Weekend Roundup — March 28, 2016

The games are only getting bigger as we turn the page on March, and there were plenty of big wins to fill the roundup. Hartford and Sacred Heart both took to the road to earn sweeps, Franklin Pierce and Southern New Hampshire kept on rolling ahead of their showdown this Wednesday, and there were some big results in D3. All that, and some thoughts on some big news about the D3 Tournament, after the jump.

Division I

Team of the Week: After notching a series win to open conference play last weekend, Hartford has just kept on rolling. Justin Blood’s Hawks went 5-0 in a week spent entirely on the road, notching midweek wins over Fairfield and Bryant before heading down to Philly and sweeping Villanova. The bats led the way in midweek– well, David MacKinnon’s, to be specific. He broke a seventh-inning deadlock with a solo shot against the Stags, then went 4-5 with two RBI in a back-and-forth 9-8 win over the Bulldogs. (Didn’t I tell you that’d be one to see?) Over the weekend, the Hawks’ stable of talented arms stole the show. On Friday, a quintet of arms combined to hold the Wildcats to a run on four hits, and everyone in the lineup got a hit in an 11-1 blowout. In Saturday’s 8-0 win, David Drouin continued his stellar campaign with five scoreless, and Brian Murphy kept Nova off the board for the other four to complete the shutout. The Big East club kept things closer on Sunday, but six strong from Kyle Gauthier and some excellent relief from the trio of John LaRossa, Sebastian DiMauro, and Collin Ferguson added up to a 2-1 win and a road sweep. (MacKinnon, if you were wondering, had three multi-hit games and five RBI on the weekend. He’s also the goalie on the soccer team in his spare time.) And to take a step back from this week: five years ago, this program was reeling off the back of a 6-43 season that marked the low point of a 15-year playoff drought. Now, after four plus years of Justin Blood’s tutelage, they’re looking like one of the best teams in the region.

The Hawks weren’t the only team to do well in a week spent entirely on the road. Sacred Heart put together a 4-1 week that included a conference sweep. They dropped a tightly contested midweeker to Stony Brook, but returned to the island to dominate their NEC-opening set with LIU Brooklyn. In Friday’s 5-2 win, James Cooksey and Jeff Stoddard combined to give up two runs on seven hits, and that was the worst we’d see out of the Pios’ pitching staff, which didn’t give up a run the rest of the series. Jason Foley threw a three-hitter in a seven-inning complete game in the front end of Saturday’s doubleheader, and Jesus Medina struck out six in six scoreless of his own in the back end. The freshman duo of Brent Teller and Baylor Sundahl combined to allow just four hits in nine scoreless on Sunday to finish off the beatdown. And the offense did their bit, putting up 29 runs over the course of the weekend. That included eight home runs, five of which came in a single game on Saturday. (The whole club had just two on the season coming in.) After a 1-8 start, the Pioneers have won 8 of their last 10, and they’re once again looking like an NEC title contender. Can we fast-forward to the Bryant series please?

A few other winning weekends to mention. Rhode Island started its A-10 campaign on the right foot, taking a tight road series from George Mason. Tyler Wilson’s eight-inning, nine-strikeout performance led the way in Friday’s 5-2 win before an extra-inning, 2-1 heartbreaker on Saturday. I saw them bounce back from that and take the series on Sunday. The offense did all its work in the first, with Martin Figueroa’s two-run double and sac flies from Chase Livingston and Mike Corin giving them an early 4-0 lead. Mason halved that in the bottom of the inning, but Ben Wessel settled down from there to retire 13 of his next 14. He allowed some baserunners in the fifth and sixth, but did well to strand them, and turned things over to the pen. I saw this group let a game go against Maryland a few weeks back, but they looked very good against the Patriots. Brad Applin threw a scoreless seventh, Mark Silvestri helped limit the damage of an eighth-inning rally to just a run, and Tyler Barss fanned three to get the final four outs for his second save of the weekend. All in all, a strong weekend for Rhody, who finally head home after zipping up and down the east coast for 19 road games to start the year. They’re back in A-10 action in two weeks for a massive series with VCU, the team that beat them in the title round of last year’s tournament.

