Weekend Preview — April 8-10, 2016

I’ve gotta say, I really wish the weather were cooperating for this weekend, because the schedule is absolutely loaded. The defending CWS champions will pay a visit to New England (something that hasn’t happened in decades), and Hartford, Rhode Island, and Northeastern host big D1 series as well. In D2, Franklin Pierce and Southern New Hampshire, who’re both in the top 5 nationally now, will celebrate the honor with five home games apiece. And it’s rivalry weekend in D3. Williams and Amherst renew the oldest rivalry in college baseball, and Babson-Wheaton, Suffolk-Saint Joseph’s, and Bowdoin-Bates will also be on display. Bottom line: if you’re willing to layer up, you won’t need to travel far for some great baseball this weekend.

Western Connecticut

We start things off at the Ballpark at Harbor Yard, where Bridgeport hosts Molloy in a big ECC series. The Purple Knights are an impressive 13-8-1 on the year, and their winning run of 6 of 7 and 8 of 10 has helped earn them a #4 ranking in the NEIBA poll. They and Molloy are currently part of a three-way tie for first in the league standings. In the midweek, they took a long trip to Delaware to pick up a nice 2-1 road win over Wilmington. Junior lefty Adam Thayer’s 2 1/3 innings of one-hit relief helped his team to the win. On the year, senior Aynaldo Rodriguez is hitting .353 and sharing league leads in homers (5) and RBI (23), a few of the reasons he’s already got two conference player of the week awards to his name. UB travels to Long Island for the series-opening doubleheader on Friday, then welcomes the Lions back to Bridgeport for two to finish things up on Sunday afternoon.

Elsewhere, Yale plays its first Ivy League home games against Princeton and Cornell, and Post hosts USciences for a CACC twinbill in Waterbury.

Eastern Connecticut

Absolutely no question here, you should be heading to West Hartford. For years, Stony Brook has been the class of America East, winning four of the last five regular-season titles and making four NCAA Tournament trips since 2008. And I don’t have to remind you about their storybook College World Series run in 2012. For most of that stretch, Hartford has been on the opposite end of the standings. The nadir of a 17-year playoff drought (1997-2013) came in 2011, when they limped to a 6-43-1 campaign. The hiring of Justin Blood the following year marked a new era for the program, and in four plus seasons, the former UConn assistant has delivered. A 2014 campaign in which the team win a program-record 31 games and lefty ace Sean Newcomb went in the first round of the draft was good enough, but this year, the Hawks have been even better. They’ve roared off to a 19-6 start behind a stellar pitching staff (3.60 ERA, .238 OBA), anchored by David Drouin (3-1, 2.30) and Collin Ferguson (0.63, 5 saves). Three of those losses came in a mid-March trip to #19 UC Santa Barbara, and the club’s lost just two games since. The Seawolves– winners of their last four– will provide a stiff test, but the Hawks, coming into a home series on a hot streak, have a chance to put the exclamation point on their stellar start with a series win here.

Those who live a bit further east can check out Eastern Connecticut‘s Little East-opening doubleheaders with Keene State and UMass Boston. And further south, Coast Guard (vs. Springfield on Friday) and Mitchell (vs. Daniel Webster on Saturday) will both be hosting league games in the New London area.

Rhode Island

Not much of a discussion here, either, as URI plays host to VCU in a rematch of last year’s Atlantic-10 title game. A season ago, the Rams weren’t expected to amount to much after a dismal 2014, but under first-year head coach Raphael Cerrato, they made an improbable run to a second-place finish and the tournament finals, only to be stopped by VCU. This weekend, they’ll be out for revenge. Defending A-10 Pitcher and Rookie of the Year Tyler Wilson has settled in after some tough early starts, striking out nine in wins over Towson and George Mason his last two times out. Offensively, sophomore center fielder Jordan Powell leads the way with a .326 average, and eight different players have homered on the season. Even without the revenge factor, Rhody would really want a series win against one of the league’s best, and VCU is coming off a marquee win over defending national champions Virginia, so this one has all the makings of a great series.

