What a fun week to round up. Division III took center stage and didn’t disappoint. We saw upsets, walkoffs, records broken, incredible plays, and, of course, our first dogpile. And in D1 and D2, things are coming right down to the wire for playoff spots and league titles. More on all that plus Teams of the Week within.
(One quick programming note: It’s come to my attention that WordPress is showing ads for some folks. That’s their price for giving me free hosting, not my choice, but I still apologize for that, and please let me know if it’s a big issue for you.)
Team of the Week: I’m sure they were taking it one game at a time and all, but Bryant must’ve had this weekend’s series with Sacred Heart circled on their calendars. The Pioneers, after all, beat them in the 9th inning of last year’s NEC championship game, denying Steve Owens’ team a third NCAA Tourney trip in as many years of eligibility. This weekend, the Bulldogs had their revenge, taking three of four in a series win that set them well on their way to a fifth straight regular-season title. After beating up on Brown and BC in the midweek, Bryant entered the weekend on a ten-game winning streak and promptly won the opener, 7-3. James Karinchak got win #9 after Buck McCarthy’s three-run homer put his team up for good in the third. After dropping game two, the Bulldogs came back to win the series with 6-3 and 3-0 wins. Steve Theetge preserved his perfect 5-0 record with a seven-inning complete game on Saturday, and Justin Snyder closed out the series to earn save #7 on Sunday. With the series win, the Bulldogs are 3 1/2 games clear in the standings with three weekends to play.
And Bryant wasn’t the only Ocean State team to put in a great weekend. In the A-10, Rhode Island cleared its toughest remaining hurdle with a road series win at Saint Joseph’s. For Raphael Cerrato’s team, it was the usual winning recipe of southpaws Tyler Wilson and Steve Moyers. The sophomore struck out six in six on Friday, and his senior counterpart went six scoreless the following afternoon. The Rams are now 8-2 in the pair’s A-10 starts, a huge reason why they’re exactly where they want to be with three weeks to play: a virtual tie for first with VCU and Saint Louis. With six of their last nine at home against Dayton (11th), UMass (t-9th), and La Salle (13th), URI can take a real run at a regular-season title it last won outright in 2006. And in the Ivy League, Brown played the spoiler to Yale’s bid at a Rolfe Division title. Despite having slim playoff hopes dashed by a game-one loss, the Bears took the series with three straight wins. Rob Henry put up a double, homer, and three multi-hit games in those wins, also finding time to finish one of them on the mound for good measure. Although Grant Achilles’ team won’t be moving on to the postseason, they made a big impact on the division title race this weekend.
A pair of America East teams put up perfect weeks. Maine‘s home sweep of UMass Lowell brought the Black Bears even in the loss column with the last playoff spot. Logan Fullmer gave up just an unearned run in seven in the opener, John Arel and Nick Silva combined for a seven-inning shutout in game two, and Lou Della Ferra and Colin Ridley both homered on Sunday to complete the sweep. With series still to play against league leaders Stony Brook and Binghamton, Steve Trimper’s team will have to earn it, but the Black Bears now at least have a fighting chance at a seventh straight playoff appearance. Hartford, meanwhile, won both games of its rain-shortened series at Albany. Kyle Gauthier threw eight shutout in the opener, and Brian Murphy struck out six in seven in game two. Offensively, Chris DelDebbio had two doubles and four RBI between the wins.
Quick hits from elsewhere. Dartmouth swept an ESPN3-televised doubleheader with Harvard, which @joshuakummins wrote about here. Combined with Yale’s series loss, this means that in Tuesday’s rescheduled series finale, the Big Green can force a playoff with a split and win the division outright with a sweep. UMass pulled even in the loss column for an A-10 playoff spot with a nice series win over Fordham. UConn took a road series from Memphis, Boston College took two of three from Virginia Tech, and Northeastern swept CCSU in non-conference action. Holy Cross, finally, won its final Patriot League series with Lafayette and will host a semifinal against defending champions Lehigh in two weeks’ time.
