Our first real Championship Weekend didn’t disappoint, with four more teams punching D3 Tournament tickets in some great games of baseball. We’ll have more on them up by Tuesday evening, but for now, it’s a recap of the D1 and D2 action that provided plenty of drama on its own. Read on for more.
Co-Team of the Week: It’s not often that a 1-0 week earns you Team of the Week honors, but when that win was your program’s biggest in 21 years, we’ll make an exception. With a 5-4 win over Dartmouth in Saturday Rolfe Division playoff game, Yale won its first division title since 1995, snapping the longest drought in the Ivy League. The Bulldogs’ road win over the Big Green gave them home-field for the playoff, and they made the most of it in a late comeback win. With things tied at 3 after 7, the visitors looked to take the upper hand on a Joe Purritano solo shot. In the bottom half, however, after Yale put two on with one out, a fielder’s choice brought in Richard Slenker to tie it, and Tim DeGraw singled in Harrison White for the go-ahead run. From there, Chasen Ford stranded a pair in scoring position in the 9th to close out the massive win. John Stuper’s club will head to Princeton next weekend in search of their first league title since 1994.
Co-Team of the Week: Just down the Gold Coast, Fairfield had a huge weekend of its own. The Stags’ excellent MAAC campaign, which has included a 10-game winning streak, meant they entered the weekend in a first-place tie with Canisius, the preseason favorites who’ve won two of the last three league titles. With the season winding down, a series win for either team would have massive ramifications for the final standings, and it was the Stags who came out on top. In the opener, Michael Conti’s two-run single helped provide an early cushion that stood up in a 5-3 win, but the visitors came back to take game two. In Sunday’s rubber match, Kyle Dube came through with six strong, and Kevin Radziewicz and Troy Scocca both drove in a pair to take the series with a 7-3 win. With two weekends to play, this puts Fairfield a game up on Canisius and percentage points ahead of Monmouth, where they’ll head for another massive series next weekend.
In other action, the NEC’s top two teams both picked up series wins. Bryant recovered from a game one loss to take three of four from LIU Brooklyn. In Sunday’s decisive doubleheader, they put up 36 runs in just 16 innings of play. That included a nine-homer onslaught in game one that saw nine-hitter Cole Fabio drive in five and go long twice. (By comparison, their opponents have hit five homers in a whole season’s worth of conference games.) Sacred Heart picked up a game on the Bulldogs with a four-game sweep of Mount St. Mary’s. The Pioneers’ pitching staff, which owns a sub-3.00 ERA in league play, was in typical form, allowing just five runs in the four wins. John Sostarich, James Cooksey, Nick Rubino, and Baylor Sundahl capped off the weekend with a combined shutout in Sunday’s 8-0 win.
Elsewhere, Boston College took a series win from Wake that’ll be crucial as they try to claw (talon?) their way into the ACC Tournament. Gabriel Hernandez scored the walkoff winner in a special 9-8 win on Saturday, when BC also retired Pete Frates’ number 3. In the A-10, Rhode Island moved percentage points clear in first after a three-game sweep of Dayton. Ryan Olmo’s walkoff double clinched the series in extras on Saturday. And finally, Northeastern got back above .500 in the CAA after a series win at Hofstra. Dustin Hunt struck out 10 in seven scoreless in a 4-1 rubber-game win on Sunday.
Co-Team of the Week: After suffering sweeps to both FPU and SNHU, Merrimack needed something from the final week of regular-season play to ensure a playoff spot. Nick Barese’s Warriors rose to the occasion, winning four close games to clinch a third-place finish. Senior catcher Pat Florence got the week going in the right foot with a walkoff squeeze that closed a 7-6 extra-inning win over Bentley. Two days later, they played another extra-inning game at Stonehill, with Ricky Smith’s pinch-hit homer clinching the game and a playoff spot in the 16th. From there, another late homer– this one from Matt Nicholson– keyed a 9th-inning comeback that won the series, and Zach Schindler’s outing in the finale (8 1/3, 4 H, R, 5 K) closed out the sweep. In this blogger’s humble opinion, it’s a week that should send them into the regional rankings, and it certainly provides some momentum headed into a first-round playoff game with SNHU.
Co-Team of the Week: The other big news of the week was Assumption’s late run to a playoff spot. The Greyhounds’ pair of wins in their 2-1 week were big ones, especially Tuesday’s 6-5 victory over Stonehill. Trailing 5-1 in the 9th in the game that would decide the season series, AC rallied all the way back to win. After loading the bases with no outs, single-walk-single-walk tied the game and brought up the top of the order. Two big strikeouts from conference saves leader Aubrey Solomon made it look like the Skyhawks might escape to extras, but Mike Coggeshall came through in the clutch, singling in Nick Massarelli for the win. With the tiebreaker in hand, Assumption went on to split with Bentley and clinch their first playoff berth since 2009.
(Rather than split hairs for Teams of the Week here, I’ll just take you through the title runs of all four D3 champions, as well as the final regular-season weekend in the Little East.)
