Playoffs! After Babson and Coast Guard kicked things off today, we’ve got full slates of conference tournament action in the NEWMAC and NECC to look forward to this weekend. That also means that we’ll have regular-season champions crowned and playoff spots decided all over D3. Add that to the top 4 facing off in the NE-10 Northeast and decisive weekends in the Rolfe Division, Patriot League, and NEC, and we’ve got a heck of a weekend to look forward to.
(Apologies for the delay in getting this out– the conference tournament previews set me back a bit. As a result I’ll only be focusing on Saturday and Sunday games in this post.)
A few important matchups here, but none moreso than Yale‘s regular-season-ending Saturday doubleheader with Brown. With a series win in their home-and-home, four-game set, the Bulldogs will snap Dartmouth’s streak of nine straight division titles and win the Rolfe Division for the first time since 1995. Sophmore closer Mason Kukowski came up huge in last weekend’s series win at Dartmouth, pitching 2 2/3 perfect relief innings to earn saves in all three wins. The Bears and their division-leading 18 home runs will try to play spoiler. (As of press time, the Bulldogs had taken the first game of the series 12-1.)
I’ll direct you to New London here, where Mitchell is hosting the NECC Tournament for the third straight year. You can check out our preview post for the full scoop, but here are the basics. The hosts have come out of the loser’s bracket to win the title in each of the past two years, and will look to become the first three-peaters in league history. Their three opponents– Elms, Southern Vermont, and Lesley— are all in search of their first titles, and have all matched or set program win records in 2016. All 6/7 games will be held at the Mariners’ Alumni Field.
We head out to the Berkshires, where Williams is seeking its first NESCAC Tournament appearance since 2012. The Ephs come into the weekend a game back of Wesleyan, but hold the tiebreaker after winning the regular-season series. That means they need to do a game better in their home set with Hamilton than the Cardinals do against Amherst. (Though if both teams sweep, they’d each leapfrog their Little Three rival.) Freshman Kellen Hathaway (.327, 9 XBH, 16 RBI) earned that tiebreaker with a walkoff homer against Wesleyan, after junior Luke Rodino (3-3, 3.56) won the opener with seven strong the day before. Williams suffered their first-ever series loss to Hamilton last season, and they’ll likely need to do better than that to return to the playoffs this year.
Some good choices here, but I’ll focus first on the NEWMAC semifinal series between WPI and Wheaton. (Read our NEWMAC Tourney Preview for a more in-depth look.) It’s the second year running that the two have met at this stage of the postseason, and if the recent history of this rivalry is any indication, we’re in for a treat. Four of their last six regular-season games have been decided by a single run, last year’s meeting in this stage of the playoffs gave us more of the same. The Engineers took the opener, 3-2, on a walkoff wild pitch in the 12th, but Wheaton evened the series with a lopsided 12-3 win. That set up a decisive game three, where despite committing four errors on the day and burning through three pitchers in WPI’s seven-run 1st, the Lyons came back to win, 10-9. This season’s series is shaping up to be even better– the two teams are a combined 50-21 coming in, and split a 5-4, 3-2 doubleheader in the regular-season. The series, which will be played at Clark, begins with a Saturday doubleheader, and will conclude if necessary on Sunday afternoon.
A couple other series to keep an eye on in Worcester County. Staying in D3, Fitchburg State hosts Salem State in a MASCAC finale with plenty of postseason implications. A sweep for the visiting Vikings would clinch the regular-season title and home-field in the playoffs, while a sweep for Fitchburg might give them a shot at a first-round bye. With Westfield State visiting Mass Maritime on the same day, it means the MASCAC’s top-4 will face off on the final day of the season, with plenty of potential for movement in the standings.
And in D1, Holy Cross has an outside shot at the Patriot League regular-season title in its four-game set with Lafayette. The Crusaders have already clinched a home semifinal series, and trail 1st-place Navy by only a game entering the weekend.
Let’s head down to the South Coast for a pair of D3 series. First, it’s the final weekend in the MASCAC, and #4 visits #2 in the standings as Westfield State travels to Mass Maritime. The Owls, who’ve won three straight in the league, can lock up a home playoff game with a split. They boast the league’s second-best pitching staff, which includes sub-2.00 ERAs from Nate Marshall (3-0, 1.41), John Gegetskas (3-3, 1.80), and Tyler Tongue (1.69, 2 saves). MMA, a game back of Salem for 1rst, will look to capitalize on any missteps by the Vikings. The Bucs have won six of seven in conference, where they’re also a perfect 4-0 at home. Defending league Player/Rookie of the Year Logan Sullo (.421/.516/.737, 7 2B, 4 3B, 5 HR, 25 RBI) has had an excellent sophomore campaign, and the starting trio of Daniel Avery and Brian and Kevin Kwedor (brothers) have combined to go 7-0 with a 3.15 in conference play.