Team of the Week: Franklin Pierce heads into the final week of the regular season riding a 12-game win streak after a massive 5-0 week. It was highlighted, of course, by their 7-1 road win in a national-#1-meets-#2 midweek tussle with rivals Southern New Hampshire. The Ravens got a complete game from Paul Covelle and homers from Max DiTondo and Chris LaVorgna in the win. After another road win at Saint A’s the next day, it was on to a three-game sweep of Merrimack. The Warriors played Jayson King’s team closest in game two, erasing a pair of Raven leads, but Kyle Hood’s RBI single in the 8th made the difference in a 5-4 win. Now two games up in the loss column with only the bottom two teams in the standings left to play, FPU looks like good money for a Northeast Division title they’ve won or shared every year there’s been a Northeast Division.
Elsewhere, Assumption‘s sweep of Saint Anselm made the race for the final playoff spots a heck of a lot more interesting entering the final week. The Greyhound offense put up 30 runs over the weekend, getting two homers apiece from Mike Coggeshall and Trevor McQuade. The pitching wasn’t half bad either– Kyle Chudoba struck out 10 Hawks in an 8-1 win that clinched the series. Thanks to Merrimack’s sweep at the hands of FPU and Stonehill’s series loss at SNHU, Assumption now sits just a game and a half back of a playoff spot. Tuesday’s home meeting with Stonehill will be key, as will two games with Bentley later in the week. If they hold up their end of the bargain, the right result in Merrimack and Stonehill’s season-ending head-to-head set could see Mike Rocco’s team into the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
Although Stonehill dropped their weekend series to SNHU, they picked up a NESN+ televised win over the #1 Penmen that’s worthy of note. Though they trailed 4-0 early, Pat Boen’s club put up 11 runs from the 5th inning onwards to win 11-8. Brian Hocking (2-4, HR, 2 RBI), Isiah Nunez (1-2, HR, 3 RBI), and Eric Schneider (1-5, 2B, 3 RBI) all chipped in to hand SNHU’s Tim Viehoff his first loss of the year. Elswhere in purple, Saint Michael’s picked up its first series win by taking two of three from Bentley. Alex Holt and Aiden Burton each went 2-3 with an RBI in the 3-1 opener, and Trevor Allen (3-4, 2B, HR, 3 RBI) helped to clinch the series in a 9-6 win. And in the Southwest Division, Southern Connecticut‘s 4-1 week pulled the Owls within a game and a half of a playoff spot heading into the final week. In Sunday’s rubber match with AIC, Ryan Kaplan’s two-RBI single in the 8th powered SCSU to a series win.
Co-Team of the Week: Three was Mitchell‘s magic number this week. On their home field, the Mariners made a 3-0 run to the NECC title. DH Tyler Pina, who wears #3, had a monster weekend on his way to MVP honors, hitting .563 with two doubles, a homer, six RBI, and eight runs scored. In the 3rd inning of Sunday’s title game, Garet Griffin made a jaw-dropping play at short. And on that day, the Mariners scored three runs in three different innings to become the first three-peaters in NECC history.
In Friday’s opener, fourth-seeded Lesley battled well, keeping things tied until the 6th, when Chandler Whitney’s RBI single helped but the hosts up for good in a 10-5 win. On Saturday, the 4-5 combo of Pina and Francis Prettitore both had five-hit games, combining for eight runs and eight RBI in a 21-7 romp over Southern Vermont. On Sunday, SVC was back, and the Mountaineers threw the first punch with a six-run 2nd, but two touchdowns later, it was 14-8 Mitchell, and Eddie Santiago’s reward for four innings of perfect relief was a spot at the bottom of the dogpile.
After coming out of the loser’s bracket the past two years, it probably felt good to do it the easy way this time around. Travis Beausoleil’s team is the first team to punch its tournament ticket for 2016, the program’s third in a row and fourth overall. They’ll be making the short trip up the road to Willimantic in a just a few weeks’ time.
