Weekend Preview — April 22-24, 2016

Somehow it’s the last full week of April, and we’ve been blessed with another weekend of sunshine to enjoy some great baseball all around the region. D3 takes center stage, with two key series in the NEWMAC that’ll decide a division title and a playoff spot. We’ll also hit up the GNAC, NECC, CCC, NAC, and Little East for matchups that’ll go a long way towards deciding conference standings at year’s end. In D1, we’ll preview big weekends for Quinnipiac, Bryant, Dartmouth, and Yale, along with an ESPN3 doubleheader for Harvard and Brown and BC’s home set with #4 Louisville. And finally, in D2, the Northeast Division’s biggest weekend yet comes our way in the form of #3 Southern New Hampshire’s visit to Merrimack. Enjoy the reading, and more importantly, get out and enjoy a game.

(One programming note before we dive in: I probably won’t be able to do a Weekend Roundup this coming Monday, but I’ll be back in the middle of the week with some preview material for next weekend.)

Western Connecticut

Hamden will host a pair of series with serious playoff implications this weekend. We start off in Division I, where Quinnipiac hosts Manhattan in a three-game MAAC set. The Bobcats, at 4-5, and the visiting Jaspers, at 3-6, currently sit in 7th and 8th in a league with a six-team tournament. John Delaney’s club is coming off a big sweep of Iona, in which his team took all three thanks in part to MAAC Player of the Week Matt Batten (.455, HR, 3 SB) and Pitcher of the Week Thomas Jankins (8.0 IP, 2 H, BB, 0 R, 8 K in a game-one win). Overall, the pitching staff’s league ERA of 2.72 is tops in the MAAC, and matches up favorably with a Manhattan staff that’s been third worst. There’s still a month to play after this, but with QU facing three of the league’s top four teams from here on out, a series win feels like a must for the Bobcats’ playoff hopes.

Just down the road at Rochford Field, we’ve got a similar situation in D3. At 3-5, Albertus Magnus and Rivier are tied for sixth in a GNAC that also does a six-team tournament. The host Falcons, whose last four games come against league leaders Suffolk and Saint Joseph’s, could really use a sweep here. Head coach Brian Leighton will look to senior third baseman Justin Poirier (.333, 10 XBH, 18 RBI), who doubled and homered in the Falcons’ best league win yet (over Lasell on April 11). On the other side, Anthony Perry’s Raiders come in playing their best baseball of the season. Last weekend saw them earn excellent splits with Suffolk and Johnson & Wales. Sophomores Charlie Savard (W, 7.0 IP, 3 R, 1 ER) and Ty Seaton (2B, 2 RBI) led Sunday’s win over JWU. First pitch of the twinbill is Saturday at 1.

Eastern Connecticut

Lots of big series to choose from, but there’s no doubt about the biggest. The stakes of Coast GuardClark are about as straightforward as it gets. The winner goes to the playoffs, the loser goes home. For CGA, it’d be back-to-back postseason berths for the first time since 2010-2011, and for Clark, it’s a shot at the program’s first playoff appearance since 2010. Both teams had to do work to get to this point. For C.C. Grant’s Bears, it came early in the season, when CGA took games off division leaders MIT and WPI. Freshman Will Stephens went 4-5 with two doubles and four RBI to key the 8-6 win over the Cambridge club, and Cody Bain earned an 8-5 win over the other Engineers by going eight strong without allowing an extra-base hit to their prolific offense. Clark, on the other hand, battled out of a late hole to land even with their opponents entering the weekend. This time last week, they sat at 2-8, hadn’t won since March, and were looking like anything but a playoff team. In the interim, they’ve pulled off a three-game sweep of Springfield and a big midweek win over Babson. Veteran first baseman David Eschen stepped up bigtime in that stretch, collecting his 100th career hit along with two homers, two doubles, and eleven RBI in the four wins. One win this weekend would set a program record, and two would mean an improbable playoff berth in J.P. Pyne’s first year at the helm. The series opens up with a single game in Worcester on Friday before everything gets decided down by the water in New London on Saturday afternoon.

Rhode Island

We head back to Division I in the Ocean State, where Bryant welcomes Stony Brook in an intriguing non-conference matchup. The two programs have been among the northeast’s best for the last half-decade. The visiting Seawolves, of course, made one of the incredible Omaha runs in college baseball history in 2012, and the Bulldogs have been to two regionals in their first three seasons of postseason eligibility. This year, Steve Owens’ team has been excellent once again. At 25-7, they’ve yet to lose consecutive games, have beaten the likes of San Diego State, Kentucky, and Maryland, and have lost just one game in conference. Senior first baseman Robby Rinn leads the NEC in average, slugging, doubles, and RBI, and just last week became the active Division I leader in HBP. On the mound, Bryant’s league-best pitching staff is led by sophomores James Karinchak (7-1, 1.40, 61 K in 51 1/3) and Justin Snyder (1.69, 5 saves, 11.5 K/9). This set with SBU marks the club’s last tune-up before a big series with Sacred Heart next weekend.

