By CHASE GORSKI
Featured photo: The SU bench looks out at the diamond during the CAC Championship Series. May 12. Emma Reider photo
The No. 10 ranked Salisbury University baseball team is in familiar territory this postseason heading to regionals for the 19th straight season and 24th overall in program history.
After winning the team’s third straight Capital Athletic Conference title (CAC) just last weekend, SU booked their ticket to regionals once more. The only question that remained was where the Gulls would be heading.
Once the at-large bids were decided upon and the brackets announced, SU learned it will travel to Auburn as the first team from the South region to play in the New York region. This is also the first time in the program’s regional history that it will head north to Upstate New York.
As has happened in Division III throughout the years, teams find themselves traveling to different regions as the NCAA tries to spread conferences out. Before this season SU had only found themselves outside of the South region three times, each of those coming within the past four years.
The Sea Gulls will fly into Auburn ranked as the two-seed in the regional and join seven other teams for the double-elimination regional starting on Thursday. Awaiting Salisbury are five conference champions and two teams that received at-large bids, one of which is a familiar face for SU.
No. 7 seed: St. Joseph’s College – Long Island (26-16)
The Skyline Conference-champion Golden Eagles are one of two teams from the New York region that will be playing in Auburn later this week. Most importantly, they are the team that SU will open up against on Thursday at 7:45 p.m.
SJC Long Island is making their third appearance in the NCAA Tournament in program history, the last time being in 2016. After being upset in the Skyline Conference tournament last season as the top seed, the Golden Eagles got their revenge.
Ending the season on a 13-2 run, which included an 11-game win streak, SJC Long Island averaged over eight runs per game and is playing some of their best baseball. While their strength of schedule was not overly impressive, the Golden Eagles did split their double-header with Oswego State earlier in the season.
A team that could prove to be problematic with a balanced offense including six different hitters with over 20 runs scored, the Golden Eagles will rely on some of their consistent bats to stay hot. Junior Paul Britt has been the player who has headed the charge this season as the leader in runs, RBIs, home runs and more.
A surrounding cast including sophomore Tyler Sanderson, junior Anthony Raucci and senior Matthew Burnett help to provide a well-balanced offense with some speed on the bases as well.
The Golden Eagles also sport a 4.38 team ERA with a plethora of upperclassmen talent leading the way. Juniors Joseph Murphy, Anthony Papa, Nick Mannarino and Anthony Caminiti each have an ERA below 2.60 and are responsible for 151 innings pitched, giving the rotation a solid amount of depth. Another name to keep an eye on would be senior Nick Clemente, who is the innings pitched leader with over 54 with a 3.62 ERA.
A team that looks for starting pitching to keep games close while manufacturing runs, the Golden Eagles will look to make the most out of their first regional game against SU.
No. 3 seed: The University of Southern Maine (27-13)
The Huskies come into the New York region for their 24th NCAA tournament appearance on an at-large bid after being eliminated from the Little East Conference tournament with two early losses.
The No. 24 team in the country escaped their tough conference and non-conference schedule that featured TCNJ, Rowan, Oswego and Babson (all of which are in the tournament as well).
Southern Maine is one of the two options that the Sea Gulls could potentially face in the second round depending on the results of SU’s first game and the Huskies game against sixth-seeded Amherst on Thursday.
The Huskies head to Auburn with a top-heavy pitching staff led by sophomore Gage Feeney with a team ERA of 3.82. Behind Feeney sit two of the top relievers from the Little East in sophomore Colton Lawrence and junior Jake Dexter, both of whom sport sub-1.70 ERAs with over 30 innings pitched.
On the other side of the ball, the Huskies have a team hitting .313 with 125 extra base hits on the season. Despite that success, there was a halt in production towards the final stretch of the regular season and conference tournament.
After averaging well over seven runs per game, the Huskies lost five of their last six games averaging less than three runs in that skid. Entering the tournament on a three-game losing streak, Head Coach Ed Flaherty will be looking for the bats to start heating up quickly.
Aside from main offensive leaders like juniors Devin Warren and Dexter, sophomore Dylan Hapworth could provide some relief at the plate as the team’s home run leader. Hapworth hit .449 in the month of April with eight doubles, five home runs and tallied a slugging percentage of .783. Though after April the cool down began as Hapworth is hitting .176 in eight games during May.
No. 6 seed: Amherst College (24-12)
After a middle of the road performance in regular season conference play, Amherst ran the tables in the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) going 3-0 and defeating Tufts to claim the automatic bid to the New York regional.
The Mammoths will bring that momentum and a five-game winning streak into Auburn on Thursday to face off against Southern Maine as another opponent that Salisbury faces a good chance of seeing in their second game.
For Amherst the name of the game has been pitching, with a team ERA of 3.58 they have limited opponents to less than five runs per game this season. Only two of their top seven innings leaders have ERAs above 3.00 with a large upperclassmen presence.
Three Mammoth pitchers have accrued over 50 innings pitched this season including junior Andrew Ferrero and senior southpaw Sam Schneider. Look for these two to lead the charge with their supporting cast not far behind.
Following suit with the experience, it will be up to seniors Max Steinhorn and Ariel Kenney to step up in the battle for run support as two of the top run, RBI and extra base hit producers.