The Ocean State will also play host to some good D3 matchups this weekend. Across the bay from Kingston, Salve Regina will kick off conference play with doubleheaders against Nichols and defending CCC champions Curry. Up Route 114 in Bristol, Roger Williams (9-7-1) hosts Gordon (11-5) in a CCC opener of their own. And in Providence, Rhode Island College‘s weekend includes a visit from #23 Southern Maine.

Western Massachusetts

The oldest rivalry in college baseball will be renewed this weekend, as Williams and Amherst meet up for the 343rd, 344th, and 345th times. The two schools contested the first ever college baseball game back in 1859, and they’ve carried on an intense rivalry ever since. Amherst has had the better of things recently, and at #17 in the D3Baseball Top 25 and #1 in the NEIBA poll, will be heavy favorites. Sophomore outfielder Ariel Kenney is hitting .410 on the year, and four teammates join him above the .350 mark; in the rotation, righty Jackson Volle (3-0, 1.00) has been stellar. Don’t count out the Ephs, though, who have six hitters sitting above .350 after their Arizona trip, and can counter with ace Luke Rodino (2-1, 3.13). The two teams open things up in Williamstown on Friday afternoon, then head down to Amherst for a doubleheader on Saturday.

Nearby, 10-4 Western New England, who sit just outside the top 25, host CCC foes Eastern Nazarene for a Saturday doubleheader, and 22-6 Elms will play a league doubleheader of their own against Newbury.

Central Massachusetts

Lots to choose from here, but give me Clark‘s busy weekend in the NEWMAC. The Cougars’ newly renovated Granger Diamond will play host to a pair of enticing doubleheaders this weekend, as 14-6 WPI visits on Saturday, and two-time defending champions MIT come in on Sunday. At 12-11, the Cougars sit above .500 on the year, and under first-year head coach J.P. Pyne, will look to finish that way for the first time since 2010 (also the last time they made the playoffs). Catcher Michael Eglow doubled, homered, and drove in three in a NEWMAC-opening sweep of Emerson, and a few days later, Clark gave perennial powers Wheaton all they could handle in an extra-innings loss. On the year, Kyle Bonicki leads the offense with a .451 average and 12 steals, and freshman Cal Slepkow (3-0, 1.61, 27 K in 28 IP) has been a revelation on the mound. First pitch is slated for noon on both days.

The region will also play host to a healthy dose of MASCAC action this weekend. On Friday evening, Framingham State treks east to play MCLA in Northborough, and on Saturday, Worcester State (vs. Westfield State) and Fitchburg State (vs. Mass Maritime) will both be hosting league doubleheaders.

Northeastern Massachusetts

Give me Endicott‘s three home games here. The Gulls, #2 in the most recent NEIBA poll, will welcome Worcester State on Friday and Roger Williams (DH) on Sunday. Their second meeting of the year with the Lancers promises to be low-scoring and competitive (it’s finished 4-1, 2-0, 3-1, and 5-1 in the last four iterations), and Sunday’s meeting with the Hawks marks EC’s return to CCC play after relinquishing a title they won in 2013 and 2014. (As fate would have it, it was RWU who ended their season in a painful extra-inning loss last year.) The Gulls enter with three top-25 wins to their name already this season, and have been led by Michael DeDonato (.413, 3 HR, 13 RBI) and JJ Branch (3-0, 2.90). The single game Friday will be a 3:30 start, and Sunday’s doubleheader will get going at noon.

Those closer to the Lowell area can head to North Andover, where Merrimack is hosting Southern Connecticut and New Haven for what should be some competitive cross-divisional baseball out of the Northeast-10.

Southeastern Massachusetts

The NEWMAC’s traditional grudge match, BabsonWheaton, is back on this weekend. From the league’s first baseball championship in 1999 all the way through 2013, WPI’s share of the 2009 regular-season title was the closest any other team got to unseating the Beavers and Lyons from the top of the standings. MIT has spoiled the party the last two years, but this weekend’s set between 11-4-1 Babson and 12-6 Wheaton still promises plenty of excitement. The Beavers enter with the league’s second-best offense (.310 as a team). Adam Ayala (.484) and Jack Halpin (.414) are both hitting above .400, and Mark Webber’s .680 slugging percentage is good for second in the conference. On the other side, the Lyons sport a league-best 3.80 staff ERA. Dan Southerland (3-1, 2.96) has anchored the rotation, and, shockingly enough, Eric Podbelski’s got a stud closer in Eric Dumas (0.00 ERA, 11.74 K/9, 7 saves). (Dumas’s old teammate Ryan Grant holds the Division III record with 46, and another former Lyon, Mike Spavento, holds the single-season record with 19.) The teams will play a single game Friday afternoon in Needham before heading down to Norton to close out the series with a Saturday doubleheader.