Back home in New England, UConn got a nice series win over Columbia, being careful not to beat the Lions by too much in the process. After losing Friday’s opener with Anthony Kay on the mound, they did well to sweep Saturday’s doubleheader back in Storrs. Superfrosh Tim Cate had another strikeout-filled start in the opener, fanning 11 Columbia hitters in six scoreless to power a 3-0 win. (He now sports a miniscule 0.40 ERA and has racked up a ridiculous 35 punchouts in just 22 2/3 innings.) UConn trailed 3-1 into the late innings in the rubber match, but showed some real grit to come away with the win. Freshman backstop Alex LeFevre cut the Lions’ lead to one with a two-out RBI in the seventh. That’s how it stayed till the ninth, when the first two men reached and LeFevre bunted them over. Bryan Daniello tied the game on a wild pitch, and Connor Buckley brought in Keith Krueger for the winner on the old walk-off fielder’s choice. With a midweek win over BC, the Huskies would enter conference play above .500 on the year against a top-100 schedule.

Central Connecticut‘s 2-1 week was highlighted by a midweek win over those same Huskies. Before splitting a Saturday twinbill with Iona, CCSU beat UConn 8-4 on Wednesday. They got 7 of their 8 runs by the end of the second, with a 12-hit attack led by Ryan Costello (2-3, 3 R, 3 RBI, HR) and Connor Fitzsimons (3-4, 3 RBI). Nick Plachno and Casey Brown held the Husky offense at bay in the late innings to close out the win. It was the Blue Devils’ first win over their in-state rivals since 2010, avenging the NCAA Tournament drubbing they suffered at their hands at the end of that same season.

Division II

Co-Team of the Week: In a sweep-heavy opening weekend in the Northeast-10, Franklin Pierce got the biggest one, going on the road to take a Saturday doubleheader from Stonehill, 2-0 and 4-1. After winning late in Wednesday’s home opener against Post, the 18-2 Ravens visited the Skyhawks, one of their biggest contenders in the Northeast Division. In both games of Saturday’s doubleheader, their league-best pitching staff lived up to the billing. In game one, Chris LaVorgna’s RBI double put them up in the first, and Christopher Stanford’s RBI single doubled the lead in the seventh. Anthony Matarazzo then departed after 6 2/3 scoreless (5 H, 5 K, 0 BB), and Tanner Bird closed out the shutout and the starter’s fourth win of the season. In game two, FPU took another early lead, and John Amendola took care of things from there, pitching into the ninth and allowing just four hits and a run on eight strikeouts. They’ve guaranteed themselves a series win in their biggest road weekend of the year, and will have a chance to sweep on Monday before they take an even bigger trip to Manchester on Wednesday.

Co-Team of the Week: Speaking of that team from Manchester, Southern New Hampshire swept through three road divisional games to get off to a perfect start in their own NE-10 campaign. On Wednesday, they made the short trip to Saint Anselm and got a 3-1 win in their conference opener. Carson Helms went 3-4 with a homer, Justin Valdespina struck out seven in six, and Jake Walkinshaw threw 2 1/3 scoreless to earn his fifth save of the season. On Saturday, they visited Bentley for a doubleheader, and what’s been a great series in recent years lived up to the billing, with the Penmen taking home hard-fought 1-0 and 5-4 wins. In the opener, Ryan Gendron’s fourth-inning RBI double provided just enough offense to back up some excellent pitching. Senior lefty Tim Viehoff pitched into the ninth, striking out six without allowing a run, then gave way to Walkinshaw for save #6. In the back end, SNHU overcame an early deficit to complete the sweep. Trailing 3-0 after two and 4-2 after three, the offense was able to work its way back to a 5-4 lead thanks to five two-hit relief innings from Ivon Clough, and Walkinshaw earned his third save of the week to close things out.

