Northeast Conference Preview

NEC remains wide open in 2008 with Monmouth the favorite



 
 

Feb. 18, 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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How wide open is this conference? Last year's top two teams were the first two to be eliminated in the post-season tournament. That's what makes the NEC one of the better tournaments to watch in college baseball year-in, year-out. That pretty much explains the regular season grind as well, since there were co-champions last season. However, if there was one thing that I could change about this conference, it would be the penchant for overly rigorous pre-conference schedules. There are more sacrificial lambs here than a wool factory.

 

Favorite: Monmouth

Contenders: Quinnipiac, Central Connecticut State

Darkhorse: Wagner

 

Central Connecticut State (26-26, 14-14)

 

The Good News:

The Devils had the best pitching staff (4.22ERA) and best fielding team (.968) in the NEC last year. Vets like John Tessyman (6-4, 2.79, just 7BBs), Matt Gianini (3-6, 3.00, 7CGs) and Ken Kerski (7-2, 3.36) lead a capable corps. OF Kyle Zarotney (.397-4-18) should rake like a mother if healthy.

 

The Bad News:

CCSU hasn't had a winning record in NEC play since 2004. Gone is staff ace Evan Scribner, who not only was a Friday starter but also saved seven games last year. The offense has to do better than its .277 average.

 

The Intangible:

Go ahead, name me a coach that doesn't like a lot of seniors.

 

OFs Jay Schillaci (.344), Jak Kidd (.280-5-39) and 3B Garrett Walker (.306), all seniors, will be counted on to lead after the best pitcher, catcher and both middle infielders left campus.

 

Schedule Note:

The Blue Devils will get both top contenders, Quinnipiac and Monmouth, at home this year.

 

Fairleigh Dickinson (9-45, 4-23)

 

The Good News:

Three .300+ hitters should be back, with Jeff Vincent (.335, 13SBs), Zach Sand (.308) and John Paganotti (.307) still bangin' it. John O'Hara (3-6, 4.59, 3CGs) gives FDU a chance for a win every time out.

 

The Bad News:

This sport is just not emphasized at FDU, as 15 is the highest win total in the new millennium. Two rare FDU All-NEC performers, OF Chris Grabowski and UTL Vincente Medina, used up their eligibility.

 

The Intangible:

Experience should mean better results, right?

 

A full 30 of last year's 35 players return for 2008. So things can only get better... or at least it should.

 

Schedule Note:

Though it won't be easy, FDU players will get to travel to Saint Mary's and San Francisco for four games against each in mid-March. It will at least be a memorable trip for the student-athletes.

 

Long Island (16-35, 10-17)

 

The Good News:

Now in his third year, coach Don Maines seems to be slowly turning things around at LIU. 1B/P James Jones (.299-4-32/2-6, 7.25) didn't make Collegiate Baseball's Freshman All American team, but probably should've. OF Frank DiMasi (.323, 11SBs) will help give the offense a jolt.

 

The Bad News:

30 of the 51 starts on the mound are gone, including ace Mike Maynard. Leading bat Orlando Cruz was the heart and soul of this team. Three of the four .300+ hitters are gone.

 

The Intangible:

Momentum. Learn from your momentum.

 

Though not a great year, the Blackbirds DID manage to go 7-1 down the stretch in the NEC, including a stunning four-game sweep of CCSU to close the season. Can they keep that kind of intensity up all year? (Just think of the Ws that will come your way guys.)

 

Schedule Note:

Unlike most of the teams here, the Blackbirds will have a lot of winnable games early on that should bolster some confidence for NEC play.

 

Monmouth (36-24, 17-10)

 

The Good News:

After school record 36 wins, this team is loaded for 2008. Gotta love the Brach-N-Buch combo: Brad Brach (9-3, 2.89) is the best pitcher in the NEC and will form a solid duo with Ryan Buch (9-2, 2.44, Freshman All American). Meanwhile, SS Kyle Higgins (.344) and 1B Andy Meyers (395-9-65) are post-season vets.

 

The Bad News:

Not a lot of bad news, as most of the impact players should return for '08. If you want to knit-pick, the Mountain Hawks were expected to win the NEC, but finished in third place in the regular season. There. There's some bad news.

 

The Intangible:

When the game is on the line...

 

Give the 'pen some props. MU outscored their opponents by an incredible 47 runs in innings 7-through-9. In large part because of relievers Matt Frazier (3-1, 4.87) and Justin Esposito (3-1, 2.01, 10svs).