Closer to the Cape, Mass Maritime hosts a Saturday doubleheader with Worcester State in a matchup of two of the MASCAC’s tri-champions from a year ago. MMA will be looking to avenge a loss to the Lancers that knocked them out of last year’s conference tournament.

Metro Boston

Lots to love about Boston-area college baseball this weekend. First and foremost, New England will be getting paid a visit by the defending College World Series champions for the first time in decades, as Boston College hosts Virginia. The #14 Cavs will be angry after a midweek loss to VCU, but 14-10 BC should make this weekend a competitive one. On Friday, The Eagles can run out Mike King (4-2, 2.70), the ace of a rotation that also features freshman sensation Jacob Stevens (2-0, 0.53, .150 OBA). And Mike Gambino has a strong stable of arms behind those guys– the Eagles’ opponents are hitting just .216 this year. UVa’s good, of course, but BC has the talent to make it an entertaining weekend, and however it shakes out, it’s a historic one for New England.

And that’s not all. Northeastern, hot off a big 2-0 weekend over CAA favorites UNC Wilmington, welcomes Elon to town for another big conference tilt. And over in East Boston, 14-4 Suffolk hosts Saint Joseph’s in a matchup of the two teams who’ve combined to win every GNAC title since 2008.

Vermont

Two options for Vermonters this weekend: Saint Michael’s hosts a pair of doubleheaders just outside Burlington, and Castleton hosts a four-game NAC set for those looking for something a bit further south. SMC has had a rough go of it in 2016, starting the year off 0-13 and losing their head coach a couple weeks back. This weekend marks the start of a 12-game homestand, however, which will give interim head coach Greg Wells and his team a chance to right the ship. The Spartans, meanwhile, will play four with Maine-Farmington in their first action since returning from Florida. The two-time defending NAC champions have been led by Dan Errico (.386, 9 XBH, 13 RBI) and Sam Spencer (2-2, 2.79) so far this season.

New Hampshire

Plenty of options this weekend, as eight of the Granite State’s ten teams will see action at home. My pick is Dartmouth, who plays its first Ivy League home games in doubleheaders against Penn and Columbia. The Big Green dropped their first two league games in walk-off fashion at Princeton last weekend, but will have the chance to bounce back in the friendly confines of Red Rolfe Field. Sunday’s twinbill with Columbia, especially, is a day you won’t want to miss: Dartmouth and the Lions have contested the last three Ivy League Championship Series. Individual leaders thus far this year have included Michael Danielak, who struck out nine in a complete game against Maine on March 20, and freshman Matt Feinstein, who leads the team with a .388 average.

Elsewhere, you’ll have ample opportunity to see D2 powers Franklin Pierce (#2 nationally) and Southern New Hampshire (#5 in the same poll) in action this weekend, as both teams will host five games between Friday and Sunday.

Maine

We’ll take things home with yet another D3 rivalry in Maine, as NESCAC foes Bowdoin and Bates meet up for a home-and-home series. The Polar Bears, who’ll host Friday’s opener, got off to an excellent 8-1 start, but have dropped five of six since, including two of three in last weekend’s NESCAC East series at Trinity. They’ll look to right the ship behind Harry Ridge (2-1, 2.18) and Sean Mullaney (.388). The 7-11 Bobcats, meanwhile, will look to recapture the form that helped them narrowly beat out their BCC rivals for a playoff spot in 2015. They’ve dropped their last three, but got a very nice 12-11 road win at Endicott before that behind a triple and three RBI from Jake Shapiro. They’ll host Saturday’s doubleheader at Leahey Field, whose namesake, the program’s head coach for 36 years from 1955-1990, recently passed away.

And finally, if you’re itching for some D1 action and don’t mind the cold, Maine hosts a four-game set with NYIT this weekend. (I’ve been told the field’s heated, but no promises about the stands.)

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