting above .400 as the Rams head north and get back on the field against Wheaton on Friday. Last but not least, Rivier had a 2-1 week that saw them beat ENC and Emerson up north.
In the Little East, Keene State got serious team of the week consideration after they ran off a 5-1 finish to their southern trip. On Monday against Gwynedd Mercy, the Owls trailed three times, including 5-3 in the 11th, but won on a walk-off. Down to their final out and needing to score the man at the plate just to tie things, senior Joe Libby singled and drove in a run to cut the deficit to 5-4. Classmate Billy Hartmann then rocketed a triple to right to score Libby, and scored the winning run himself when the right fielder threw the ball away. From there, they won all but one of their remaining games to head back north above .500. Elsewhere in the LEC, #7 Southern Maine got off to a 2-0 start in Florida highlighted by a 13-0 win over Washington University that knocked the Bears out of the top 25. In that one, Shyler Scates threw seven scoreless, and the bats of Brandon Martins (4-4, 2B, 4 RBI), Sam Stauble (4-4, 2 R, RBI), and Sam Dexter (3-5, 3B, 3 R) came up big. Eastern Connecticut started off their own Florida trip 3-1, putting a dozen past both RIT and Framingham. Alex Parkos was 6-10 with two doubles and seven RBI in those wins, and Pat Sirois and Alex White both homered. Elsewhere, UMass Dartmouth had a winning (3-2) week to wrap up their southern swing, and Rhode Island College came from 10-3 down in the 7th to earn a wild 10-10, 10-inning tie against Roger Williams.
In the MASCAC, Westfield State looked good in a 4-3 week against tough competition. The three losses were all fairly close ones to big-conference teams, and the wins included Suffolk, Stockton (x2), and a blowout of Lesley. Danny DiMatteo comes back north hitting a white-hot .488, and Nick Cunningham gave up just one earned run in 13 innings between his two starts. Mass Maritime (3-2) also had a winning week that included victories over NEWMAC foes Clark and Emerson.
In the NAC, Castleton took a nice win off MIT in a competitive weekend in Virginia. They finished things up there Saturday and despite a looong trip to Connecticut, swept a doubleheader from Coast Guard the next day to finish the week 3-2. Sam Spencer fired a complete game and didn’t give up an earned run in the win over the Engineers, and Jim Buckley went 4-7 with a homer in the doubleheader sweep. Even further north, title rivals Husson won their earliest home opener ever (doesn’t that sound great?) 9-7 over Bates, outhitting the Bobcats 13-6. After taking a NAC series from NEC series last weekend, Colby-Sawyer went 3-3 this week and have already doubled their 2015 win total with a 6-3 start, calling to mind the bounce-back year fellow Granite Staters Rivier had last season (3 wins in 2014 to 13 in 2015). Finally, Maine-Farmington took a series from Fisher on their way down to Florida.
In the NECC, Becker, Mitchell, and Elms set the tone for what should be an intense title race with a combined 8-0 week in league play. The Hawks swept three from Lesley as part of a 5-1 week in Florida. In the opening doubleheader sweep, Nick Lemay struck out 7 in 6 in a 6-4 game one win, and Tyler Wagar allowed just one earned run in seven in a 4-2 win in game two. In the finale, Niko Bedell homered and drove in five to power the offense to a win in an 11-9, 30-hit slugfest. The Mariners’ home opener saw them sweep a doubleheader from Southern Vermont. They got enough offense to win 9-7 in an ugly seven-error affair in the opener, and Neftali Arroyo came up a triple shy of the cycle in a 9-4 triumph in game two. That puts Mitchell at 11-2 on the year, with their only losses coming against conference favorites Alvernia and Amherst. The Blazers, finally, overcame their first loss since opening day to sweep Daniel Webster in a 4-1 week. They opened the series on Wednesday in Northborough with a 5-2 win in which Tom Weldon gave up just two in eight, and Brian Langdon K’d two in a 1-2-3 ninth for his fourth save of the year. Weldon returned to the mound to fan 10 on Sunday, and Jordan Zima went 4-4, doubled twice, and drove in four in an 8-5 win. Andrew Sadowski’s seven-inning shutout finished off the sweep. Their 15-2 start should have everyone looking forward to their showdown with Mitchell in mid-April. (And one other week to note in the NECC, as Newbury beat ENC and Emerson in a 2-0 league bye week.)
The NESCAC took to every corner of the country and turned in some strong weeks this week. Bowdoin started its Florida trip with a 5-0 mark that included a DH sweep of Dickinson. Freshman Brandon Lopez struck out six in six to win his collegiate debut in the opener, and Peter Cimini’s double and homer keyed a come-from-behind 4-3 win that completed the sweep. Wesleyan closed out its Arizona trip with a 3-1 week that included a big win over Cal Lutheran. Nick Miceli started the game behind the plate, drove in the go-ahead run that made 7-6 at stretch time, then went out to the mound and threw two scoreless innings to get the save, all in the Arizona heat. Tufts, finally, took two of three from their weekend in Virginia with MIT and Castleton.
Last but certainly not least, the NEWMAC had a very strong week. Springfield went 4-2-1 and earned a hard-fought tie with a New Paltz team that just took a series from Cortland. Babson‘s 3-1-1 week in Florida included a 6-4 win over Cortland’s 2015 New York Regional finals opponents RPI and an 8-7 victory in a 29-hit game with Franklin & Marshall of the Centennial Conference. Elsewhere, WPI‘s 3-1 week included a crosstown doubleheader sweep of Worcester State, and Clark handed Elms its first loss since February.
I’ll also give a shout to our resident independents, Maine-Presque Isle, who took an eight-hour bus ride just to get to Northborough this weekend for a four-game set with Anna Maria. The Owls split the series, taking back-to-back wins for the first time since early 2015 in the middle of it. Matt Curry helped bring in the winning ninth-inning run in Saturday’s win, then tossed seven strong to get the win on the mound on Sunday.