Weekend Preview — April 15-17, 2016

Sunshine. Sweet, sweet sunshine. Taking Worcester as our bellwether, we’re looking at sunny and 50s to start the weekend, a sunny and 60s by Sunday. Around the region, sixty-three teams will play home games this weekend, and many of them are involved in title races that are heating up right along with the weather. We’ll take a region-by-region look below.

Western Connecticut

We got to take in the oldest rivalry in college baseball last week, and another pair of age-old enemies will be meeting up in New Haven. Harvard and Yale have faced off nearly every year since 1868, when the Crimson took their first meeting on the diamond 25-17. Since then, the two teams have made a lot of history. I don’t know of another rivalry in college baseball that can claim to have been watched by one future president and contested by another. This weekend, it’s the hosts who come in hot, playing their best baseball since they took Dartmouth to the brink for the division title back in 2014. At 6-2 in the division, John Stuper’s team sits two games ahead of the Big Green in the early standings, and they’ve swept Columbia, Princeton, and Cornell along the way. Yale has done it with a mix of youth and experience, with upperclassmen Harrison White (.300, 10 RBI) and Chasen Ford (2-0, 3.38) and freshman Tim DeGraw (.407, 7 RBI) and Griffin Dey (2-0, 1.42) all performing well in league play. The Crimson, meanwhile, sit at the other end of the standings in Bill Decker’s fourth year at the helm, but do own good wins over Wake Forest, Columbia, and Penn. Sophomore John Fallon is tied for the league lead in homers (5) and is tops by himself in RBI (21). On the mound, junior Nick Gruener is 4-2 with a 3.21 and has struck out 32 against just four walks. The visitors will be looking for their first win in the series since 2009 when first pitch is thrown on Saturday at one at Yale Field.

Closer to New York, Sacred Heart welcomes Central Connecticut to the Ballpark at Harbor Yard for an NEC set, and Fairfield welcomes Niagara to the Stags’ on-campus home in a battle of teams near the top of the MAAC standings. Further north, Post will play a CACC doubleheader with Dominican at Naugatuck High on Sunday.

Eastern Connecticut

New London will host the business end of a pair of big D3 series this weekend, Coast GuardWPI and MitchellElms. The latter series will conclude with a Saturday doubleheader at CGA after opening in Central Massachusetts on Friday. The Bears are currently two games back of WPI in the NEWMAC West standings, but a series win would bring them even in the loss column. Last weekend, C.C. Grant’s team pulled off two comeback wins against Springfield to take a divisional series from the Pride. Sophomore Zach Serna (.405, 9 2B, 17 RBI) and Colton Cannon (4-1, 3.82, 8.60 K/9) have led the way thus far. The homer-happy Engineers, meanwhile, lead the league with 28 long balls. Senior Alex Venditti has comfortable league leads in both home runs (10) and RBI (41).

A few minutes away, the Mariners will wrap up a three-game set with Elms in a Sunday home game. The series is a rematch of last year’s NECC championship game, when, on the same field, Travis Beausoleil’s club stormed out of the losers’ bracket to beat the Blazers twice to win the title. Both teams have had excellent seasons in 2016. The Mariners have shrugged off the loss of 12 seniors to start 18-4 ahead of Thursday’s game with Becker. Defending league Pitcher of the Year Al Jordan Johnson is 5-0 with a 1.96, and offensively, Kyle Hartenstein (.397) and Francis Prettitore (.375) are both in the top five in the league in batting average. On the other side, 24-8 Elms is in the midst of their best season ever. The senior duo of Tom Weldon (8-0, 2.60) and Andrew Sadowski (4-3, 2.25) has led the rotation, and junior Andrew Zima (.352, 23 RBI) has struck out just three times in 103 plate appearances. The Blazers, five games back in the loss column in the league standings, could really use a series win here to pare down that gap, while a series win for the Mariners would be a big step towards their fourth straight regular-season title.

Rhode Island

We head back to Division I in the Ocean State, where Bryant hosts the Wagner team that finished second to the Bulldogs in the NEC a year ago. The 20-7 hosts have been arguably the best team in the region and currently own an at-large-worthy top-30 RPI, extremely impressive for a mid-major northeast school. As a team, they lead the NEC in doubles, runs, home runs, ERA, strikeouts (the good kind), and opponents’ average. Sophomore ace James Karinchak (6-1, 1.62) and closer Justin Snyder (1.82, 4 saves) are both striking out better than 10 batters per 9, and after a nine-homer explosion in last Sunday’s doubleheader at Fairleigh Dickinson, four of the league’s top seven home-run hitters call the Bulldog lineup home. The visitors did snap a losing skid in the midweek, but if Steve Owens team plays like they have been, they’ll have another series win to their name ahead of a big showdown with Sacred Heart in two weeks’ time.

