Previewing the 2016 MASCAC Tournament

On a D3 scene where parity has been in fairly short supply in 2016, the MASCAC stands out. Salem took up their usual spot at the top of the standings, MMA and Fitchburg put up their best league marks in years to finish 2nd and 3rd; Bridgewater had its best year since 2013 to return to the playoffs after 2015; and Worcester, 2014 champions and 21-7 over the last two years, missed the field entirely. It’s in character for a league in which five different teams have finished atop the regular-season standings since 2011. More on the history, pennant race, and all six participants after the jump.

The History

Top-seeded Salem State has won two of the last three tournament titles. When the current seniors were freshmen in 2013, the Vikings rolled through the weekend, beating Worcester, Framingham, and Westfield to win the program’s second title. Then-freshman Sean Buckland hurled a three-hit shutout in the title-game win over the Owls. Last year, Mike Ward’s club won again, recovering from a Sunday loss to Worcester to beat the Lancers in the title game. Dan Connors scored the go-ahead run in the 9th in that day’s 6-5 win. From there, the Vikings went on to a deep NCAA Tournament run to a 3rd-place finish in Harwich.

The Vikings are looking to become the first team to win three of four titles since Bridgewater State did it from 2001-2004. The Bears also won back-to-back titles in 2011 and 2012. In 2011, Ian Williams’s 8-RBI outburst led a 20-6 romp over Westfield in the title game, and the Bears made it all the way to the regional finals in Harwich. The next year, the swept through the field, allowing just one run in three wins to cap off a 30-win campaign led by MASCAC Player of the Year Sean Riley. A title for the Bears this year would be a league-record sixth overall.

The only other past champions in the field are Westfield State, who won in both 2007 and 2009. The first time around, Ray Arra’s team rode an 11-3 regular-season title campaign to a 13-1 title-game win over Salem, which Jesse Vermeersch won with a complete game. Two years later, a 7-7 mark earned them just a #4 seed. They advanced all the way to the title round against top-seeded Worcester, however, and despite dropping a game, came back to win a decisive game seven 4-3. Ben Wagner broke a 6th-inning tie with an RBI single, and Phil Towne shut the Lancers down over the final two innings to close out the championship.

Mass MaritimeFitchburg State, and Framingham State all enter the weekend in search of their first tournament titles.

The Race

This year’s pennant race didn’t have a whole lot of drama, as the playoff field was already decided coming into the final weekend (night and day compared to 2015). Salem State, whose only losses came to the 2nd- and 3rd-place teams, finished alone in 1st with a 12-2 mark. But for a pair of final-week losses, 11-3 Mass Maritime might’ve finished even with them and potentially hosted. Fitchburg State checked in another game back at 10-4, earning a split with Salem on the final day of the season. Westfield State finished above .500 at 8-6, Bridgewater State right on that mark at 7-7. Framingham State earned the final berth with a 5-9 mark, a two-shutout sweep of Worcester separating them from the 7th-place Lancers.

The Format

Six teams qualify in the MASCAC, where the top two seeds get a first-round bye, while 3/6 and 4/5 matchups on Thursday determine who they’ll play in Friday second-round home games. After those, the tournament moves to the top seed’s field for the final rounds.

The Teams

Top-seeded Salem State (20-17-1, 12-2 MASCAC) earned hosting honors for the first time since 2013. For Mike Ward’s club, it was a fourth straight win/share of the regular-season title and a fifth-straight 20-win campaign. That came against the Vikings’ always-challenging schedule– just 2 of their 16 NECB non-league opponents failed to qualify for the postseason. In conference, MASCAC Pitcher of the Year Sean Buckland earned key wins over both MMA and Fitchburg, and SSU took care of business against the teams further down the standings. On the year, Buckland (7-0, 2.85) leads the league in wins, and Matt Abrain sports a 1.22 ERA in time split between the rotation and ERA. In the lineup, senior co-captains Richard Fecteau (.370, 14 XBH, 13 SB) and Mike Davis (.331, 17 2B, 10 HR) have both had excellent campaigns. A tournament win on their home turf would give the Vikings a chance to recapture the magic that carried them to a 3rd-place finish in Harwich last season.

