Weekend Preview — April 1-3, 2016

April. April! Everyone’s back from Florida, and the games that matter are starting up in earnest, so naturally, we’re looking at 30s and gale-force winds for Sunday. On the bright side, Friday and Saturday will be warm, and there’s plenty of good baseball around to keep the blood flowing. Click on for a region-by-region preview that takes you from Bridgeport to Bangor and just about everywhere in between.

Western Connecticut

A pretty full slate here, but give me Sacred Heart‘s four-game set with Fairleigh Dickinson. The defending NEC champions ride a five-game winning streak (and four-game shutout streak!) into their meeting with the Knights. Offensively, senior Victor Sorrento’s 3-4, three-RBI day in a midweek win over Yale left him leading the team in average (.313) and RBI (17). On the mound, they own an NEC-best 0.56 ERA in league games after last weekend’s sweep of LIU Brooklyn. And on the basepaths, they’ve swiped a league-leading 39 bases. Their opponents enter as owners of a respectable 11-10 record and a series win over Mount St. Mary’s. Reigning NEC Pitcher of the Week Logan Frati (3-0, 0.57, 39 K in 31 1/3) has put FDU in a position to win every time he’s taken the mound this season. And with his team trying to avenge a 10-0 playoff loss from a season ago, the Pioneers will need to bring their A game to stay on top of the league. The games will be at the Ballpark at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport, Friday at 3, Saturday (x2) and 1, and Sunday at 1.

Elsewhere, Western Connecticut plays their first games back north when they host Keene State for an LEC-opening doubleheader on Saturday. The Colonials’ Craig Frobel has a no-hitter to his name on the young season. And if you’re in the New Haven area, Southern Connecticut and New Haven will both be hosting a doubleheader each against Saint Michael’s and Saint Anselm.

Eastern Connecticut

You guys are really getting spoiled this weekend. I’ll take Mitchell‘s Saturday doubleheader with Becker to start us off. The Mariners, two-time defending NECC champions, come in with a 13-3 record and nice early-season wins over Otterbein, Alvernia, and Trinity (x2). They’re 5-1 in the league so far, and this weekend’s series with the Hawks (4-2 NECC) will have title implications. The Mariners bring the league’s best offense (.328 as a team), leading hitter (Kyle Hartenstein, .466), and defending Pitcher of the Week Al Jordan Johnson (shutout vs. Trin last weekend). The series opens with two games in New London on Saturday before moving to central Massachusetts for Sunday’s finale.

And as promised, there’s more. A lot more. UConn opens up AAC play against a Tulane team that’s 18-7 and just beat LSU in Baton Rouge. The Huskies battled well last weekend to walk off with a series win over Columbia, then notched a nice midweek win at BC. Willy Yahn collected two hits, two RBI, and a double in Tuesday’s 9-4 win, and Sam Nepiarsky K’d six in five scoreless to get the win. You’ll want to check out freshman lefty Tim Cate this weekend, a Manchester native who’s been lights-out for Jim Penders since sliding into the rotation a few weeks ago. In 22 2/3 innings, he’s got a microscopic 0.40 ERA and is striking out an obscene 13.9 batters per nine. Another good start from him would put UConn a long way towards a big series win over the Green Wave.

Just down the road, Eastern Connecticut opens up its third Little East campaign under Matt LaBranche with a Saturday doubleheader against UMass Boston. Pat Sirois leads the club with a .429 average, and Patrick O’Neill paces the Warriors’ rotation with a 0.53 ERA in three starts. In the NESCAC, Trinity opens up league play with a home set against Bowdoin, and down in Middleton, the league’s defending champions, Wesleyan, play Endicott on Sunday in a big non-conference game.

Rhode Island

I’ll go with another D3 matchup in the Ocean State, Rhode Island College‘s Saturday doubleheader with #14 Southern Maine. The Anchormen, who made a surprise run to finish tied for second behind USM in last season’s Little East, are looking for their first win over the region’s highest-ranked team since 2012. RIC sports just an 8-9-1 record on the year, but they are coming off midweek wins over Worcester State (11-5) and Becker (11-8). Both Edward Apice and Tyler Rains had 4-4 days to lead RIC’s attack against the Lancers, and junior Austin Barry homered twice in the following day’s win over the Hawks. USM, meanwhile, has lost three of four after a strong start, and they’ll look to defending D3 Player of the Year Sam Dexter (.423, 11 XBH, 14 RBI) to help steady the ship as they begin their LEC title defense.

Those north of Providence can check out Bryant‘s conference home-opening series with LIU Brooklyn. The Bulldogs have been the region’s Division I standard bearers, going 14-5 overall, beating San Diego State, Kentucky, and Maryland, and sporting an impressive #41 ranking in the RPI. They’re 4-0 in the NEC so far, and will look for a strong weekend to match fellow 4-0’s Sacred Heart and Wagner. Down the other end of the state, Rhode Island plays UMass in what’ll count as a non-league game on Sunday. Last weekend, Rhody took two of three in their A-10 opener with George Mason, thanks to a strong start from sophomore ace Tyler Wilson (8.0 IP, 2 R, 9 K) and two saves from closer Tyler Barss.