A bit further north, UConn welcomes Houston to J.O. Christian Field for a three-game AAC set– Friday’s opener features an extra-special promo.

Western Massachusetts

A pair of big D3 series here: you can check out the Eastern Connecticut section for more on Saturday’s ElmsMitchell doubleheader, but I’ll talk Western New EnglandEndicott here. The host Golden Bears and visiting Gulls have combined to win the last five CCC regular-season titles and 10 of the last 13 tournaments, and both of them have started strong in 2016. WNE’s 8-0 Florida trip saw them crack them top 25, and the Gulls own a marquee win over then-#1 Cortland State, the defending D3 champions. They’ve both ridden that momentum into conference play, sweeping a pair of doubleheaders each to enter the weekend tied for first. WNE’s rotation features two of the league’s top four ERA guys in Tom Mahoney (3-1, 1.23) and Bob Hamel (4-0, 1.69), as well as Dan Morin’s league leading 31 RBI in the lineup. Endicott can counter with the likes of JJ Branch (3-0, 3.09) and Mike Kochiss, who’s 7-10 with four extra-base hits thus far in CCC play. First pitch is Sunday at noon at Trelease Park, WNE’s beautiful on-campus home.

And if you’re out in the Berkshires, there’s plenty for you to take in as well. MCLA will look to get off the schneid in the MASCAC with a noontime doubleheader with Fitchburg on Saturday, and Williams takes on Little Three rivals Wesleyan in a twinbill of their own that same afternoon.

Central Massachusetts

After two successful road weekends, Holy Cross returns to Fitton Field for their Patriot League home opener with Army, who’s won the league’s regular-season or tournament title in six of the last eight years. Thus far, the Crusaders have split with preseason favorites Navy and taken three of four at Lehigh, and sit in a three-way tie for first in the PL. Coming in Bill Schlich leads the club with a .320 average and 12 doubles, but it’s Greg DiCenzo’s pitching staff that forms the backbone of the club. Their 3.80 staff ERA is second-best in the league, and starter Brendan King is 2-0 with a 1.38 in Patriot League play. HC only gets two home series in the league this year, and they’ll look for a good result this weekend to set themselves up for more baseball at Fitton Field come playoff time.

In D3, a pair of NEWMAC West series will come to the area this weekend, WPICoast Guard on Friday, and ClarkSpringfield (DH) on Saturday.

Northeastern Massachusetts

This weekend, Gordon takes the four-mile trip down to Endicott for the biggest series between the North Shore neighbors in recent memory. You’ve heard about the Gulls up in the Western Mass section, so I’ll focus on the Fighting Scots here. Last year’s run to a 4th-place finish and a second-straight playoff berth was good, but they’ve outdone themselves in 2016. At 15-7, they’ve already matched last year’s win total, and their 4-2 league start includes a road sweep of Roger Williams. Senior righty Scott Hall (4-0, 2.31) set the program’s all-time wins record last weekend, and rotation-mate Scott Amore (5-0, 0.87) is best in the CCC in wins and ERA. In the lineup, junior Dean Demers’ stellar junior campaign (.400/.475/.708, 13 XBH, 18RBI) has him garnering national attention. Last year’s doubleheader split included the first win Rob Mansfield’s club has gotten over the Gulls since 2011, and they’ll be looking for another good result this weekend.

If you’re up for some doubleheader-hopping, there’s another great D3 series just across the water in Salem, as MASCAC co-leaders Salem State and Mass Maritime meet up at SSU. The host Vikings have gone to two of the last three NCAA Tournaments, and made an excellent run to a third-place finish in Harwich last year. Like the Buccaneers, they’re off to a 4-0 start in league play, but MMA will be their toughest test in the league thus far. 2014 league Player of the Year Richard Fecteau (.424, 10 XBH, 9 SB) will lead the offense, and fellow seniors Sean Buckland (4-0, 1.93) and Matt Abrain (0.00 in 17 IP) anchor the pitching staff. The Bucs, meanwhile, are coming off a big sweep of Worcester that sent them to a 4-0 league mark of their own. 2015 MASCAC Player and Rookie of the Year Logan Sullo (.381, 12 XBH) leads the team in a slew of offensive categories, and Kyle Kennedy (2-1, 0.74, 3 saves) gives Mike Kelley an ace relief to match Abrain. The two teams played an entertaining split last year, and this Saturday’s doubleheader gets underway at noon.