Those two teams weren’t the only D2’s to have excellent weeks. New Haven went 4-0 and swept AIC in their Southwest Division opener over the weekend. Freshman Dylan Grzenda walked off in Friday’s 8-7 extra-inning win after Eddie Tammaro went 3-4 with five RBI and came a homer shy of the cycle. Nick Perrelli’s ninth-inning single provided another walkoff win in the opener of Saturday’s doubleheader, and a 13-hit attack led by Jack Zagaja’s 4-5 day powered the Chargers to a sweep in game two. Exactly the weekend UNH was looking for ahead of Wednesday’s crosstown meeting with Southern. And up in Massachusetts, Assumption opened up divisional play with a sweep of their own. In 3-2, 7-3, and 4-1 wins, it was the Greyhounds’ rotation that led the way. In the opener, Steve Flynn carried a one-hitter in the ninth and in the end struck out 16 in 8 1/3. Tom Horstkotte followed that up with a complete game in the middle contest, and Mike Curtis saw out the sweep by fanning 15 in a complete-game two-hitter. All in all, a great weekend for Assumption, who’ve now won 8 of 11.

Elsewhere in D2, Bridgeport took two of their first three in an ECC series against Queens, and Saint Anselm picked up a nice win over Merrimack behind eight strong from Tom Hudon.

Division III

Co-Team of the Week: Plymouth State had an okay start to 2016 up till this point, but they look to be getting hot at the right time under first-year head coach Clay Jenkins. They put together a 3-1 week highlighted by two top-25 wins. The Panthers swept a doubleheader from Western New England on Saturday to hand the #21 Golden Bears back-to-back losses for the first time this year. In the 2-1 opener, Cody Gilchrist worked a complete game, and RBIs from Jarek Krajewski and James Riley-Garnett were enough for the win. In game two, Dave Hall put PSU up for good with an RBI double in the fifth, and Taylor Doyle worked three one-hit innings from there to earn his second save of the year. A win over Daniel Webster this Thursday would put them at .500 entering Little East play, and more Saturdays like the one they had in Springfield will have them back in the playoff picture in the deepest league in the region.

Co-Team of the Week: Coming off an excellent 8-2 Florida trip, a 3-0 week on the road has Suffolk cruising into conference play. Friday’s win over a Wheaton team that notched two top-25 wins a week ago highlighted the Rams’ weekend. Kevin Belskie’s two-RBI double was part of a four-run first that left the hosts on their heels early. The Lyons worked their way back to tie things in the seventh, but Suffolk delivered the knockout blow with another four-run inning in the eighth. Brady Chant came through with the two-RBI double this time around, and the bullpen closed out an 8-5 win from there. A doubleheader sweep of RIC the next day made it four in a row and six of seven for Suffolk. They open up their GNAC title defense Saturday at Lasell.

Co-Team of the Week: After a 2-3 start to their Florida trip, Babson hasn’t lost since. Their 4-0 week included wins over Plymouth and Keene and, most importantly, a sweep of Saturday’s NEWMAC doubleheader with Springfield. Nick Ahearn was dominant in a complete-game shutout in the 3-0 opener, and Connor Gill and Eric Jaun provided the late RBI to win 5-3 in game two. Led by Jack Halpin (.442, 2 HR, 10 RBI), the Beavers are firing on all cylinders ahead of next weekend’s trip to WPI.

In the CCC, Eastern Nazarene ran their win streak to six with a 4-0 week. In Saturday’s doubleheader sweep of MCLA, Brent Houle gave up only an unearned run and ran his record to 4-0 with a seven-inning complete game, and freshman Ben Petersen held off a Trailblazer rally to earn his first career save in a 4-3 win in game two. Endicott had a 3-1 week against good competition, notching wins over Worcester (5-1), Framingham (9-5), and Amherst (4-3). Owen Bautze was excellent against the Lancers, surrendering just three hits and an unearned run while striking out eight in a nine-inning complete game. Freshman first baseman Chris Seidl led the way against the Rams, going 2-4 with three RBI and a double. And in Saturday’s doubleheader split with Amherst, the Gulls took home an entertaining 13-inning win, Michael DeDonato’s 13th-inning homer helping to make the difference. In Florida, Salve Regina had a 4-3 week highlighted by Monday’s win over #5 Southern Maine. Alex Perry’s big day (4-5, 2 RBI, 2B, 3B) helped put a 9-2 win away early. On Saturday, Curry picked up a nice win over UMass Dartmouth, rallying from two deficits to win 11-7; John Arens tripled and drove in four from the leadoff spot. And finally, Gordon had a 2-0 week highlighted by Scott Hall’s shutout of Bridgewater.