And in the Little East, UMass Dartmouth welcomes 1st-place Eastern Connecticut to town. The 5-5 Corsairs could use a split to help shore up their playoff status, and 7-2 ECSU will look to continue its run at the regular-season title. For UMD, Taylor Cacciola (.336, 14 XBH, 31 RBI) leads the LEC’s second-best offense in league play, while Eastern boasts a 2.03 conference ERA that leads the league by more than a run. First pitch is Saturday at noon.
Back to the NEWMAC Tournament here, with MIT hosting Babson in the other semifinal. Both teams are gunning for their third league title (you’ll know that if you’ve read our preview), and this is their first meeting since the new postseason format was adopted in 2014. Both teams come in with momentum, the host Engineers having taken a series from Wheaton to win the league title last weekend, and the visiting Beavers fresh off a 9-2 win over Coast Guard in the play-in game. The opening doubleheader will be played Saturday at noon in Cambridge.
A pair of other series to watch in D1. Sitting at #51 in the RPI after taking a series from #4 Louisville, some of you might be dreaming about an at-large for Boston College. A series win (and maybe even a sweep) in a home set with last-place Virginia Tech is a must if the Eagles are to get into the 14-15 win range and tourney berth territory they’d likely need to be in the at-large discussion. And in the Ivy Rolfe Division, Harvard‘s ESPN3-televised Saturday doubleheader with Dartmouth could end up being very important if Yale falters this weekend. Chances are we’ll end up in the eight-way tie scenario that Dartmouth baseball SID Rick Bender outlined earlier this week.
The NAC’s in-Vermont rivalry, Castleton–Lyndon, will finish up with a doubleheader at LSC this Saturday. The visitors enter as the hottest team in New England, winners of 19 straight (after Friday’s game one win) who haven’t dropped a game since losing 2-1 to #4 UW-Whitewater on March 29. That run was highlighted by a series sweep of title rivals Husson; freshman Dillon Benham clinched the series win over the Eagles with a 12th-inning sacrifice fly last Sunday. That helped him earn NAC Freshman of the Week honors, an award that he, Deagan Poland, and Charles Stapleford have combined to win in four of the last five offerings. On the other side, Lyndon has been eliminated from playoff contention, but did take the season series from Colby-Sawyer with a doubleheader split on Wednesday. Sophomore shortstop Ryan Cordeiro went 3-3 with a triple in the Hornets’ win that day.
The Granite State plays host to two top-4 matchups in the Northeast-10 this weekend, as 1st-place Franklin Pierce hosts 3rd-place Merrimack, and 2nd-place Southern New Hampshire plays 4th-place Stonehill. FPU enters the weekend on a 9-game win streak highlighted by this Wednesday’s win over SNHU. Paul Covelle’s complete game three-hitter and homers from Chris LaVorgna and Max DiTondo helped the Ravens take home the 7-1 win in what was, as far as I know, the first nationally ranked 1-2 meeting in New England history. (And that wasn’t the only highlight of their week.) Their opponents, Merrimack, beat Assumption 11-6 in the midweek behind Tyler Lyne (3-5, 2B, 4 RBI) and Matthew Ronai (4-5, 2B, 2 RBI). Up in Manchester, the Penmen will be hoping to bounce back from that midweek loss. Ryan Gendron, who hit three dingers in the sweep of MC, and Mike Mastroberti, who’s gone a full week without hitting a triple, are two of the leaders of the NE-10’s top offense. Stonehill, meanwhile, has won 8 of 9 in the division to recover from an 0-5 start. Jeremy Roberts’ hurled a shutout in the opener of last weekend’s sweep of Saint Mike’s.
We finish up in Maine, where all three of the BCC schools will play NESCAC East home games this weekend. Bates and Colby play a home-and-home, while Bowdoin welcomes Tufts for a three-game set. Those who live quite a bit further up I-95 can also catch the northernmost team in New England, Maine-Presque Isle, who’ll play their only home games of the season in a doubleheader this Saturday.