Co-Team of the Week: On April 11, UMass Boston was a pedestrian 10-11 on the year, sitting on a three-game conference losing streak, and looking like they’d have a tough time competing in the always-deep Little East. Since then, they’ve been arguably the best team in New England, going 14-1 and 7-1 in conference. And that’s not some soft spot in the schedule, either. In that stretch, they’ve beaten MASCAC regular-season champions Salem State (home and away), NEWMAC regular-season champions MIT (away), the Babson team that just knocked the Engineers out of the playoffs (home), CCC co-champions Endicott (away), a Plymouth State team that hadn’t lost at home in conference (twice away), and, most importantly, regional #1 and three-time defending Little East champions Southern Maine (home and away). The two wins against USM are the biggest reason the Beacons have pulled into a 1st-place tie with them. UMB picked up the road win in that series this past Wednesday. Fernando Burgos gave up just an unearned run in six strong, and Lionel Danielson’s two-run double in the third keyed an 8-run outburst over the following two innings that settled the outcome early. From there, it was on to four more road wins, two against regionally ranked teams, and two more against a PSU team that, as we’ve said, hadn’t lost at home in LEC play. In that doubleheader sweep, Dan Mantoni was 5-8 with a homer, three RBI, and five runs scored. Considering the degree of difficulty, I can’t think of a better week from any D3 team in 2016. Hats off to Brendan Eygabroat and his club– they’re going to be a scary matchup come conference tournament time in two weeks.
Co-Team of the Week: This one feels like it’s been building for a while. Nichols has been playing great baseball all April long, taking games off of CCC heavyweights Salve, Endicott, and WNE and beating NECC champs Mitchell and #25 Amherst in the non-conference. This past week, they put the cherry on top, going on a 6-0 run that vaulted them all the way to 3rd in the final conference standings. Nick Puccio’s club kicked things off with midweek blowouts of Anna Maria and Fitchburg, then swept conference twinbills from Eastern Nazarene and Roger Williams. Against ENC, the Bison won the opener on Tim Ford’s walkoff two-run single; in game two, Ford homered and drove in two, and Nick Roy added a double, triple, and three RBI in a 12-0 win. From there, they took to the road to sweep the Hawks. Benjamin Harrow’s two-run single made the difference in the 4-3 opener, and in game two’s 6-4 win, Kevin Kirley picked up save #2 of the day and #11 of the season (that’s more than the next four CCC closers combined, and second in New England only to Wheaton’s Eric Dumas). Besides breaking the program wins record, the club’s success this week means Nichols’ first playoff berth since 2009, first home playoff game since 2007, and highest CCC finish in 13 years. For seniors Benjamin Harrow, Ryan McLane, and Joseph Nicolace especially, who stuck it out through a 5-31 freshman campaign, that’s gotta feel pretty darn good.
Our next order of business is the NEWMAC Tournament, where #3 Wheaton and #4 Babson both won semifinal series on the road. First, to the Lyons, who came back from a game-one loss to beat WPI in three. After losing game one 4-2, Wheaton led 4-1 after 7 in game two, but WPI fought back to tie things against New England D3 saves leader Eric Dumas. Giving up a late lead in a must-win road playoff game is pretty much the definition of backs-against-the-wall, but Eric Podbelski’s team kept its composure and won in the 11th, thanks to Eric McKeon’s homer and Zachary Goodwin-Boyd’s two-run double. From there, they took over the series, scoring early and often on Sunday to win 7-2. In the title series, they’ll face a Babson team that upset two-time defending champs MIT. In both of their wins, the Beavers fought back from behind. MIT raced out to an early 6-2 lead in the opener, but junior righty Ken Rotunno came up big out of the pen, stanching the Engineer offense over five scoreless frames. That allowed Babson to turn things around, finally taking the lead for good with a four-run 7th that gave Rotunno a well-deserved win. After dropping the middle contest, it was back out the next day for game three. MIT again took an early lead, but Babson retook it and then some with a nine-run 5th, capped by Jack Halpin’s three-run dinger. They would go on to lead 16-6 after 7 1/2, and though the hosts made things very, very interesting in the 9th, Matt Noone’s club walked away with a 16-13 win that sent them to their first title round since 2012.
