Previewing the 2016 Northeast-10 Tournament

It’s been three years since the Northeast-10 was represented at the Division II College World Series, and this year’s conference tournament will be the appetizer for the battle to get back there in two weeks’ time. Will Franklin Pierce or Southern New Hampshire take home a title and beef up their NCAA hosting resume in the process? Or will another team make a run to claim the league’s autobid? Read on for more about all four NECB teams competing.

The History

Historically, New England has done extremely well in the Northeast-10 Tournament. NECB clubs make up about two-thirds of the league, but have won it at an even higher clip. In 32 tries, only Adelphi in 2011 and Le Moyne in 2012 have deprived us of the title. The New Yorkers have had the best of the Southwest Division this year, and will send at least one representative to the latter stages of the tourney.

Franklin Pierce has won five tournament titles, a record among current members. Only Springfield and UMass Lowell, who’ve since moved on from the league, have matched that number. All of that success has come during Jayson King’s years at the helm. The first four titles came between 2005 and 2009, when the Ravens also made three CWS runs. The most recent came last season, when a five-run 7th and Brendan O’Rourke’s two scoreless relief innings powered a 7-6 title game win over Stonehill.

Merrimack, with three titles, is historically the second most successful team in this year’s field. The Warriors will be looking to win their first championship since back-to-back titles in 1995 and 1996. The closest they’ve come since was in 2013, when the likes of Casey Cotter, Joe Carnevale, and Alek Morency led them to an appearance in the championship game.

Assumption and Southern New Hampshire have both won a title apiece. The Greyhounds’ came back in 1987, while the Penmen won it all on their home field in 2014. That year, RBIs from Tyler Fortanascio and Anthony Aceto were all Cole Warren needed to win the title game with eight shutout innings.

The Race

In the Northeast, Franklin Pierce beat out Southern New Hampshire for the top seed by virtue of their win in the teams’ regular-season series. After splitting the first two games, it came down to a Wednesday night face-off in Manchester. As fate would have it, Collegiate Baseball had voted them 1-2 in the country for that week. It was #2 FPU who triumphed, solo shots from Max DiTondo and Chris LaVorgna providing all the support Paul Covelle would need in a complete-game win.

The race for the last two spots was arguably the best playoff chase in NECB this year. Merrimack and Stonehill looked to have the inside track, but Assumption‘s late surge put both of their spots in play heading into the final week. Assumption got a big midweek win over Stonehill, scoring five in the 9th to beat the Skyhawks. The Greyhounds then split with Bentley to get in the clubhouse at 10-11, and needed Merrimack to take a road series from Stonehill. The Warriors obliged, clinching the #3 seed in the process and taking the series with a 9th-inning comeback of their own. Assumption checked in as the #4.

In the Southwest, Southern Connecticut was the only club with playoff hopes entering the final weekend, but a series loss to Le Moyne left them out of the field.

The Format

Eight of the conference’s 15 teams (the top 4 in each division) make the playoffs. Intra-divisional 1v4 and 2v3 play-in games decide who moves on to the weekend, which will be hosted by the highest remaining Northeast seed this year. There, the final four will play a double-elimination tournament to decide the champion.

The Teams

Northeast Division

Top-seeded Franklin Pierce (44-4, 20-1 Northeast) enters the tournament as Collegiate Baseball #1 and winners of 92 of their last 100 games going back to the start of 2015. The Ravens’ play over the last two seasons has been nothing short of remarkable, and they’ll look to win a second-straight NE-10 title this week. Jayson King’s pitching staff, in particular, has been spectacular. During a 44-win regular season, the staff posted a 2.20 ERA. The rotation of Anthony Matarazzo (1.49), John Amendola (2.15), and Paul Covelle (2.27) each logged 70+ innings and went a combined 24-2 on the year. Conference ERA leader Tanner Bird (0.53) has logged three saves and struck out 10 per nine in 51 1/3 relief innings. The veteran lineup, whose .303 collective average is second-best in the league, has been excellent, as well. Defending East Region and Northeast-10 Player of the Year Jay Jabs (.380/.486/.676, 11 2B, 12 HR, 57 RBI) has once again led the way, and fellow regulars Justin Brock (.351), Chris LaVorgna (.322), Max DiTonda (.309), and Matt Burns (.305) have all hit over .300 as well. FPU also boasts eight double-digit basestealers, led by Brock’s 46 and Maxx Sheehan’s 33. A run to the finals this weekend would be a league-record 10th, and a championship would be a league-record sixth for FPU.