Western Massachusetts

Lots of baseball in the area this weekend, but I’ll pick AIC‘s Bedard Field as the place to be. The 6-16 Yellowjackets haven’t yet lived up to last season’s playoff campaign, but they’ll have a chance to make some noise this weekend when #3 Franklin Pierce and #9 Southern New Hampshire come to town. At the dish, they’ve been led by Chris Starcun (.341, 4 HR), Karl Kapinos (.296, 3 3B, 14 RBI), and Tyler Geffert (4 HR, 15 RBI). On the mound, Nick Kennedy sports a 2.73 ERA in five starts. Saturday’s doubleheader with the Ravens and Sunday’s with the Penmen will both start at noon.

Minutes down the road, Springfield hosts Wheaton in its NEWMAC home opener. The Pride, who have the misfortune of opening with the league’s three East Division powers, are in search of their first conference win. Out in the Berkshires, an MCLA team led by first-year head coach Mike Gladu will host Norwich for a Sunday doubleheader.

Central Massachusetts

Moving east to Worcester County, I’ll ditto my pick for eastern Connecticut and plug Becker‘s Sunday game with Mitchell, the finale of a big NECC series. The Hawks will be looking to avenge a pair of postseason losses in 2015 and to notch another big series win after taking two of three from Elms last week. Tyler Wagar allowed just a hit and a run in seven to earn the win in the opener of Saturday’s doubleheader sweep, and a double and homer from Niko Bedell helped to finish off the Blazers in the nightcap. They’ll need to play their best against the 13-3 Mariners, but with both teams coming in strong, Sunday’s meeting in Leicester could well be to decide the series.

That series won’t be the only big conference showdown to grace central Mass this weekend. WPI and Babson, picked to finish 3-4 in the NEWMAC, will face off at Assumption on Saturday, and Clark welcomes defending league champions MIT to the newly renovated Granger Field for a conference doubleheader as well.

Northeastern Massachusetts

Give me red-hot Gordon‘s CCC-opening doubleheader with Western New England here. Since returning from Florida, the Fighting Scots have been on a tear, winning a program record seven games in a row. In that stretch, they’ve taken the road to beat a good WPI team from the NEWMAC 7-6 behind Alex Smith’s home run and 4-5, 3-RBI line; they’ve also beaten defending MASCAC co-champs Mass Maritime– Travis Benoit went 3-4 with a homer in that 5-3 result. On the season, the duo of Matt Amore (4-0, 1.13) and Scott Hall (3-0, 2.25) has led the way in the rotation, and junior Dean Demers is lighting it up and then some offensively (.521, 12 XBH in 48 AB). The Golden Bears, meanwhile, reeled off an 8-0 Florida campaign that finished with them cracking the top 25 for the first time since 2013. They’ve struggled (2-4) since coming back north, but still sport a lineup where six regulars have hit above .350 and a staff with a collective 3.00 ERA. It’s early, but by all appearances, the result here will matter later on this season.

If you live closer to Lowell, have no fear, as UMass Lowell hosts Hartford for the AEC home opener at LeLacheur this weekend. Besides being a great way to see the Spinners’ home field on the cheap (read: free), it’ll be great baseball. That’s despite the fact the these two enter from very different places– the hosts losers of four straight, the visitors winners of five straight. Don’t let that mislead you though, this one should be competitive. Last season, the Hawks entered their meeting on a win streak, the RiverHawks losers of five of seven… and UML swept Hartford off their home field. The Hawks will seek revenge behind a pitching staff that allowed just two runs in last weekend’s sweep of Villanova. David Drouin (3-1, 1.80) has returned with a flourish after missing all of 2015 to injury. That staff only checks in at #2 in the AEC though, as UML’s has been even better. Staff ace Andrew Ryan (3-2, 2.83) will look to rebound from a tough outing against UMBC last weekend, and tough-luck Steve Xirinachs (0-4, 2.81) is in search of his first win. In the bullpen, JuCo transfer Brendan Long has been lights-out, holding opponents to a .148 average and saving five of UML’s nine wins. Bottom line: if you like pitching, head to Lowell this weekend. The series has been moved up for fear of Sunday’s bad weather, so the two teams will play a doubleheader under the lights Friday before finishing things up Saturday afternoon.

Southeastern Massachusetts

It’s a big D3 weekend in the region this weekend, highlighted by Sunday’s game between Wheaton and #14 Southern Maine. Between them, these two programs boast 35 NCAA Tournament trips, four national title series appearances, and two national championships (USM in ’91 and ’97). After posting a pair of top-25 wins in Florida, the Lyons are 4-2 back north. On Tuesday, two innings of perfect relief from Michael Baryski and a 10th-inning RBI single from Zachary Goodwin-Boyd gave them a walkoff win over Clark. On the other side, USM has looked a mortal 3-5 since a hot start. The two two-game “losing streaks” they suffered in Florida matches their total from all of 2015. That doesn’t change the fact that this is an uber-talented team, of course, and the only one in New England with CWS experience on its roster after back-to-back trips in 2013 and 2014. They’ll look for the bats of Sam Stauble (.548) and Sam Dexter (.423, 11 XBH) to stay hot heading into this one. If there were ever a reason to brave blustery, 39-degree weather, this is it.