Elsewhere in D3, Western New England, Salem State, and Castleton all turned in strong weeks to earn #1 seeds in upcoming conference tournaments (keep an eye on the blog for previews). We’ll start with WNE, who swept fellow playoff teams Curry and Salve Regina as part of a 5-1 week. In a 6-0, 6-2 tennis sweep of the Colonels, Bob Hamel and David Cherry both turned in strong starts to go to 6-1 on the year. The next day, three-run jacks from Dan Morin and Eduardo Colmenares in the first inning of game one set the tone for the day’s 15-12 and 5-4 wins over SRU. Moving to the MASCAC, Salem, who’s now won or shared the regular-season title four straight times, clinched the top seed with a 4-1 week. Matt Abrain (7.0 IP, 3 H, R, 0 ER, 8 K) and Joe White (4-6, 2 2B, 4 RBI) keyed Thursday’s sweep of Framingham, and Mike Davis and Andrew Deloury homered in a Saturday win over Fitchburg that clinched the title. Finally, Castleton took home yet another NAC regular-season title with a 5-1 week. Dillon Benham’s performance (.579, 5 XBH, 4 RBI) earned him co-Rookie of the Week honors in the conference. In the final game of the weekend, a one-hit shutout by Lyndon’s Zak Johnson became the only blemish on the Spartans’ incredible 21-1 April.
Staying in the MASCAC and NAC, where Salem and Castleton will be hosting conference tournaments, several teams picked up momentum heading in to the postseason. Fitchburg, Westfield, and Bridgewater all had 3-1 weeks in the league ahead of their playoff openers Thursday. The Falcons picked beat Salem 7-2 in the Vikings only loss of the week– catcher Nathan Littman drove in three, and pinch-hitter Mitch Clary added two RBI of his own. The Owls, in a road win over 2nd-place MMA, got a big day from their own catcher, Dan Wigham (3-3, 2B, 3 RBI), as well as a strong start from John Gegetskas (7.0 IP, 3 H, R, 8 K). The Bears, finally, got a win of their own over their southeastern neighbors, beating the Bucs 8-5 behind a 3-4, two-RBI day from Scott O’Brien. In the NAC, Maine-Farmington set a program wins record with a 5-1 week highlighted by a weekend sweep of Colby-Sawyer. In Sunday’s capstone wins, Kyle Peterson threw a three-hit shutout in game one, and Jimmy Neal homered and drove in four in game two. Husson managed to beat out UMF for the #2 seed with a matching 5-1 week. An RBI triple from Christian Corneil helped ice a week-ending 3-1 win over NEC that clinched the higher seed.
A few other notes to wrap up. UMass Dartmouth spent 6 hours and 50 minutes on the field on Saturday, but will consider every minute well worth it after walking off twice against erstwhile LEC leaders Eastern Connecticut. In game one, a brief, 11-inning affair, David Tarr’s 3 2/3 of scoreless relief set up Erick Ramirez’s walkoff single. Game two went 14 thanks to both an eight-run 7th that erased an 8-1 deficit and Aaron Chouinard’s six shutout relief frames. That allowed Connor Shaw to send the fans home happy with a walkoff single. The sweep puts UMD just a game back of 1st heading into the final weekend. Also in the Little East, Keene State showcased the league’s depth, as the 7th-place Owls took a non-conference game off of CCC co-champions Western New England and a split off of #18 USM. Devin Springfield’s RBI single sent KSC to a 5-4, 11-inning walkoff against the Huskies. In the NESCAC, Wesleyan secured a playoff spot with their fourth straight series win over rivals Amherst. Further north, Tufts wrapped up an 11-1 East Division campaign with a series win over Bowdoin and an extra-inning victory in a makeup game at Bates. And much further north, Maine-Presque Isle swept a doubleheader on its lone home date of 2015.