So we’re going to try something new with our weekend previews. Instead of going division-by-division, league-by-league like before, I’m going to break things down by region. The idea is to give people an idea of the best games on offer in their own backyards. Every week, I’ll pick the can’t-miss series from every corner of New England and talk about the narratives, players, and implications surrounding each of them. As I’ve written elsewhere, you’d have plenty of reasons to get yourself to a park even if we weren’t expecting sunshine this weekend. So thanks for clicking, enjoy the post, and if you won’t already be playing in one, get out and see a game.
Lots to choose from here, but I’ll go with UConn‘s home-and-home with Columbia. The Huskies head to Manhattan to open things up on Friday, then host the Lions for a doubleheader on Saturday. UConn, as usual, has a talented team this year, led by left-handed ace Anthony Kay, Baseball America‘s #30 prospect for the 2016 draft. It’s been an uneven start, with highs (3-0 at the Austin Peay Tournament) and lows (the current four-game skid), but Kay (2-1, 3.09) and freshman sensation Tim Cate (2 starts, 0.54, 24 Ks and 3 BBs in 16 2/3) give the Huskies a formidable mound presence. The Lions will be strong opponents, however. Despite taking their knocks (4-11) against a top-70 schedule, they’re coming off three straight NCAA trips and a run to the Coral Gables Regional final in 2015. Junior Will Craig leads CU with a .386 average and .507 OBP. Saturday’s noontime doubleheader will be on campus in Storrs at J.O. Christian Field.
A pair of honorable mentions from other corners of the state. In southeastern Connecticut, NECC favorites Mitchell will be hosting Trinity at Alumni Field in New London for a Saturday doubleheader. The 11-3 Mariners, who beat a NESCAC power in Wesleyan last year, will be looking to continue their hot start, while the Bantams take the field for the first time since a 4-6 Florida trip. Down the other end of the state, Bluefish fans can make the familiar trip to the Ballpark at Harbor Yard to see Bridgeport open up ECC play with a Friday doubleheader against Queens.
The Ocean State is home to a D3 matchup of two hot teams this weekend, as Johnson & Wales (won 6 of 8) takes on Keene State (won 5 of 7). The host Wildcats, who came inches from their first NCAA trip a year ago, have been led by the arms of Jake Marchessault (2-0, 2.84, 27:6 K to BB) and Brandon Rainville (1-0, 0.00 ERA in two starts). The Owls, meanwhile, reeled off a five-game winning streak and feature a dynamic rotation duo of their own, Mike Crimi (1-1, 1.00, 13.50 K/9) and 2015 NECBL All-Star Cody Dube (2-1, 1.31, 27:3 K to BB). They’ll play a single game on Saturday at J&W’s Scotts Miracle-Gro Field in Cranston.
A pretty light slate between the Pioneer Valley and Berkshires this week, but the quality more than makes up for it. Amherst‘s showdown with Endicott headlines the action. In a matchup of two of the region’s best (a combined five NCAA trips in the last three years), the former Lord Jeffs enter at 8-1 after an excellent Florida trip, and the Gulls’ own southern swing saw them take down #1 Cortland, D3’s then-undefeated defending national champions. Amherst has three regulars hitting above .350 (led by Ariel Kenney at .421), while Endicott senior JJ Branch is 3-0 with a 3.94 on the young season after earning first-team all-CCC honors a year ago. The two teams will play a doubleheader on Saturday on Amherst’s renovated Memorial Field.
Some other hot starters are also in action nearby, with Western New England (9-1) hosting Plymouth State for a Saturday doubleheader and Westfield State (winners of 6 of 8) taking on Albertus Magnus in a Saturday twinbill of their own.
Moving east, a series with title implications takes the cake in the Worcester area. After opening their series under the lights on Thursday, Becker hosts Elms in a Saturday battle of NECC contenders. The Hawks enter the opener at a solid 9-6 (3-0 NECC), while the Blazers have roared out to a program-best 17-2 start to 2016. After watching Mitchell take home the last two conference titles, both teams will be eager to get a series win that would cement their title credentials. The Hawks are led by defending NECC Player of the Year Niko Bedell (.260, 2 HR, 13 RBI), while Blazers senior ace Tom Weldon (4-0, 2.78) has been a big part of their red-hot start. First pitch of the doubleheader is at noon at Becker’s waterside Rochdale Park.