Other enticing D3 matchups from all corners of the region include UMass Dartmouth‘s LEC-opening doubleheader with Plymouth State, the matchup of defending MASCAC co-champions Mass Maritime and Worcester State down the Cape, and Babson‘s non-league games against Framingham State and Western New England.

Metro Boston

Only two series to choose from this weekend, but man are they good ones. First things first, Boston College welcomes #8 Florida State to Beantown in the Eagles’ first ACC home series. The ACC’s schedulers forced BC to hit the road for their first three series, with mixed results (top-10 series win over NC State, but just 1-5 against Clemson and Pitt), but the good thing is that 15 of their last 21 league games will be played at Shea Field. They’ll look to recapture the winning formula that helped them to a 12-3 start before dropping six of eight. Joe Cronin, the team’s leader in a bevy of offensive categories (.360/.456/.605, 3 HR, 22 RBI), will look to be a part of that, as well freshman sensation Jacob Stevens (2-0, 0.53 in six starts). It won’t be an easy weekend against the 18-6 Seminoles, who’re well on their way to their 37th straight 40-win season in Mike Martin’s 37th year at the helm. But with Virginia, Notre Dame, and Louisville on the docket for the next three weeks, the Eagles will have to get wins somewhere to contend in the brutal ACC Atlantic Division.

Just down the road in Brookline, Northeastern welcomes a distinguished guest of their own, CAA favorites UNC Wilmington. The 15-7 Seahawks won the league last year and already have ranked wins against Coastal Carolina and NC State to their name. The good thing is that the Huskies are no slouches. They opened 2016 with a split at Oklahoma, and junior ace Aaron Civale (3-1, 2.35, 50 K in 46 IP) gives his team a chance to win every time he takes the hill. Their last conference weekend against James Madison was an eventful one, opening with a 19-inning loss and closing with a 20-run explosion. Twelve (!) difference NU hitters collected hits in that one, and Pat Madigan, Zach Perry, and Shane Allen all homered. The Huskies took a win off UNCW the last time they visited Boston, and another weekend like that would be a nice way for Northeastern to head into the meat of their CAA schedule.

Vermont

Vermont’s only in-state conference rivalry takes center stage this weekend, as Castleton hosts Lyndon State for a Saturday doubleheader. The Spartans, two-time defending NAC champions, are off to just a 8-9 (2-2 NAC) start, but that does include a great win over MIT and a narrow 2-1 loss against 2014’s national champions, #4 UW Whitewater. Senior righty Sam Spencer (2-2, 2.79) threw eight strong against UWW in that one, and freshman Charles Stapleford (2-0, 2.25) has also been a boost to the rotation. On the other side, the Hornets are seeing their first action since March 19. Senior Reece Tanguay leads the club with a .303 average and .465 OBP on the young season.

New Hampshire

Keene State‘s non-conference meeting with Salve Regina is my pick for the Granite State this weekend. The host Owls will be returning to New Hampshire for the first time since winning their home opener against Trinity on Tuesday. In that 6-4 win, Billy Hartmann doubled and drove in three, and Alan Schiff fanned eight in seven to pick up the win. Salve, meanwhile, enters the weekend under .500, but carries a reputation against northern New England. Down in Florida, Alex Perry came just a homer short of the cycle in a 9-2 win over then-#5 Southern Maine, and the offense pounded out 25 runs on 29 hits in two wins over a previously 8-1 Bowdoin team.

If league games are more you’re thing, Daniel Webster will be hosting Lesley for an NECC game on Sunday. And if long drives to Keene or Nashua aren’t your thing, New England College hosts UMPI for a Sunday doubleheader in Henniker, closer to the Manchester and Concord crowd.

Maine

I highlighted the NAC’s Maine teams in last weekend’s roundup, and as luck would have it, two of them are facing off this weekend, as Husson hosts Thomas for a Saturday doubleheader. The Eagles got love for sweeping a doubleheader against Norwich last weekend, with their NAC-best pitching staff clamping down on the Cadets in 7-0 and 7-1 wins. The Terriers, meanwhile, got an excellent series split against Castleton down in Florida. Nik Beeson (.405) and Matt Rutherford (2-0, 2.77) lead them into their first games since returning from the Sunshine State.

If you’re looking for something a little further south, I highly recommend Bates‘s NESCAC East showdown with Tufts in Lewiston. The Bobcats and Jumbos were the division’s two representatives in last year’s NESCAC Tournament in Nashua. And in Standish, Saint Joseph’s hosts Roger Williams in a solid non-league matchup on Sunday.

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