America East Conference Preview

No clear-cut favorite for AmEast in 2008


Feb. 11, 2008


 
 

By Eric Sorenson

Special to CSTV.com

 

ERIC SORENSON
Eric Sorenson is a regular contributor to CSTV.com, covering football, basketball & baseball.
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No conference seems to be as wide open year-in, year-out as the America East. And this year's race will be no different. There should be plenty of fireworks as the offenses will be good and the pitching, league-wide, will need to develop as the year goes on. It's anybody's ballgame, which means April and May will be fun to watch. If the pattern holds true, we'll see some new blood at the top of the standings again.

 

Favorite: No clear-cut favorite, it's a dog fight folks

Contenders: Binghamton, Albany, Maine, Stony Brook

Darkhorse: Vermont

 

Albany (29-29, 13-11)

 

The Good News:

The Danes were great coming off a year of many firsts, like winning the league title and playing in the NCAA Tournament. Pitching could be strong as two weekend starters and ace reliever Alexander Beaulieu (10 saves) return.

 

The Bad News:

Not much offense to count on. Six of top seven hitters are gone from an already light-hitting squad. Someone must step up for the missing John Naples, the best starter on the mound.

 

The Intangible:

Another one-year wonder?

 

The AmEast is notorious for flash-in-the-pan teams to come and go without much fanfare and the Great Danes appear to fit that mold. We'll see how the 2007 successes motivate them for more.

 

Schedule Note:

The Danes' first home game won't be until April 2nd.

 

Binghamton (28-19, 17-5)

 

The Good News:

Two-time AmEast Coach of the Year Tim Sinicki led BU to a school record for wins last season. Jeff Dennis (4-2, 2.62), Zach Groh (7-1, 3.28) and Khalid Afify (5-2, 4.00, 6 saves) could be the best set of arms in the Northeast.

 

The Bad News:

Departees Brendon Hitchcock and Matt Simek were (No. 1) the two best hitters, (No. 2) a solid 1B/2B combo and (No. 3) team leaders. The '07 squad was mostly senior-laden, meaning this team could struggle early as greenhorns get their feet wet.

 

The Intangible:

The Cooperstown touch.

 

En masse, the Bearcats went to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame in September before an exhibition game with Le Moyne. BU went on to beat the MAAC champions that day 8-6. Good omen?

 

Schedule Note:

Maine visits on the final weekend of the regular season (May 15-17) in a series that could decide the America East title.

 

Hartford (15-34, 9-14)

 

The Good News:

There were some positives to build on, including a 5-5 stretch in May and a Friday win at Oklahoma State - yes, over THAT Big 12 team. 3B Bill Perry (.327-4-25), INF/RHP Ben Sobocinski (.333/2.61ERA) and Weston Szymanski (6-5, 2.99) all have All-America East ability.

 

The Bad News:

Simply looking at the numbers is depressing, .with a 252 batting average and 6.06 team ERA. Szymanski was really the only consistently reliable starter. Other arms and lots of bats must emerge.

 

The Intangible:

Good summers.

 

Perry shined in the Cape Cod League despite starting out as merely a fill-in player before becoming a fixture in the lineup and Sobocinski made the New England Collegiate Baseball All-Star game.

 

Schedule Note:

Coach Jeff Calcaterra isn't looking for excuses, taking his team to Western Carolina, Duke, UNC-Asheville and Boston College in March.

 

Maine (22-31, 12-11)

 

The Good News:

C'mon, the Bears may be down, but you know they never are for long. Lots of firepower returns including Curt Smith (.351-8-48), Kevin McAvoy (.271-4-30) and C Myckie Lugbauer (.301-5-27) a trio of former Frosh All-Americans. They'll join the mercurial Billy Cather (.321, 17SBs) to make a lot of dents in the scoreboard.

 

The Bad News:

First losing season since 1998. Alejandro Balsinde (3-5, 4.40, 3 saves) is the only quality pitcher of note returning. Opponents .320 batting average is a big red flag as is Maine's lack of discipline at the dish (struck out 314 times). Yikes.

 

The Intangible:

Beware the Ides of March.

 

Maine went 1-17 during a 30-day stretch that covered most of last March, including a demoralizing three-game series at Arizona State by a combined 58-11. Then again, ASU isn't on the schedule this year, so improvement in play and demeanor will help.

 

Schedule Note:

Strangely, for a team that holds its first home game on April 4th, the Black Bears play nine straight road games to end the season. Even though, that's the warmest time of the year in Orono.

 

Stony Brook (31-24, 16-7)

 

The Good News:

Last year was SBU's first winning season since 2004. The Seawolves went 25-10 from April 1 until the AmEast tourney. Pitchers Jonathan Kalkau (7-0, 3.00) and Gary Novakowski (5-2, 4.14) lead a good staff. OF Brian Witkowski (.317, 22SBs) is a quintessential leadoff type.

 

The Bad News:

The Seawolves had a good season go bad in two quick AmEast Tournament losses. Team leader and top hitters Robert Leonard and Chris Sipp, along with key reliever Matt Lyons have graduated.

 

The Intangible:

When it's bad, it's bad.

 

Last year, when the Seawolves lost, they lost in grand style, as only seven of their L's were by two runs or less.

 

Schedule Note:

SBU's 16-game roadie to open the season includes daunting matchups at Charlotte and Virginia.

 

UMBC (13-40, 4-20)

 

The Good News:

Lots of good senior leaders return in 1B Will Delawter (.365-6-38), OF Joe Fowler (.271-8-24), SS Mark Lemon (.281), 3B Steve Russo (.275) and No. 1 starter Steve Evans (3-5, 4.66).

 

The Bad News:

As the Southernmost team in the conference, it just hasn't happened for the Retrievers. Their four-year win totals in the AmEast have been six, six, five and four and have never finished better than 7th place.

 

The Intangible:

Wink and a nod.

 

Incoming transfer Wink Nolan, a strong-armed outfielder with great speed, comes in from Maryland where he hit .258 but has potential to have a breakout year.

 

Schedule Note:

Unlike most AmEast compadres, UMBC will play 10 non-conference games at home before April.

 

Vermont (21-29, 10-13)

 

The Good News:

The Catamounts have won or tied three of the past five regular season titles. Team captains Joe Serafin (All-AmEast pitcher in '06, injured in '07) and Kyle Massie (.292, 12SBs) are solid team anchors.

 

The Bad News:

Despite all that regular season success, the Cats can't seem to get over the hump. This will be a young team with 14 newcomers that will have to gel quickly. They hit just .273 as a team with only nine home runs.

 

The Intangible:

Dual threat.

 

The Catamounts welcome back Kyle Henry (.298-5-28/4-8, 4.22) who should improve his dual-role numbers and be a difference-maker.

 

Schedule Note:

UVm's three-game set at New Mexico (March 28-30) is the farthest west the Catamounts have ever traveled.

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