Previewing the 2016 D3 Tournament

Weekends like this are why I write. Nine New England baseball teams, who’ve had great seasons just to get this far, are one good weekend away from a trip to the College World Series. There’s just nothing else like it. We’ll take a look at the paths all nine of them have taken after the jump.

Mid-Atlantic Regional — PNC Park, Moosic, PA

#5 UMass Boston — After the high of going all the way to the Division III College World Series in 2010, UMass Boston suffered through four straight losing seasons. This year’s well-deserved at-large bid marks the end of a huge turnaround. Since recovering from a three-game losing skid at the start of 2015, they’ve played .660 baseball and opened one of the best D3 facilities in the country. Since the second week of April this year, they’ve been the best team in New England, going 18-3 and notching three wins over regional powers Southern Maine in the process. They hosted the conference tournament after wresting the top seed away from the Huskies, and knocked out the three-time defending league champions out of the tournament while they were at it. Freshmen Ryan Olivo (.375, 7 2B, 20 RBI) and Kyle Boudrias (.352, 27 RBI) led the club in hitting, junior Dave Murphy (.325, 19 2B, 9 HR, 46 RBI) put up some of the best power numbers in the league, and his classmates Dan Mantoni (.303, 6 HR, 27 RBI) and Anthony Searles (.252, 6 HR, 35 RBI) slugged six homers apiece. On the hill, Fernando Burgos (4-2, 1.33) beat USM twice, Manny Garcia (3-1, 3.73) shared the league lead with seven saves, and JT Morin (5-0, 3.79) struck out almost 10 batters per nine in the rotation. They’ll lead the club into an opening-round matchup with Centennial Conference champions Haverford. Regardless of whether they go two-and-cue or win the regional, with just six juniors and seniors on the roster, the future looks very bright for Brendan Eygabroat’s program.

#7 Salve ReginaSalve Regina last qualified for the NCAA Tournament in 2005, thanks in large part to senior captain and All-American outfielder Eric Cirella. He’s now the head coach, and his Seahawks return to the NCAAs thanks to New England’s most impressive title run. After losing a second-round game to Endicott, Salve battled through the weather and a strong field to come all the way back to the title round, where they beat the Gulls twice in Beverly. In the decisive game, freshmen Zack Smith and Tristan Dacey both provided RBI, and sophomores Billy Humes and Dylan Jepsen combined to allow just an unearned run on four hits in a gutsy 2-1 win. Smith (.422, 15 2B, 43 RBI) and Dacey (.346, 9 2B, 7 HR, 40 RBI) were joined by Alex Perry (.381, 19 2B, 45 RBI) and Ryan Kelly (.335, 9 2B, 6 3B, 4 HR, 34 RBI, 22 SB) on the all-CCC first-team. Teammates Cory Poplawski, Sean Healy, Christian Vargas, John Militano, and Colton Eremian also earned all-CCC honors. On Wednesday, they’ll play the late game against second-seeded St. John Fisher to open up regional play.

New York Regional — Falcon Park, Auburn, NY

#6 Castleton — Over the past three years, Ted Shipley’s Castleton team has averaged better than 30 wins a season and made three straight NCAA Tournament trips. The Spartans were just 8-9 when they left Florida, but have been near-unbeatable since, going 24-1 and sweeping their way to another NAC title. Junior righty Michael LaBeau saved all three of the club’s wins to clinch yet another dogpile on home soil. The Spartans swept the NAC’s major awards. Player of the Year Nick Swim (.419, 16 2B, 3 HR, 45 RBI, 12 SB), Pitcher of the Year Sam Spencer (7-2, 2.81, 6 CG), and Rookie of the Year Charles Stapleford (6-1, 2.63, 8.06 K/9) were joined by Zach Bahan (.317, 12 2B, 3 HR, 34 RBI) and Dan Errico (.330, 17 XBH, 43 RBI, 10 SB) on the all-conference first-team. On the rest of the roster, regulars Dillon Benham (.372, 5 2B, 18 RBI), Jim Buckley (.340, 8 2B, 35 RBI), Deagan Poland (.326, 5 2B, 10 SB), and Taylor Vile (.309, 6 2B, 23 RBI, 14 SB) all hit over .300, and the junior trio of Steven Jurkiewicz (6-2, 3.05), Devin Hayes (4-2, 3.11), and Luke Salerno (5-0, 2.63) put in excellent shifts in the rotation. As a reward, the Spartans get to face regional hosts, national #1, and defending D3 titlists Cortland State in Thursday’s opener in New York.

New England Regional — Eastern Baseball Stadium, Willimantic, CT

#1 Wheaton — For most programs, missing two straight NCAA Tournaments is nothing. But for Wheaton, who’d made 12 of 13 from 2000-2013, it probably felt like a lifetime. After a run to the NEWMAC title, the Lyons are back in the tournament and back on top of the New England Regional. They dropped their NEWMAC Tournament opener to WPI, but haven’t looked back since. They game back to beat the Engineers in extras in game two, won the next day to take the semi, and swept Babson in the finals. That tournament title and their 30-win resume earned Eric Podbelski’s club its first regional top seed since the 2012 College World Series team. Conference Pitcher of the Year and national saves leader Eric Dumas (0.44 ERA, 13 saves) led the club’s four-man all-conference contingent. He was joined by Jimmy Smith (.329, 10 XBH, 20 RBI, 28 SB), Justin Silvestro (.335, 14 2B, 5 HR, 34 RBI), and Dan Southerland (7-1, 2.56, 37:8 K/BB). The Lyons, who beat first-round opponents Salem State 13-10 back in March, will look to make the program’s third CWS appearance this weekend.