We’ll start with the most dramatic. Suffolk won its second-straight GNAC championship with yet another extra-inning title-game win. The Rams, who came in as the #2 seed, started off the tournament with a 7-4 win over Lasell, Matt Brenner’s bases-loaded double breaking open a close game. Two days later, senior righty Kyle Turner put the defending champs in the driver’s seat with a complete-game shutout of Saint Joseph’s. The Monks came out of the loser’s bracket, setting up the teams’ eighth title-round meeting in the nine years since SJC joined the league. As usual, they didn’t disappoint. In the early game, SJC came back from 5-0 down to win 8-7 and force a decisive game seven, which turned into a fitting finale to an excellent tournament. The Monks struck first on a Taylor Reuillard solo shot, but Suffolk came back to lead 4-2 heading into the bottom of the ninth. There, however, SJC loaded the bases with one out, and after a Nic Lops sac fly and a clutch two-out single from Jameson Collins, the GNAC title headed to extras for the second year in a row. Unlike last year, Suffolk didn’t wait around till the 13th. After loading the bases in the 10th, pinch-hitter Greg Speliotis brought in the go-ahead run with a walk. In the bottom of the 10th, Del Prete called on Jake Frasca, a freshman second baseman who’s been one of the team’s better hitters, but had logged less than 10 innings on the mound. In the end, Frasca came through bigtime, stranding the tying run on second with a backwards K that clinched the title.
Up in Salem, Mike Ward’s Salem State club won a second-straight title of its own in the MASCAC, where Vikings second baseman Richie Fecteau had a weekend for the ages. Game by game, he went 3-3 with a double and two key runs scored in a one-run win over Westfield in the opener. Then another multi-hit, multi-run game in support of Matt Abrain’s three-hit shutout of Maritime in the winner’s bracket game. 5-5 with a double and a dinger in an extra-inning loss to open the title round. And in the decisive title game, 2-3 with two homers, three RBI, and three runs scored (that despite the opposition finally wising up and walking him three times). On the weekend, an .800 average, 1.533 slugging, two doubles, three home runs, four RBI, eight runs scored. If you can think of an adjective for that, please let me know immediately. Fecteau and his five classmates will be making the third NCAA appearance of their careers later this month, a feat no class of SSU seniors has ever pulled off before.
We saw more history made up in Vermont, where Castleton became the first three-peaters in NAC history. For the second straight year, the Spartans won in straight sets on home soil. In their opener, a rematch of last year’s title game Thomas, Dan Errico’s two-run jack put them up for good in the third, and Sam Spencer took care of things from there, striking out seven in eight strong for a 5-3 win. The following afternoon, it was back out to Spartan Field for a meeting with historic nemesis Husson. The visiting Eagles looked to be in the driver’s seat after six, holding a 5-2 lead with nine outs to get. The Spartans mounted a comeback, however, with Zach Bahan’s two-run double slashing the lead in the 7th, and Deagan Poland (5-7 on the day) tying things up with an RBI single in the 8th. After that, the Spartans’ Michael LaBeau and Eagles’ Ben Holmes threw up zeroes into the 12th, when another Errico long ball broke the tie for good. In Sunday’s title game, Castleton came from behind once again. After trailing 4-0 at the halfway mark, Jim Buckley’s leadoff homer sparked a five-run 6th, and LaBeau would trot back out for his third save in as many days to win the title. (Watch the dogpile here.) That’s three titles in a row, and six in the last nine years, for Ted Shipley’s ballclub.
Our fourth and final ticket was punched by Wheaton, who will return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013. A two-year layoff may seem like nothing to most, but for a team that had been to 13 of 14 before that, it’ll have felt like an eternity. As we’ve come to expect over the years, Eric Podbelski’s club returned to the top of the NEWMAC with excellent pitching. A run scored on a wild pitch was all the Lyons could manage off of Teddy Carey in game one, but it was enough, as Mikey Bruemmel went eight scoreless, and Eric Dumas closed things out for save #13. In the clincher, Joshua Lajoie’s 4-4 day and Matt Lavanchy’s two RBI helped the offense to put up five, which was, once again, plenty for the men on the mound. Brady Furdon gave up just one in seven, and Michael Baryski’s two perfect relief frames closed out the championship. Cue the dogpile.
Elsewhere, the Little East wrapped up its regular season, with UMass Boston ensuring their first year at Monan Park would be a special one by clinching the top playoff seed for the first time. Holding the tiebreaker after sweeping the season set with USM, the Beacons’ fate was in their own destiny, and they took care of business against RIC. In game one, Anthony Searles’ walk-off HBP clinched the program’s first 25-win season since the 2010 CWS team. In the back end, homers from Dave Murphy and Dan Mantoni supported JT Morin’s seven shutout in an 8-1 win that sealed hosting rights.
USM’s sweep of Eastern assured it of the #2 seed, and UMD’s 8-6 mark was enough for the #3. After that, Plymouth, ECSU, and WCSU all finished at 7-7, and the tiebreakers will match up Plymouth with UMD as the #4, Eastern with USM as the #5, and Western with UMB as the #6. The hosts will get things started tomorrow afternoon at 12.