Second-seeded Southern New Hampshire (41-5, 24-3 Northeast) comes in at #4 in the Collegiate Baseball poll, fresh off their third 40-win campaign in the past five years. Win #40 came on May 1 over Stonehill, nearly three weeks earlier than the 2012 College World Series team got their own win #40. Scott Loiseau’s Penmen have the league’s best offense, hitting .309 as a group. They’ve put up double-digit runs in 20 of their 41 wins this season, including the last five in a row. They’ve been led by triples machine Mike Mastroberti (.360, 12 3B, 30 XBH, 52 RBI), leading average guys Manny Cruz (.376, 13 2B, .486 OBP) and Carson Helms (.375, 16 2B, 7 HR, 41 RBI), and long-ball threats Ryan Gendron (.268, 11 HR, 42 RBI, 24 SB) and Derek Bauer (.292, 9 HR, 56 RBI). On the mound, Tim Viehoff (8-1, 2.12) and Justin Valdespina (8-3, 2.65) are striking out better than 10 per nine, Alex Person (8-0, 2.97) and Ben Criscuolo (8-0, 3.02) both sport perfect records, and closer Jake Walkinshaw (1.88, 33:5 K/BB) has eight saves. A league title would be this group’s second, and would also set them up for a run at the program’s second regional title.

Third-seeded Merrimack (29-17, 13-8 Northeast) returned to the playoffs for a second-straight year after losing just two divisional games outside the FPU and SNHU series. For reasons surpassing my comprehension, they were left out of the initial regional rankings, something that a final-weekend road sweep of regional #6 Stonehill should help to rectify. Nick Barese’s team boasts the NE-10’s third best offense. Regulars Bobby Losanno (.351), Matt Brown (.333), Tyler Lyne (.326), Cam DiSarcina (.320), and Matt Ronai (.301) have all hit north of .300, and Matt Nicholson has slugged a team-leading six home runs. Pitching-wise, Merrimack was fourth-best in the division. Perry Kulaga (5-2, 3.40) no-hit Assumption, PJ Browne (6-4, 4.81) struck out better than 10 per nine, and Kulaga and Zach Schindler (6-2, 3.72) both posted four divisional wins. Closer Nate Spielvogel was among the league leaders with five saves. A win over SNHU in Tuesday’s play-in game would mean the Warriors’ first 30-win season since 2013, and would also be massive for their hopes of securing an at-large bid should they not go on to win the whole thing.

Fourth-seeded Assumption (19-24, 10-11 Northeast) returns to the playoffs for the first time since 2009. The Greyhounds have shown a penchant for fighting back from tough spots this season. After a 1-7 start, they won four of their last five in Florida and five of their first six in the division back north. After losing eight division games in a row in mid-April, they swept Saint Anselm to vault back into the playoff race. Down 5-1 in the 9th in a crucial final-week matchup with Stonehill, they scored five to come all the way back and win. They finished with a 10-win divisional campaign and a playoff berth. All that while playing only six true home games in the toughest division in the East Region. Not too shabby at all from third-year head coach Mike Rocco’s club. Offensively, they’ve been led by top hitter Andrew Jaehnig (.342, 12 2B, 5 HR, 31 RBI) and home-run leader Mike Coggeshall (.294, 9 HR, 40 RBI). Sophomore Mike Curtis (4-3, 2.96) has led the pitching staff, and he and classmate Tom Horstkotte both posted three divisional wins. They’ll play FPU under the lights on Tuesday night.


Southwest Division

The four New York schools took the Southwest playoff spots this year. The first-round matchups are #1 Adelphi v. #4 Saint Rose and #2 Pace v. #3 Le Moyne. The two winners there will move on to the weekend.

The Matchups

Tuesday, May 10

NE #1 Franklin Pierce v. NE #4 Assumption — 6 PM — Pappas Field, Rindge, NH

NE #2 Southern New Hampshire v. NE #3 Merrimack — 6 PM — Penmen Field, Manchester, NH

Southwest Division Play-ins

Thursday-Saturday, May 12-14

Final rounds — Home field of highest remaining NE seed

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