Southeastern Massachusetts

Going with another D3 doubleheader here, as Babson and MIT meet up in a battle of two NEWMAC teams coming in on opposite trajectories. The host Beavers have played well in 2016, but suffered a tough sweep to rivals Wheaton last weekend. They’ve won two of three in the league since, with Eric Jaun (2-4, 2 2B, 3 RBI) broke a late deadlock in a 5-2 win over Clark in the midweek. On the other side, two-time defending league champions MIT started off just 4-8, but they haven’t lost a game since the calendar turned to April. Thursday’s 10-3 win over Worcester State marked the worst offensive performance in that stretch. Defending league Player and Rookie of the Year Austin Filiere (.398, 9 2B, 5 HR, 33 RBI) is mashing his way to another successful campaign. The two teams will open up in Cambridge on Friday before coming out to the suburbs to decide the series on Saturday.

Metro Boston

It used to go without saying that the TuftsTrinity series decided the NESCAC East, but the Maine schools’ recent success means this is the first time in several years that the two schools meet at the top of the standings. The host Jumbos, #22 in the Perfect Game top 25, are 13-4 on the year and swept a doubleheader with Bates in their only league action so far. Andrew David (2-0, 1.42) and Speros Verinos (4-1, 1.98) are both K’g better than a batter an inning in the rotation, and junior Harry Brown leads the offense with a .413 average. For the Bantams, who’ve won both of their first two series in the division, a road win or two here would go a long way towards securing their first playoff bid since 2013. Sophomore Anthony Egeln, Jr. owns a pair of league shutouts, surrendering just seven hits in 14 innings in the process. Friday’s doubleheader starts at 3 in Medford, and a noontime doubleheader on Saturday will decide the series.

Vermont

I’ve focus mainly on Mitchell, Elms, and Becker thus far in the NECC, but Southern VermontLesley has turned into one of the biggest series yet in this league. The host Mountaineers– picked to tie for last in the league– have parlayed an excellent start into second place in the league. Dave Gage’s team has handed Mitchell their only league loss, taken a road series from Becker, and swept Daniel Webster, and another series win here would go a long way towards solidifying their first playoff berth since 2011. Juniors Dylan Angelo (4-1, 3.35) and Joshua Hay (2-4, 4.64) both own a pair of those league wins, and senior RJ Pingitore is hitting .326 with 11 steals. On the other side, Billy Cather’s Lynx completed a season-series win over Elms with a 6-5 road win on Tuesday. Freshman catcher Jacob Cervantes drove in three in that win, and Nick Iadevalo, who’s struck out 9.1 per 9 this year, worked three scoreless to earn his first save of the year. Right now, they’re even in the loss column with Elms and Becker, and all but one of their remaining league games against first-place Mitchell, a good weekend here is key to their playoff hopes.

New Hampshire

I’m most intrigued by Assumption‘s visit to Southern New Hampshire here. The visiting Greyhounds, winners of five of seven, come in playing their best baseball of the year. In the midweek, they earned a dominant 12-3 win over division rivals Stonehill. Andrew Jaehnig, Jake Byrne, and Colin Clancy each drove in three, and fresh off a big relief outing on Sunday, freshman Colton King struck out five in three scoreless. The hosts, however, have won nine straight, a streak they capped with a big road win over #3 Franklin Pierce. Ryan Gendron’s two-run single helped put the Penmen up early, and Tim Viehoff allowed just a run on two hits in 5 2/3 to earn the 5-3 win. For the visitors, a surprise win here would lend even more momentum to their run at a playoff berth, and the hosts will want to keep on rolling in their quest for the division title.

Maine

We’ll wrap up in the GNAC with the big Maine series of this weekend, as Saint Joseph’s hosts Johnson & Wales. The hosts, at 3-1, have only suffered one league loss (to title contenders Suffolk), while the 4-0 visitors are at the top of the pile. The Monks feature league leaders in average (Dennis Meehan, .463) and home runs (Jameson Collins, 4), while Wildcat senior Jake Marchessault is top of the pitching pile with 40 strikeouts. A good day for the Monks would put them in great shape with their two toughest series behind them, while a good result for JWU would send them well on their way to another run at the league title they narrowly lost in 2015.

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