Second-seeded Mass Maritime (20-13, 11-3 MASCAC) earns a first-round bye for the second year running after turning in a 20-win campaign in Mike Kelley’s first year at the helm. The Bucs were just 7-8 at the end of March, but got the wind in their sails (I’m sorry) turned things around to the tune of a 13-5 April. Some good road play in that stretch will leave them feeling confident as they travel to the North Shore for the weekend. Between three road wins at Fitchburg (x2) and Salem, Daniel Avery allowing just a run on five hits in 13 innings, and Kyle Kennedy collected a pair of saves with three flawless relief innings. On the year, Kevin Kwedor (4-1, 2.57, .222 OBA) of perfect game fame has the best numbers of any starter, and 2015 and 2016 MASCAC Player of the Year Logan Sullo (.429, 7 2B, 4 3B, 5 HR, 25 RBI) has been getting things done at the dish. A championship this weekend would mean the program’s first-ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament.

Like MMA, third-seeded Fitchburg State (17-18, 10-4 MASCAC) had its best league season in years under a first-year head coach, former UMass Lowell assistant and Wachusett Dirt Dawgs head coach Kevin Barnaby. The Falcons were just 5-11 at the end of March, but used a sweep of first-round opponents Framingham to kick off a 12-7 April. The month ended with a win over regular-season champions Salem, against Javier Lozada turned in a complete-game win. Lozada (4-2, 4.46) also beat Framingham back on April 2, combining with Tommy Parsons (5-4, 3.78) to sweep the Rams on the day. Offensively, the Falcons’ .310 team average was second-best in MASCAC play. The attack has been led by Brendan Cutler (.357, 14 2B, 17 SB) and Nathan Littman (.382, 9 XBH, 17 SB). A title for FSU would be the program’s first. They host Framingham for a Thursday play-in game.

Fourth-seeded Westfield State (18-18, 8-6 MASCAC) put up its best conference mark since 2013 after negotiating a tricky stretch run well. In their last three league doubleheaders, the Owls split with Fitchburg at home, then took to the road to sweep MCLA and split with MMA. MASCAC Rookie of the Year John Gegetskas struck out eight in seven in a final-day 7-1 over the second-place Buccaneers. Gegetskas (4-3, 1.71, .200 OBA) and Nate Marshall (3-0, 1.41, .210 OBA) posted the league’s two best ERAs among qualifiers. Offensively, Danny DiMatteo hit .374 with 13 XBH. A tournament championship this weekend would mean the Owls’ first NCAA trip under third-year head coach Nathan Bashaw.

Fifth-seeded Bridgewater State (16-18, 7-7 MASCAC) returns to the postseason after missing the field in 2015. The Bears overcame a nine-game losing streak stretching from late March to April to make the tournament, thanks largely to sweeps of Framingham and Worcester, the two teams that finished just below them. In those four wins, top starters David Holmes and Shane Surette combined to go 4-0 with a 1.38 ERA. Along with offensive leader Ryan Feeney (.376, 12 2B, 16 RBI), Holmes (5-1, 2.94) and Surette (5-2, 2.38) form part of BSU’s nine-man senior class. The program last won the league in 2012, the year before that group made it to campus, so Rick Smith’s current crop will be looking to make its first NCAA Tournament trip. The Bears will face off with Westfield in a Thursday play-in game.

Sixth-seeded Framingham State (10-29, 5-9 MASCAC) has made the playoffs in each of Mike Gedman’s three years at the helm. Although the Rams struggled at times during the regular season, an April 18 doubleheader shutout of Worcester was key in seeing them into the postseason. On that day, Al Wallach needed just 66 pitches to throw a game-two shutout that completed the sweep. For the season, the Rams have led the MASCAC in both steals (80) and home runs (24). Ryan Connelly (19), Cole Josselyn (14), and Kyle Pileski (12) all have double-digit steals, and Jonathan Chapman leads the club in long balls with 7. On the mound, 2015 FCBL All-Star Zach Kirby is leading the league with 71 strikeouts and fanning better than 11 batters per nine, quite the number for a starter. They’ll travel to Fitchburg to kick off the tournament on Thursday.

The Matchups

Thursday, May 5

#3 Fitchburg State v. #6 Framingham State — 3 PM — Michael P. Riccards Field, Fitchburg, MA

#4 Westfield State v. #5 Bridgewater State — 3 PM — Bud and Jim Hagan Field, Westfield, MA

Friday, May 6

#1 Salem State v. Westfield/Bridgewater — 3 PM — Salem State Baseball Field, Salem, MA

#2 Mass Maritime v. Fitchburg/Framingham — 3 PM — Hendy Field, Buzzards Bay, MA

Saturday and Sunday, May 7-8

Final rounds — Salem State Baseball Field, Salem, MA

 

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