Western Massachusetts

Here we go to Mackenzie Stadium, which still has some big games to host before the Blue Sox open up this June. The park will play host to the first two of a three-game NECC series between Elms and Southern Vermont. The host Blazers, who’ve been shattering program records on their way to a 27-9 record thus far, could use a series win to guarantee their playoff spot. They took a long step towards that last weekend, when they swept a doubleheader in Holyoke against first-place Mitchell. Alex Hoss’s walkoff single in game one sent Scott Netkovick’s team on their way to the sweep. On the year, the Blazers have leaned heavily on the senior rotation duo of Tom Weldon (9-0, 2.56) and Andrew Sadowski (5-3, 2.55) and will need those two at their best to make another deep playoff run. Dave Gage’s Mountaineers, meanwhile, are having an excellent campaign of their own. At 10-4, they’ve already tied their best NECC mark ever, and a series win would clinch their first playoff appearance since 2011. The lineup features three of the league’s top base stealers (Zack Stacey, RJ Pingitore, and Niko D’Agnese), and Pingitore shares the league lead in RBI as well. The series kicks off at Mackenzie on Saturday before a noontime finale in Vermont on Sunday.

Central Massachusetts

I’ve already covered the big Clark-Coast Guard series that’ll be starting in Worcester on Friday, so we’ll move to the CCC here for NicholsEndicott. Third-year head coach Nick Puccio has taken a Bison team that went 5-31 the year before he arrived and turned them into playoff contenders. Nichols currently sits 4th in the league, thanks in part to nice road splits with Salve Regina and Gordon. They enter this weekend’s doubleheaders with momentum after beating conference leaders Amherst and Mitchell in the midweek. The trio of Matt Hardy, Cam Cook, and Nick Caswell are all hitting north of .375, and Kevin Kirley has saved 8 of the club’s 16 wins. Endicott, meanwhile, brings in midweek momentum of their own after downing arch-nemeses Southern Maine on Wednesday. In a back-and-forth affair typical of the two teams’ meetings, Mike Kochiss’ two-out, two-run double in the 9th made the difference in a 6-5 win. On the year, the junior third baseman is hitting .402 with 14 XBH and 25 RBI (all team leads). For the Bison, a win in this Saturday’s doubleheader would be a huge step towards their first playoff berth since 2009, while the Gulls will look to keep pace with WNE in their search for a fourth regular-season title in as many years.

Northeastern Massachusetts

Haven’t dipped into D2 yet, but Merrimack and Southern New Hampshire give me an excellent reason to do so here. MC hosts a three-game NE-10 set in North Andover with plenty of implications at the business end of the Northeast Division standings. At 8-2, Nick Barese’s club has looked the most likely challengers to SNHU (11-1) and Franklin Pierce (8-1) for the division crown, but this weekend starts a murderous run-in that’ll take them on the road to Rindge and Easton in the coming weekends. They’ve certainly put themselves in good position, though, winning 13 of 16 since March 31. On Tuesday, Tyler Lyne’s 9th-inning sac fly made the difference in a 4-3 comeback win at Bentley, and on Wednesday, Nate Spielvogel picked up his 5th save to close out another 4-3 win over Saint Anselm. The Warriors’ veteran lineup features seven qualifers hitting over .300, including Lyne (.328, 32 RBI, .528 slugging), Bobby Losanno (.341, 14 SB), and Mike Forgione (.307, 13 2B, 13 SB). On the mound, junior Perry Kulaga (5-1, 2.89) owns three of the divisional wins, one of them a no-hitter against Assumption. On the other side, Scott Loiseau’s Penmen enter as one of the best teams in Division II, ranked #3 in this week’s D2BaseballNews poll. They haven’t lost since March 30 and posted the biggest win of that stretch in last Wednesday’s grudge match with FPU. Ryan Gendron’s two RBI helped SNHU to a road win that day, and lefty ace Tim Viehoff ran his record to 7-0 with 5 2/3 strong. On the year, Viehoff sits top-2 in the league in wins, ERA, and strikeouts, and teammate Mike Mastroberti leads all of college baseball with 11 triples. The series gets started on Saturday at 3:30, and finishes up with a noontime doubleheader the following day.

Metro Boston/Southeastern Massachusetts

I’m gonna go ahead and combine these, because there’s only one place you’re going this weekend. In the past three years, MITWheaton has blossomed into one of the best rivalries in NECB. All of two games have separated the clubs in the standings in those three years combined. The Lyons have won at least a share of the division title each year, but Andy Barlow’s Engineers have taken two of three tournament crowns. The race for the East Division crown has yet again come down to the wire– the two teams enter with identical 12-2 records, and the series winner will claim home-field throughout the upcoming conference tournament. Things open up on Friday at MIT’s Briggs Field in Cambridge. The Engineers limped out to a 4-8 start this year, but then turned things around to the tune of an 12-1 April. The bat of defending Division III Freshman of the Year Austin Filiere (.412, 12 2B, 9 HR, 42 RBI, 11 SB) has been a big reason for that, and senior Alec Echevarria has chipped in with a .395 average and five homers of his own. On the mound, David Hesslink and Nick Locascio are a combined 7-0 in league play, and Zach Michaud and Michael Wymer both sport sub-2.00 ERAs out of the pen. On Saturday, a doubleheader at Sidell Stadium, home of Eric Podbelski’s Lyons, will decide the series. Wheaton, 22-7 overall, has had a stellar April of their own, and enters the series as winners of 12 of 13. Senior Justin Silvestro (.376, 10 2B, 5 HR, 27 RBI) leads the offense, and classmate Eric Dumas has converted 11 save opportunities without allowing an earned run. The Engineers have taken the last three series, but with the stakes and the talent on both sides, look for this to come down to a decisive game three on Saturday afternoon.