Moving on to the GNAC, Lasell had a 3-0 week to climb back to .500 on the year. In the midweek, senior right fielder Skylar Beckerman (3-4, 3 R, 3 RBI, 2 2B) led a 17-3 blowout of Newbury. In Saturday’s doubleheader sweep of Colby-Sawyer, Casey Johnson struck out six in six to earn a 4-1 win, and Dan Gagnon’s two-out RBI single gave the Lasers a walkoff win in game two. Rivier went 2-0 in their annual trip to the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs’ Regency Furniture Stadium, beating Saint Mary’s (MD) 5-1 and Gallaudet 10-7. Tyler Ferdinand’s 4-5 supported Nicholas Pica’s eight strong against SMC, and Spencer Aguiar’s 3 1/3 innings of one-hit relief closed out the win over the Bison. The Raiders have now won four on the trot. Finally, in a game I highlighted in the weekend preview, Johnson & Wales beat Keene State 3-2, with Chris Baldwin’s eight-inning sac fly breaking a late deadlock.

In the LEC, UMass Boston‘s 3-2 week was highlighted by Kyle Boudrias’s walkoff against Framingham on Saturday, and Sean Callahan threw eight shutout in UMass Dartmouth‘s win over Johnson & Wales in a 2-1 week.

Out of the MASCAC, Westfield State had a 3-2 week highlighted by Tuesday’s 9-0 shutout of Becker. Anthony Crowley went 3-3 with a double and two RBI, and Ray Bell fanned nine in six shutout. Worcester State‘s 2-2 week included a walkoff win against Roger Williams thanks to John Boyd’s 11th-inning single.

The Maine schools had a week in the NAC. Maine-Farmington finished up a 5-1 week and 7-2 Florida trip with a 12-9 win over in-state rivals Saint Joseph’s. The Beavers trailed early in that one, but Grayson Bere collected a leadoff hit and an RBI double as part of a seven-run eighth to put the win away. UMF’s now 13-2 in Florida over the past two seasons. Thomas earned a nice split with Castleton in Florida. Zach Mathieu’s sac fly broke a 3-3 tie, and Dominic Esposito retired all seven batters he faced in relief to earn the 4-3 win. Game two was spread over two days thanks to some rain, but that didn’t keep Esposito from striking out two in 1 1/3 to close out a 2-1 win. Husson, finally, swept a doubleheader from Norwich, 7-0 and 7-1. The pitching staff gave up just seven hits on the day, and Andrew Curran went 2-4 with a double and a triple in the opener.

In the NECC, Becker took home the big series of the week by sweeping Saturday’s doubleheader from Elms. Tyler Wagar threw a complete-game one-hitter to win the opener 5-1, and Niko Bedell’s third homer of the year helped them slug to a 9-5 win in game two. (The Blazers, meanwhile, still had a 4-2 week.) Lesley swept three close games from Newbury, with Tom Muratore throwing eight scoreless in a 2-0 extra-inning win in the opener. Mitchell looked good in a Saturday doubleheader sweep of Trinity, winning 12-0 and 12-9. Al Jordan Johnson shut the Bantams out in the opener, and Tristan Hurley’s two doubles and two RBI helped the Mariners to win the slugfest in game two. Southern Vermont, finally, handed Mitchell their first league loss on Wednesday, 13-9. Trailing 9-4 at stretch time, the Mountaineers scored nine unanswered, with John Arancio’s monster day (4-5, 3 R, 2 RBI, HR) leading the way.

