As usual, we enjoyed competitive title and playoff races in the CCC, which has set us up with a deep tournament field to enjoy this weekend. Will a surprise team make a run to the title, like Curry in 2015? Or will things look more like the seasons prior, when the top seed took home the title in three of four years? The history, the playoff chase, and team capsules ahead– let’s get to it.
The CCC Tournament has historically been dominated by four teams, all of whom qualified for this year’s tournament. Endicott (6), Salve Regina (6), Western New England (5), and Curry (4) have won a combined 21 championships, including all of the last 13.
Endicott‘s most recent success came with back-to-back titles in 2013 and 2014, with the Gulls going to reach the regional finals on both occasions. The first time around, they went on the road and ended WNE’s five-year winning streak with a 12-3 title game win that featured long balls from Colin Sitarz and Cody Hall. The following year, they beat the Golden Bears again, this time on North Field. After JJ Branch pitched into the 7th, Tyler Hill closed out a 5-3 win with 2 1/3 innings of perfect relief.
Four of Salve Regina‘s six titles came on a four-year run from 1991 to 1994; the Seahawks last won it all in 2005. That year, a team that included current head coach Eric Cirella avenged an early-round loss to Endicott with an 8-7 title game win.
After entering the league ahead of the 2008 season, Western New England won five titles in a row under Matt LaBranche. In 2011, a league title was just a stepping stone on the way to the best season in program history. After Matt Anthonis’s 4-4 day led a 5-4 title game win over Endicott, the Golden Bears swept through the New England Regional to make their first College World Series.
Curry won its fourth conference title in dramatic fashion last season. After finishing dead last in 2014, the Colonels made a surprise run to 3rd a year ago. They trailed Roger Williams 4-1 with two outs and the bases empty in the 8th inning of the title game, but a three-run shot from Evan Morris tied it, and Kyle Connors won it with a two-out, walkoff single in the bottom of the 9th.
In contrast to these four traditional powers, Nichols and Gordon enter the weekend in search of their first tournament titles. The Bison’s best showing came in a 2004 run to the title game, while the Scots managed the same runner-up honors back in 1995.
It was a photo finish in the CCC, with the regular-season title, first-round hosting rights, and final playoff spot all decided in the final weekend.
The race for 1st once again came down to Western New England and Endicott, who’ve now combined to take the top seed for six straight seasons. This year, it was WNE who won out. The teams finished even at 13-3, but (if I’m assuming the tiebreakers correctly) the Golden Bears’ final-day sweep of Salve Regina gave them the edge.
Entering the final weekend, Salve Regina looked to have the inside track on 3rd place and a home playoff opener, but after SRU went 1-3, Nichols took their chance, sweeping Eastern Nazarene and Roger Williams to leapfrog the Seahawks into sole possession of 3rd.
Gordon‘s final-weekend split with Curry was enough to see them in as the fifth seed, but the Colonels were swept by WNE the next day, and needed help to make the field. In the end, Nichols’ sweep of RWU kept them a game clear in 6th, good enough for the final playoff spot.
The CCC uses the same format as the six-team NCAA regionals, a pure six-team double-elim. The first two days are spread over the campus sites of higher seeds, then the final rounds on Saturday and Sunday move to the home field of the highest seed remaining after Friday’s games. (Check out the CCC Tournament home page for a more detailed look at the different scenarios.)
In the regular season, Western New England (28-9, 13-3 CCC) cracked the top-25 for the first time under Dan Gomez on their way to claiming the top seed in the conference tournament. The Golden Bears started off the year with a perfect 8-0 Florida trip, and finished it on a five-game winning streak that handed them home field advantage should they make it to the latter stages this weekend. Their 13-man senior class has provided key contributions all along the way. Seniors Eduardo Colmenares (.403, 11 XBH, 38 RBI), Kevin Marciano (.391, 14 XBH, 43 R, 15 SB), and Doug Milne (.344, 11 2B, 23 RBI) were the team’s three leading hitters. Their classmate and CCC Pitcher of the Year David Cherry had a team-high four conference wins and posted a 1.38 ERA in league play. Some underclassmen chipped in as well, as well, most notably league Rookie of the Year Bob Hamel (6-1, 1.58, .201 OBA) and CCC co-home run leader Dan Morin (.341, 6 HR, 41 RBI). As WNE hasn’t won it all since 2012, a league title this weekend would a first for this group.