#3 Tufts — Tufts, proud owners of the region’s best winning percentage, qualified for their fourth NCAA Tournament since 2010 by winning the NESCAC. Their dominant 11-1 run through East Division play handed them the top seed in Nashua, and after edging Amherst 5-4 in game one, they beat Wesleyan and Trinity to take home the championship. Senior shortstop Matt Moser homered and drove in three in the opener, then homered again in the Jumbos’ 18-6 win in the title game. John Casey’s NESCAC-best pitching staff will lead the club into regionals. Speros Verinos (2.31), Andrew David (2.38) and Tim Superko (3.57) combined to go 15-1 in the rotation this year, and Ian Kinney was 3-0 with three saves and a 2.40 out of the pen. Offensively, Moser (.316, 4 HR, 13 2B, 38 RBI) and Tommy O’Hara (.336, 4 HR, 45 RBI) provide pop, and Harry Brown was near the top of the NESCAC in average (.420) and steals (14). The Jumbos, who made their deepest NCAA run the last time regionals came to Williamantic in 2010, will open up with NECC champions Mitchell on Wednesday.

#5 Suffolk — Last year, Suffolk overcame a lackluster regular-season to make regionals as an #8 seed after winning the GNAC. This year, they’re one of the top teams in the field. The Rams, playing in back-to-back NCAA Tournaments for the first time ever, played .750 baseball and notched seven regionally ranked wins in 2016. They came out on top after this season’s most riveting Championship Sunday, falling 8-7 to St. Joe’s in the early game before coming back to beat them 5-4 in extras in a decisive game seven. Tournament MVP Brady Chant (.365, 10 2B, 9 3B, 34 RBI, 21 SB), who hit .588 with five XBH over the weekend, was part of the club’s five-man first-team all-GNAC contingent. Pitcher of the Year Worth Walrod (5-2, 2.72, 8.15 K/9), Rookie of the Year Jake Frasca (.304, 14 2B, 7 HR, 38 RBI), and first-teamers Drew Carter (.403, 12 2B, 31 RBI), Jon Lapolla (.345, 10 2B, 36 RBI, 16 SB), and Kevin Belskie (.457, 9 2B, 24 RBI) also earned top honors. The Rams will get out-of-region Keystone in the early game on Wednesday.

#6 Mitchell — What feels like ages ago, Mitchell punched New England’s first tourney ticket by slugging their way to an NECC three-peat and a third straight NCAA trip. Tournament MVP Tyler Pina, who hit .563 with three XBH, eight runs, and six RBI over the course of the weekend, helped Travis Beausoleil’s team put up 45 runs in three games en route to the title. The junior (.390, 12 2B, 26 RBI) was a part of the Mariners’ six-man all-NECC contingent. Fellow upperclassmen Al Jordan Johnson (7-0, 2.51, 10.05 K/9, 64:18 K/BB) and Chandler Whitney (.396, 28 RBI) joined him on the first-team, with Kyle Hartenstein (.375, 8 2B, 4 3B, 24 RBI), Francis Prettitore (.361, 27 RBI), and Axel DeJesus (5-2, 2.76, 33:8 K/BB) earning all-league honors as well. If you caught this paragraph from an earlier post, you won’t be at all surprised if the Mariners upset #3 Tufts in the first round. And don’t look now, but with Eastern Connecticut at #7, the Mariners might rematch 2014’s 8-beats-1 upset in the second round.

#7 Eastern Connecticut — After ending the regular season on a six-game skid, Eastern Connecticut didn’t look likely to win the Little East and advance to their New England-record 34th NCAA Tournament. But clearly, that losing streak just made the Warriors angry. Eastern knocked off three-time defending champions Southern Maine in their opener and put up better than 10 runs a game over the course of the tournament to win their ninth title. For a team coached by Matt LaBranche, it shouldn’t come as much surprise: in his teams’ last 11 conference tournaments, they’ve never missed the title round and have won it all nine times. Freshman Alex Parkos played out of his skull from start to finish. I mean, the guy could have won MVP honors just with his line from the title game (5-5, 2 2B, 2 HR, 3 R, 7 RBI). For the weekend, he finished at .550 with four doubles, four homers, and 12 RBI. Translation: watch the *&%# out Oswego. All-conference first-teamers Tim Budd (.275, 9 2B, 23 RBI, 43% CS pct. behind the dish) and Alex Zachary (.377, 12 2B, 9 HR, 36 RBI, 11 SB) will join him in the lineup this weekend, while John Parker (4-3, 2.77) and Jordan Muchin (5-1, 3.24, 46:9 K:BB) will anchor the pitching staff. Playing in a home regional for the 18th time, the Warriors will look to make the 11th College World Series run in their program’s illustrious history.

#8 Salem State — MASCAC regular season and tournament champions Salem State check in as a very strong eight seed. Mike Ward’s team had hovered around .500 for much of the year after taking their knocks against a brutal non-conference slate, but turned on the afterburners in a 10-2 stretch run that ended with their third MASCAC title in the last four years. Senior co-captain Richie Fecteau had an unreal weekend, hitting .800 with three homers en route to MVP and National Player of the Week honors. Fecteau (.412, 12 2B, 6 HR, 27 RBI, 14 SB) also earned first-team all-MASCAC honors along with four teammates: Pitcher of the Year Sean Buckland (8-0, 2.63, 6 CG), Jose Cedano (.346, 8 2B, 17 RBI), Dan Connors (.354, 7 2B, 28 RBI), and Mike Davis (.323, 18 2B, 10 HR, 30 RBI, 10 SB). They’ll open with top-seeded Wheaton this weekend, and will look to build on last year’s 3rd-place finish in Harwich.

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