No. 8 seed: Westfield State University (24-16-1)
Nine years later the Owls have returned to the NCAA tournament after winning the Massachusetts Small College Athletic Conference (MASCAC) for the first time since 2009. Westfield State put together a solid resume outside of their conference championship, having already played Amherst and Southern Maine while also grabbing a victory over the current No. 3 team in the nation UMASS-Boston.
The Owls will have their hands full with top-seeded Cortland awaiting them in Auburn. A rotation that has seen a fair share of difficulties this season, Westfield State will likely rely heavily on their ace junior John Gegetskas and top reliever, junior Scott Strachan.
Gegetskas has tallied five complete games in his 8-1 record while striking out 82 over his 67 innings of work coming out to an ERA of 2.00. The next starter up appears to be graduate student Nate Barnes who owns a 3-0 record but with a 4.83 ERA and opponents hitting .313 off of him.
A main consistency point for the Owls has been junior outfielder Anthony Crowley who ended the season on a hot streak going hitless only twice in the past 18 games. Crowley is a starter of the offense and also producing with others, the team leader in runs and RBIs will be a name to watch.
No. 1 seed: Cortland State (32-10)
A familiar foe of the Sea Gulls and veteran of the NCAA Tournament, the ninth-ranked Red Dragons were the beneficiaries of an at-large bid after falling in the State University of New York Athletic Conference (SUNYAC) Championship to Oswego State. This trip marks their 26th straight appearance in the tournament.
While the Red Dragons will not have an opportunity to face Salisbury until at least their third game, they have experience from the start of this season. Cortland came into Salisbury and took both games of the two-game series by a total of four runs.
After a rough patch in the beginning of the season, a 20-game win streak helped right the ship for the Red Dragons. While the offensive numbers are not where they typically are, the pitching has certainly stepped up this season and depth is not a problem.
Led by senior starters Mike Harrington, the SUNYAC Pitcher of the Year, and Christian Dufresne, both of whom are among the top pitchers in DIII with ERAs below 2.00, opponents are averaging around three runs-per-game against the Red Dragon pitching staff. A team ERA of 2.67 shows that there are plenty of arms behind the two starters, with 13 different pitchers in double-digits for innings pitched on the year.
With four First-Team All-SUNYAC selections, including the conference’s Rookie of the Year freshman Antonio Pragana, the offense is no slouch. Eight common starters are hitting over .300 and senior captains Patrick Schetter and Justin Teague are pushing the bats forward as the RBI leaders.
The Red Dragons may have been an at-large selection, but they are undoubtedly one of the tougher teams in this region.
No. 4 seed: Baldwin Wallace University (31-12)
A seven-game win streak came to fruition with a sweep of the Ohio Athletic Conference (OAC) and a championship victory over Otterbein last weekend.
The Yellow Jackets make their third trip to regionals within the past five years and do so on the heels of an offense that has averaged over eight runs per game this season and two battle-tested starters at the front of their rotation.
With various different starters getting the job done, Baldwin Wallace has important bullpen pieces like junior Jack Raines and sophomore Michael Hubert that have shown the ability to keep their team in games.
Offensively, the consistent production from their senior class has set the standard for the rest of the lineup with the team hitting .314. While seniors Alex Marcum, Chase Knodle and Spencer Badia are the leaders at the plate, the ‘x-factor’ for the Yellow Jackets will be the production of sophomore home run leader Dudley Taw.
No. 3 seed: Swarthmore College (33-9)
The Garnet ride a 10-game win streak into just their second NCAA tournament appearance after their first Centennial Conference Championship in program history.
Swarthmore brings a similar resume to their opponent in game one, Baldwin Wallace. With an above average offense that is known to score runs combined with a solid rotation, this match-up is one of the best to watch on Thursday.
One of the top starters in the Centennial, junior Ricky Conti, has been the guy the Garnet have turned to with 79 innings pitched and just a 1.94 ERA. Conti is joined by sophomore Sawyer Lake as another top innings leader on the rotation and a sub-3.00 ERA, but Lake has a preference for strikeouts with 57 in just 53 innings.
Behind those starters are sophomore Jack Corkery and junior Zach Gonzalez as two of the bullpen’s most reliable relievers.
Offensively Swarthmore has a balanced lineup with five players totaling over 30 runs scored and RBIs this season. The team is hitting .310 this season and only three hitters are without an extra base hit this season. If the Garnet can keep their offense rolling, they will be tough to take down in Auburn.
Keys for SU
The story for the Gulls this season has been starting pitching and their big offensive producers stepping up when needed. As seasons prolong into the NCAA Tournament, depth can play such an important role and it is one SU will need in order to get far in the regional.
The bullpen will play a key factor in the Sea Gulls success in Auburn and potentially beyond as this season relievers have a 5.03 ERA. Head Coach Troy Brohawn has gone to freshman Jimmy Adkins and junior Jack Barry recently in search of an arm to close out games, but a name to watch for is senior Wes Whitlock.
Depending on game schedules, Whitlock could find himself working out of the bullpen as he has a 1.23 ERA in over seven innings of work in relief. Coach Brohawn could choose to lean on his senior transfer in a new role if needed.
The Sea Gulls will square off against SJC Long Island this Thursday as they begin their quest to make it back to Appleton for the first time since 2015.