Previewing the 2016 NAC Tournament

As in 2015, the Maine schools will make the long trek down to Castleton to contest the NAC title. The host Spartans swept to their second straight title a year ago, but three good teams will be itching to wrest that title away from them this time around. Tourney history, the pennant race, and capsules on all four competitors after the jump.

The History

Since the NAC got its autobid in 2008, Castleton and Husson have passed the title back and forth like a hot potato. For seven years’ running, the Vermonters won it in the even years, the Mainers in the odd years. That all changed last year, when Castleton won its second straight title. I was lucky enough to take in the title game, and saw the Spartans dogpile after a 14-2 win over Thomas. They’ll look to three-peat this time around.

Husson‘s most recent title came in 2013. That year, the Eagles swept their way to the title, beating the Spartans 4-2 in the title game. The tournament’s other two participants, Maine-Farmington and Thomas, come into the weekend looking for their first titles.

The Race

With a 21-game April win streak and a four-game sweep of Husson, Castleton had the regular-season title wrapped up entering the final week of play. With a gulf between 4th and 5th, the remaining tournament field of HussonMaine-Farmington, and Thomas was also decided entering the final weekend. The only matter left to settle was who would take the #2 seed down to Vermont with them. Husson and UMF entered the final week tied at 10-8, and they left it tied at 15-9 after both posting 5-1 weeks. Husson walked away with the higher seed and home-field advantage in Friday’s matchup by taking the season series, 3-1.

The Format

Very straightforward here, the top seed hosts a four-team double-elimination tournament.

The Teams

Top-seeded Castleton (29-10, 21-3 NAC) hosts the tournament for the fourth year running. After dropping the first game of a Florida tripleheader with Thomas on March 27, Ted Shipley’s team was just 6-8 and off to an 0-2 start in the NAC. Since then, they’ve been nearly unbeatable. The Spartans went on to take the last two games of that tripleheader, nearly knocked off #4 UW Whitewater two days later, then reeled off a 21-game winning streak. That run included sweeps over the 2nd- and 3rd-place teams in the league and a road win over #19 Amherst. In the end, they finished six games clear in the final NAC standings to take home yet another regular-season title. They also swept the major awards, a feat the conference hasn’t seen since Husson did the deed in 2011. Player of the Year Nick Swim (.426, 15 2B, 3 HR, 44 RBI, 12 SB), Pitcher of the Year Sam Spencer (6-2, 2.89, 6 CG), and Rookie of the Year Charles Stapleford (6-1, 1.93, 8.14 K/9) were joined by Zach Bahan (.431, 11 2B, 3 HR, 32 RBI) and Dan Errico (.350, 15 XBH, 38 RBI, 10 SB) on the first-team all-conference rolls. A title this weekend would mean a three-peat for the Spartans.

Second-seeded Husson (21-19, 15-9 NAC) enters the tournament on the back of their fourth-straight 20-win campaign. The Eagles beat WPI (x2), Bates, and Colby in the non-conference, and also earned the second seed by virtue of a series win over UMF. Jason Harvey’s club garnered three all-conference spots, with JT Whitten (.370, 11 2B, 21 RBI, 1 K in 127 AB) and Ryan Rebar (.323, 9 2B, 20 RBI) on the first team, and pitcher Ben Walls (6-1, 2.51, 6 BB in 46 2/3 IP) on the second. The 3.81 team ERA posted by Walls & co. was second-best in the NAC. A championship at Castleton this weekend would be the program’s first since 2013.

Third-seeded Maine-Farmington (23-14, 15-9 NAC) set a program wins record on the way to its third straight playoff berth. Their 15 NAC wins were also a record, and included three season sweeps. The club all took a game off of Saint Joe’s down in Florida, a win in which Dustin McCrossin went 4-6 with two doubles and four RBI. The Beavers were led by all-NAC honorees Sean Cabaniss (.353, 10 XBH, 17 RBI, 11 SB), Jordan Croteau (.341, 7 2B, 20 RBI), and Jimmy Neal (.299, 10 XBH, 16 RBI, 12 SB). Opening up with Husson this weekend, Chris Bessey’s team will be looking to make the program’s first NCAA trip with a tourney title this weekend.

Fourth-seeded Thomas (19-18, 13-11 NAC) returns to the tournament after making a run all the way to last year’s title game. The Terriers split regular-season sets with Castleton and UMF, and also won OOC games against NESCACers Bates and Colby. Junior Dominic Esposito (4-1, 2.02, 4 saves) appeared in three of those four split wins against fellow playoff teams, picking up two wins and a save in 10 2/3 scoreless. Four of his teammates joined him on the all-conference teams: first-teamers Nik Beeson (.403, 11 XBH, 25 RBI and 4-1, 2.33, 2 saves, 24:5 K/BB in 27 IP) and Anree Benitez (.321, 25 SB) and second-teamers Derek Kane (.339, 12 XBH, 20 RBI and 8.49 K/9 in 23 1/3) and Zach Mathieu (.311, 6 XBH, 12 RBI). Greg King’s club is in search of its first title this weekend.

The Matchups

(All games at Castleton’s Spartan Field.)

Friday, May 6

#1 Castleton v. #4 Thomas — 9:30 AM

#2 Husson v. #3 Maine-Farmington — 12:30 PM

0-1 game — 3:30 PM

Saturday, May 7

1-0 game — 1:30 PM

1-1 game — 4:30 PM

Sunday, May 8

Title round — 10:00 AM (game two as necessary)

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