 

Schedule Note:

Well the Hawks will find out right away if they're still worth their salt, as they open the season at East Carolina and at UCF, on back-to-back weekends.

 

Mount St. Mary's (35-22, 21-7)

 

The Good News:

Lots of studs here. Ryan Murray (.385-10-31) and Josh Vittek (.275-12-44) are serious dish-bashers and Andrew Germuth (8-5, 4.59) and Mike Matta (4-3, 2.37, 8svs, Frosh All American) will toe the rubber with confidence.

 

The Bad News:

The Mountaineers went just 3-7 vs. Monmouth and Quinnipiac last year, including going 0-2 in the NEC tourney against them. Ace Dustin Pease was one of the best hurlers in school history. The 'Neers will have to travel to Monmouth and to Quinnipiac in May.

 

The Intangible:

Schoolhouse Rock tells us that three is a magic number.

 

How 'bout this for consistency? The Mount was third in the NEC in hitting (.290), pitching (4.47 ERA) and fielding (.964). And while we're at it, Ryan Murray finished third in the NEC in batting average as well.

 

Schedule Note:

Unlike most teams in the NEC, the Mount has scheduled 13 home games in March. 

 

Quinnipiac (29-18-1, 21-7)

 

The Good News:

RHP Andy Mayer (8-2, 3.20, 4CGs) had a breakout season in '07 and will team with LHP Chris Gloor (4-2, 4.22), who was named the top prospect in the Coastal Plains League, and reliever Tyler Brett (4-3, 2.54, 3svs) to pace a strong staff. Strapping 1B Pete Kummerfeldt (.292-12-35) is the lone stick returning.

 

The Bad News:

The 'Cats lost lots of seniors off the '07 team. Tim Binkowski was QU's first Division I All-American in program history. He, Randy Gress and Patrick Egan are now in pro ball. Most of the fielders need to be replaced, so we're basically talking about a whole new team here.

 

The Intangible:

Almost thirtysomething.

 

QU won a school record 29 games last season as they pulled out their second regular season title in three years. Next goal? Get 30 wins... or more.

 

Schedule Note:

A tough slate (North Carolina State, Michigan State, Duke, East Carolina), and fielding inexperience, will probably make for an ugly won-loss mark. But by NEC play, the Bobcats should be ready to rip.

 

Sacred Heart (22-31, 12-15)

 

The Good News:

Seniors like 1B Jeff Hanson (.376-7-46), OF Jovan Rodriquez (.307, 16SBs), P Chris Barthel (2-0, 6.25, 3svs) and Vermont transfer C Jeff Heppner (.280 in 22 starts in '06) should still be around to help ease Coach Nick Giaquinto's rebuilding project.

 

The Bad News:

Heart and soul/3-time All NEC P Jay Monti won't be there for an instant W anymore. New arms must step up as all three weekend starters need to be replaced.

 

The Intangible:

Putting the "mental" in fundamentals.

 

Sacred Heart went 8-9 in one-and-two run games last season. Big reason? Opponents scored 88 unearned runs, thanks largely to a .949 fielding percentage, 42 wild pitches and 56 plunked batters.

 

Schedule Note:

"Masochist love" is the only way I can describe the pre-NEC slate. Traveling to play at UTSA, Houston, Stephen F. Austin, St. John's and Tulane will mean taking some early lumps.

 

Wagner (17-34, 11-17)

 

The Good News:

Well the pitching wasn't top-notch in '07 (6th in the NEC) but it will be experienced with four of five starters back. LHP Joe Testa (4-6, 3.01) is the ace and has righties Kyle Morrison (2-6, 5.84) and A.J. Pirozzi (2-6, 7.69) for support.

 

The Bad News:

Not a single Seahawk on the roster hit .300+ last year. But 1B Vin Avella (.265-7-22), OF Kevin McDonnell (.278) and OF Damian Csakai (.297, 21-for-21SBs) will improve as sophs. Double-play combo of Joe DiGeronimo and Peter Delleani will be missed.

 

The Intangible:

That New York Italian/Hispanic influence.

 

Sure it doesn't mean a hill of beans on the field, but I found it interesting that school President Richard Guarasci, Athletic Director Walter Hamline and baseball coach Joe Litterio help sponsor a baseball team that has 13 players whose last name ends in a vowel.

 

Schedule Note:

This is a popular refrain... but GAH! that schedule! FIU? UCF? Winthrop? Rutgers? Let's hope that by April this team is still in one piece, mentally.

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