In the NESCAC, Tufts wrapped up a 6-3 southern trip with a 4-0 shutout of Apprentice, with freshman R.J. Hall fanning nine in a complete-game three-hitter. Harry Brown leads the Jumbos back north with a .458 average, and Matt Moser was .342 for the trip with a team-leading 15 RBI. Wesleyan beat Coast Guard 11-5 in their first game back from Arizona behind Matt Jeye’s two-run homer and Marco Baratta’s four-RBI day.

In the NEWMAC, WPI earned a good split at Wheaton as part of a 3-1 week. Evan Lacroix doubled, tripled, and drove in three in the Engineers’ 5-4 game one win. Elsewhere, Coast Guard snapped a six-game skid with an 8-6 win in the back end of a doubleheader with defending league champions MIT. Freshman Will Stephens went 4-5 with two doubles and four RBI in that one.

Finally, Brandeis went 2-1 in three road games this week, dealing Western New England their first loss of the season in the midweek and outslugging UMass Boston 19-9 on Friday. Tenth-inning RBIs from Connor Doyle and Max Hart keyed a 7-4 extra-inning triumph over the Golden Bears, and four-RBI days from Greg Heineman and Ryan Healy keyed the offensive outburst against UMB.

And finally, some news…

(Disclaimer: What follows is just an initial reaction, and I’m curious to here what more knowledgeable people have to say about things before I make up my mind. Feel free to chime in down in the comments or on Twitter.)

Thanks to Westfield State assistant Brian Mazella (@bmazella1), I caught this interesting article from the NCAA, a follow-on to this release from a few weeks’ back. Feel free to have a look for yourself, but basically, the Division III Baseball Championship Committee recommended two things to the all-sport committee: (1) an expansion of the tournament, and (2) a switch to a super-regional format more akin to Division I. The governing body rejected (1), but approved (2) for the 2018 season. Softball made the same change fairly recently, and assuming they follow the same pattern with baseball, we’ll keep the eight-team World Series, but split regionals into a double-elimination opening round and a best-of-three super.

At first blush, I think I like it. Yes, it means finding an extra week in the calendar, and I kinda enjoy the whole region getting together to decide our champion in a single event, but there’s a lot to like. Despite adding the extra weekend, it works out to shorter bus rides, fewer nights in hotels, and less time away from school in the middle of finals. More importantly, coaches won’t have to piece together six or seven games worth of pitching in the space of just four or five days. The regionals are extremely entertaining as they stand, but too often, pitching staffs get stretched beyond their limits, and the finals are decided by guys who’re either overworked or haven’t seen much action all year. I’d rather see teams’ best arms deciding these games, and if Division I’s any indication, head-to-head battles to decide who goes to the CWS make for very good theater. Add all that to the fact that the games will be played in front of bigger, more energetic on-campus crowds, and I’m sold.

That said, it makes no sense to me that they’d switch to this format without expanding the tournament as well. If the field stays at 56, and if they follow the precedent they’ve set with softball, we’ll have a lot of three-team regionals. (Eight, to be exact.) Besides being a format almost unheard of in college baseball (and that’s saying something), it’s a significant advantage for the teams who’ll essentially get a first-round bye. I suppose you could reward the best hosts with that, but do the two- and three-seeds there deserve the advantage of a smaller field more than the two-, three-, and four-seeds in the larger brackets? I wouldn’t mind a handful of the very best seeds getting a bye, but to have one half of the top seeds have such a different path through regionals than the other just doesn’t seem right to me. (I know not all the regionals are the same size as it currently stands, but there’s no bye that way, and even the easiest road to the CWS means coming out of a six-team regional.)

And there’s a very easy fix: expand the field. With nine more autobids (40 to 31) but eight fewer slots (56 to 64) than Division I, great teams are routinely left at home in D3. Adding a few more teams won’t dilute the product, and it’ll help balance out the new format. If 64 teams is good enough for 300 teams in Division I, it’s good enough for the significantly larger crop of teams in Division III.

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