If you must go elsewhere, there’s two series I’d recommend in D1. First off, Harvard welcomes Brown for a four-game Rolfe Division set. Besides the implications for the tightly bunched division standings, you can get on ESPN3 at Saturday’s doubleheader. And up the road in Chestnut Hill, Boston College welcomes #4 Louisville to Shea Field. The Cardinals are one of the nation’s marquee teams, and one that features a slew of Cape League and NECBL alums for the summer-ball watchers out there.

Vermont

We’ve got another classic D3 battle here, as Castleton welcomes Husson for four games in central Vermont this weekend. The Spartans and Eagles have finished 1-2 in the NAC every year the current seniors have been on campus, and they’re the only teams to take home the postseason title since well before that. Ted Shipley’s team is riding a 12-game winning streak into this weekend, reminiscent of the 19-2 run that a series win over Husson propelled them to a year ago. Two-time NAC Rookie of the Week Charles Stapleford (4-1, 2.17) has been a rotation mainstay, and senior shortstop Nick Swim, besides being on pace for the conference triple crown, boasts an inhuman .500/.557./.700 slash line in NAC play. On the other side, the visiting Eagles need a series win if they’re to make up a two-game deficit in the standings. Senior first baseman JT Whitten leads the club in average (.394) and doubles (7), and Jason Harvey’s rotation includes two of the league’s top ERA guys, upperclassmen Ben Walls (5-1, 2.48) and Dan Whitney (3-1, 2.73, 0 BB in 29 2/3). This weekend’s doubleheaders get going at 11 (Saturday) and noon (Sunday) at Spartan Field.

New Hampshire

Give me DartmouthYale here. It’s been nearly a decade since the host Big Green failed to win the Rolfe Division, but after nearly knocking them off in 2014, the visiting Bulldogs are taking another run at the title this year. Despite dropping last week’s rivalry series with Harvard, Yale’s 6-2 mark in cross-divisional play has them tied atop the division with Dartmouth. John Stuper’s team has been bolstered by a freshman class that includes the team leaders in steals (Simon Whiteman, 13), RBI (Tim DeGraw, 21), and, in the case of Scott Politz (4-3, 3.44, 4 CG, 38 K), just about every pitching category. On the other side, Bob Whalen’s Dartmouth team has overcome a 5-16 start to go 8-4 since April 6. They sport a freshman standout of their own, Matt Feinstein, who leads the team in average (.329) and OBP (.456). On the mound, a pair of seniors have shined in Ivy League play, with Beau Sulser (2-1, 1.38) and Duncan Robinson (1-2, 2.66, 25 K in 20 1/3) leading the staff to a division-best 3.66 ERA in conference games. This weekend, the visitors will need their first series win in this matchup since 2011 to leave with the division lead, while the hosts will be looking to take a big step towards their 9th straight division title.

Maine

Coming into this season, I’d be surprised if anyone had Plymouth State‘s visit to Southern Maine circled as one of the must-see series in Little East play, but PSU’s stellar run under first-year head coach Clay Jenkins has made it exactly that. A 4-7 Florida trip didn’t seem to portend great things, but since then, they’ve swept a doubleheader with then-#21 Western New England and run out to a 5-2 start in conference that has them tied for first. The club leads the league with 71 steals, and the trio of Jarek Krajewski (.442, 12 2B, 3 HR, 24 RBI), James Garnett (.284, 4 HR, 24 RBI), and Luke Mancini (.278, 12 2B, 4 HR, 23 RBI) has brought plenty of those base stealers around to score. On the mound, jack-of-all-trades Taylor Doyle is top-5 in the conference in both wins (4) and saves (3). In USM, they’ll be facing what’s been the region’s top D3 program in recent years. Ed Flaherty’s 31 seasons at the helm have included more than 900 wins, eight College World Series trips, and two national titles. Two of those CWS trips came in 2013 and 2014, and the Huskies are on a run of three-straight 30-win campaigns. They’re led by all-everything senior shortstop Sam Dexter, defending Division III Player of the Year and the team leader in doubles (14), homers (4), RBI (29), runs (34), slugging (.658), walks (16), and steals (10). USM’s pitching staff is very young (8 of the 12 hurlers to see action have been freshman), but good, sporting a 3.81 ERA that’s second-best in the league. For them, a sweep would be another step on the way to defending a regular-season title they’ve won or shared every year since 2012. For the visiting Panthers, even a split here would mean a 6-3 start to league play with the likes of USM and ECSU in the rearview mirror. First pitch is Saturday at noon.

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