As you may have seen on Twitter, I trekked down to southwest Virginia (where Quinnipiac, Hartford, and UConn were playing) and caught some great baseball this past weekend. Those teams might’ve preferred it if I stayed home (we’re 1-6 on the year with me in attendance), but thankfully, I couldn’t be everywhere, and New England’s strong start to 2016 continued. Central Connecticut headlined a slew of winning weekends in Division I, Franklin Pierce and Southern New Hampshire are off to matching 9-0 starts in D2, and NECC favorites Mitchell and Elms are off to perfect starts on their Florida trips. All that and more more after the jump.
So, now that everything’s cooled off a bit, let’s take a look at the selection committees’ work before we start getting excited for these regionals to kick off. I’ll discuss the at-large decisions, travel arrangements, and tournament format as a Q&A. If there are any questions/issues I don’t address that you’d like me to, let me know, and I’ll add to the post. None of what I say is an endorsement of the committee’s decisions, I’m just trying to explain them.
The GNAC Tournament. It’s like the Iowa Caucuses of New England college baseball. Every year, it’s our first glimpse of what the next few weeks of playoff baseball will bring. Coming off a strong 2014 that saw Saint Joseph’s win a pair of games in the NCAAs and Suffolk take the ECAC title, the conference faltered a bit early in the season, but it righted the ship, and an intriguing tournament field promises an exciting week of baseball. All the action will be within a short drive from Boston, Providence, Portland, or Manchester, and playoff college baseball brings an intensity that’s a lot of fun to watch.
It’s amazing what two weeks of nice April weather can do for conference standings. Since I wrote here last, we’ve gone from the early season to the thick of playoff races. Some schools in Division III are even opening up conference tournaments this week, and we’ll have our first NCAA Tournament ticket punched on Sunday in the GNAC. I’ll take a closer look at those tournaments and playoff races this week, but for now, here’s a look back at a great weekend of college baseball.
Boston College and Dartmouth had the biggest weeks in Division I, and some title contenders elsewhere kept on rolling. Quinnipiac, Holy Cross, and Bryant/Sacred Heart all finished the weekend atop their conference standings. In Division II, the Northeast Division’s three-headed monster of Franklin Pierce, Southern New Hampshire, and Stonehill combined to go 18-0 on the week, leaving a scramble for the fourth playoff spot in their wake. In Division III, heavy schedules stretched pitching staffs and made it difficult for teams to maintain consistency, but it was Rhode Island College’s turn in the spotlight of what’s been a wildly entertaining year in the Little East.
We’ve turned the calendar to April, and it feels like the conference standings are starting to settle out. We’re a couple weekends into league play in Division I, and New England teams sit atop the standings in the MAAC, NEC, and Patriot League. In Divisions II and III, some teams have gotten some separation in the early going. Franklin Pierce’s 27-2 start has powered it to a 7-1 divisional mark, and they swept one of their direct rivals this weekend. Every one of the Division III conferences has seen a team race off to a perfect start so far. Husson in the NAC (10-0), Endicott in the CCC (8-0), Saint Joseph’s in the GNAC (6-0), Mitchell (6-0) and Becker (5-0) in the NECC, MIT in the NEWMAC (5-0), Western Connecticut in the LEC (4-0), Amherst (3-0) and Wesleyan (3-0) in the NESCAC, and Salem State in the MASCAC (2-0). It’s still early, of course, but in all three divisions, New England teams have set the bar high for the rest of the teams in their conferences.
Finally, a full weekend of baseball. Yeah, there were some cancellations and even more cold, but more teams than not have gotten out on a field, and a lot more will follow in the week to come. With some consistent 40s on the horizon for much of New England, fields will hopefully start melting off and drying off for home games in a couple weeks. And till then, we get to enjoy some more Florida sunshine.
On the field, plenty of teams were still shaking off the winter this weekend, but also some really good results down south. In Division I, Harvard and UConn got marquee series wins. In Division II, the NE-10’s top guns held serve, and Franklin Pierce’s Mike Lundin threw a no-hitter. And in Division III, Mitchell got a big series sweep to open NECC play, and plenty of others started southern trips off on the right foot.
Division III explodes onto the scene this weekend, with more than half of New England’s teams in action. It’s a deep region, with many of last year’s playoff teams returning talent and other teams waiting in the wings. Most of them have scheduled like they mean business, as you’ll see below, and it’ll prep them for what looks to be another year of tightly contested playoff chases and exciting conference tournaments. Here’s a conference-by-conference rundown of this weekend’s games.