Those looking for quantity in Central Mass this weekend don’t have to go any further than Northborough, where the New England Baseball Complex is hosting Assumption–Saint Michael’s, Worcester State-Roger Williams, and Newbury-Lesley.
I’m going with Bentley‘s three-game home set with Southern New Hampshire here. On paper, the 17-2 Penmen should sweep the 5-10 hosts, but we had similar expectations for last season’s series, which was a textbook example of the ultra-competitive, high-level baseball we’ve come to expect in the Northeast-10. The Falcons took home an 8-7, 10-inning win in the two teams’ first game last season and forced the Penmen to walk off in another 10-inning affair later that season. This year, the hosts are led by seniors Zachary Littman (seven XBH) and Bill Sullivan (1-2, 4.03, 27:7 K to BB), while SNHU has the bat of Mike Mastroberti (.360, 11 XBH, 23 RBI) and a stable of top-line starters led by former closer Ben Criscuolo (4-0, 1.50), a junior who threw a no-hitter in his first college start earlier this spring. The two teams open with a Friday game at 3:00 before closing out the series with a Saturday doubleheader at noon, all at Bentley’s DeFelice Field.
No doubts here, as Easton plays host to a big Northeast-10 showdown between Stonehill and Franklin Pierce. The host Skyhawks have recovered from a 2-5 start to win 9 of their last 10. The senior duo of Chris Hoyt and Brian Campbell are both hitting above .350 and have combined for 21 XBH and 29 RBI on the young season; on the mound, junior lefty Patrick Hurley is 3-0 with an 0.42. The thing that makes this series so big is that their opponents have been even better. Franklin Pierce enters with a #3 national ranking and a 18-2 record. For the second year in a row, the Ravens have blitzed through their early-season slate and look primed for conference play. Defending NE-10 Player of the Year Jay Jabs is picking up right where he left off (.352/.483/.577, 3 HR, 10 SB), and the pitching staff sports a league-best 2.44 ERA. First pitch of Saturday’s juicy doubleheader comes at noon at Stonehill’s Lou Gorman Field.
Some other ones to watch in the region. Wheaton comes off a pair of top-25 wins in Florida to face fellow hot starters Suffolk on Friday at 3:00, before a Saturday showdown with WPI continues what’s been a barn-burner of a series the past couple seasons. Also in the NEWMAC, Emerson hosts Clark in the first league games at their new home, Brockton’s Campanelli Stadium.
If you’re going to build a glittering new Fenway replica to play your home games in, you might as well play a lot of them, and that’s exactly what UMass Boston is doing in 2016. The Beacons will already be playing their 5th, 6th, and 7th home games of the year this weekend when they host Brandeis on Friday and Framingham State for a doubleheader Saturday. UMB’s just 2-2 so far in their new home of Monan Park, but the two wins were good ones over MIT and Worcester State. They’ll have a chance for more of that this weekend. The Judges handed Western New England its first loss of the year in the midweek, and will look to take another scalp in their only game of the weekend. And if you like the long ball, you’ll want to make Saturday’s 3:30 doubleheader with the Rams, who hit a whopping 34 homers last year (almost as many as the MASCAC’s other seven teams put together). The Beacons, for their part, hit 21 out last year, and on a field with the same dimensions as the real thing up in the Fens, there will be runs.
Don’t worry, I won’t always combine them! It’s just that this week features only one series between the two states, a home-and-home between Daniel Webster and Southern Vermont. The NECC rivals will play in the Granite State first, at 3:00 in Nashua on Friday, before heading to Bennington to finish the series with a doubleheader at SVC’s Epstein Field on Saturday. The Mountaineers are coming off a high after handing Mitchell their first league loss at Epstein in the midweek. Shortstop John Arancio went 4-5 with a homer in that 13-9 slugfest. DWC, meanwhile, played three close games against hot starters Elms last weekend, and handed Becker their only NECC loss of the year down in Florida. Senior righty Curtis Hamilton has yet to allow an earned run in two starts this year. A series win here could be key for either side when it comes time to decide the league’s playoff spots at the end of the year.
The state’s storied Division I standard-bearers, the Maine Black Bears, will play the home opener of their 134th season this weekend as they host Binghamton for a three-game AEC set. An opening-day win over Clemson has been the club’s high-water mark thus far, but this weekend marks the beginning of the games that count. Maine will lean on sophomore ace Justin Courtney (1-1, 1.44 ERA) and look for a more even output from an offense that’s hit 12 home runs but only managed a .310 OBP. A series win here would set them well on their way to a seventh straight postseason berth.