Second-seeded Endicott (26-13, 13-3 CCC) finished even atop the standings with WNE, which means the current crop of seniors have won or shared the regular-season title every year they’ve been on campus. Bryan Haley’s club also clinched their seventh-straight 25-win season against a tough schedule. A Florida win over defending national champions and then-#1 Cortland State highlighted their non-conference slate, where they also picked up wins over Salem (x2), Amherst, Southern Maine (x2), MIT, and Saint Joe’s. Their efforts earned the club nine all-CCC selections. Conference Player of the Year Mike Kochiss (.400, 14 2B, 19 XBH, 39 RBI) led a trio of first-teamers that also included pitchers JJ Branch (6-1, 2.23) and Davarn Nova (6-3, 3.38, 2 saves). As a team, their .332 average was second-best in the CCC. This weekend, they’ll be looking to win a league-record 7th title and make their third NCAA Tournament trip in four years.
Third-seeded Nichols (24-14, 11-5 CCC) broke their program wins record on the way to their highest finish in 13 years. The Bison got big splits with Endicott and WNE on the penultimate weekend of the season, then swept two doubleheaders over the final one to clinch their first home playoff game since 2007. Offensively, the trio of Matt Hardy, Cam Cook, and Nick Roy all hit above .375, slugged double-digit extra-base hits, and finished with more than 25 RBI. As a team, Nichols’s .338 average was tops in CCC play. On the hill, all-NEWMAC reliver Kevin Kirley’s 11 saves were more than the league’s next four top closers combined. Nick Puccio’s team will open the tournament at home this Thursday in search of their first trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Fourth-seeded Salve Regina (21-15-1, 10-6 CCC) has been to the conference tournament every year since they last won it in 2005. A 13-2 run in mid-April highlighted the Seahawks’ season. In that stretch, they went 9-1 in league play and posted non-conference wins over regular-season titlists Mitchell, Amherst, and Salem State. Eric Cirella’s team landed four players on the all-conference first team, a group that included repeat offenders Alex Perry (.384, 21 XBH, 40 RBI) and Ryan Kelly (.321, 6 3B, 4 HR, 18 SB), as well as two freshman: CCC batting champion Zack Smith (.415, 12 2B, 34 RBI) and co-home run leader Tristan Dacey (.363, 8 HR, 35 RBI). As you might’ve guessed, Salve has one of the league’s top offenses, which led the circuit in doubles, homers, and average during conference play. Cory Poplawski (3-3, 2.84, 10.2 K/9, 5 CG) anchored the pitching staff. On Thursday, the Seahawks travel to Nichols for their tournament opener.
Fifth-seeded Gordon (19-17, 8-8 CCC) posted their fifth-straight 15-win season on the way to their third-straight playoff appearance. The Fighting Scots’ campaign included a nine-game win streak that they rode from Florida all the way into conference play, capping it off with their first season sweep of RWU since 2003. From there, they took care of business against the teams below them in the standings to make the field at 8-8. Rob Mansfield’s club garnered three all-CCC honors, with Dean Demers (.398, 19 XBH, 27 RBI), Travis Benoit (.313, 8 XBH, 15 RBI), and Matt Amore (6-0, 1.45, 55 K in 43 1/3, .167 OBA) all landing on the second team. Amore’s rotation mate Scott Hall (5-3, 3.20) also broke the program’s career wins record this year. In search of their first NCAA appearance, they’ll make the short trip to Endicott to open things up on Thursday.
Defending champions Curry (12-22, 6-10 CCC) round out the field as the sixth seed. Dave Perdios’s team recovered from a 1-8 run in mid-April to reel off a four-game league winning streak that saw them into the playoffs. That run included a road sweep of Eastern Nazarene and a final-weekend win over Gordon that put them one game ahead of 7th-place RWU. Staff ace David Griffin (4-6, 2.29, 58 K in 59 IP) earned first-team all-CCC honors, with teammates Matt Fogarty (5-2, 2.89), Nick Crivello (.270, 6 2B), and John Arens (.347, 11 XBH, 18 RBI) also earning all-conference spots. In their opener, the Colonels will head west to rematch the 2009 CCC title game against top-seeded Western New England.
Thursday, April 5
#1 Western New England v. #6 Curry — 3 PM — Trelease Park, Springfield, MA
#3 Nichols v. #4 Salve Regina — 3 PM — Nichols Baseball Field, Dudley, MA
#2 Endicott v. #5 Gordon — North Field, Beverly, MA
The rest of the weekend
Yeah, don’t look at me.