2012 Preview – America East

By Eric Sorenson. Posted on February 11th, 2012 in American East
 

The AmEast just isn’t a kind conference. You could be the best team for 13 weeks of the season, and then get your happy train jumped in the conference tournament and sit your butt at home in June. In fact, it happens more often than not. Beware Mr. Favorite.

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2010 in a Paragraph:

Yep, the old bugaboo was back for the AmEast champions. For the eighth time in the last nine years, the regular season champion (Stony Brook) was once again unceremoniously dumped on their canastas and left home for the Big Dance. Maine ended up getting scorching hot in May and raced its way to the Chapel Hill Regional where it played some competitive ball, representing the AmEast well. I just wish we could’ve seen what SBU could’ve done – damn that biased RPI formula. Other than those two behemoths of the AmEast, none of the other four squads won more than 21 games overall or finished within four games of the top two in the conference ranks.

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Conference ISR: 27

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HOW THEY’LL FINISH IN 2012.

- The America East.

1- Maine

2- Stony Brook

3- Binghamton

4- Albany

5- Hartford

6- UMBC

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2011 in a Paragraph:

To be honest, the top two of the AmEast – Maine and Stony Brook – could be totally interchangeable. The only reason I didn’t place them as a #1 and #1a is because, well, I’ve never done that. But this should be a great, great race to the top as both the Black Bears and the Seawolves have a lot of experienced pitching coming back and the two most talented batting orders. On top of that, they both also have NCAA tournament experience, having traded off AE titles the last two years. The big question is whether or not those two contenders have any shot at all of pulling the ultimate rarity – an at-large bid to the Big Dance? THAT would be unprecedented. But it might also be a fair question come the end of May. Lets see how things develop.

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Favorites: Maine, Stony Brook

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Contenders: None

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Darkhorse: None

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Can’t-Miss Series of the Year: Stony Brook at Maine, May 18-19, final weekend of the season.

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Best Non-Conference Series: Stony Brook at the Dairy Queen Classic (Minnesota, Kansas), March 9-11.

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Hot Coach: Matt Senk, Stony Brook

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Hot Seat Coach: None.

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The “You Gotta See” Pitcher: RHP Jeffrey Gibbs, Maine and RHP Tyler Johnson, Stony Brook. (couldn’t decide on one)

The “You Gotta See” Player: 1B/RHP William Carmona, Stony Brook

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Three Non-Conference Series AmEast Opponents Better Take Seriously:

1- Maine at Clemson, Feb. 24-26

2- Maine at Florida State, March 2-4.

3- Stony Brook at East Carolina, March 2-4.

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- ALBANY (21-31, 11-11)

2011 ISR: 243

Starters Returning: 6

Weekend Starters: 2

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (20+inns.): 4

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All Conference Candidates:

OF Nolan Gaige (.307-4-28, 11SBs)

RHP Zach Kraham (5-6, 4.48)

RHP Kasceim Graham (4-2, 3.88)

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The Good News:

For the second year in a row the Great Danes made a mad rush in the AmEast tournament and went all the way to the title game, within sniffing distance of the NCAA Tournament. Imagine if the Danes can harness that energy and effort all season long? Six of the top seven hitters return, led by Nolan Gaige, DH Josh Nethaway (.280-3-36) and part-timers Mike Tirri (.325-4-21) and OF Pete Diresta (.316). Krahan and Graham represent the top two returning starters on the mound, but also watch for steady relievers like LHP Greg Lutton (3-0, 4.85) and RHP Matt Dybus (0-1, 5.46, 3svs), who combined for 35 appearances last year.

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The Bad News:

The Danes have lost 29+ games in each of the last five seasons. The offense has hit .264, .265 and .257 the last three campaigns and must turn that around for any big hopes in 2012. The defense has been pretty bad the last few seasons, including 2011′s .952 fielding percentage. The bottom of the batting order really needs to step up, as they dragged the team average down to .258 last season. Also, more quality depth in the bullpen must be formulated.

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Schedule Note:

Biting off more than usual.

Albany always seems to play some pretty stout early season opponents, I mean I dig their bravery and all. But this year it’s going a little too far. They’ll open the season with three games at Miami, will go to St. John’s and also play three games at Coastal Carolina. If you’re looking for a silver lining to the AmEast portion of the slate, the Great Danes will host favorites Stony Brook and Maine.

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- BINGHAMTON (21-28, 13-10):

2011 ISR: 219

Starters Returning: 5

Weekend Starters: 2

Mid-Week Starters: 0

Key Relievers (20+inns.): 4

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All Conference Candidates:

OF Bill Bereszniewicz (.353)

1B Dave Ciocchi (.343-4-31, 12SBs)

RHP Mike Augliera (6-5, 3.01, 4CGs, .236OBA)

RHP Jay Lynch (5-5, 4.42)

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The Good News:

Coach Tim Sinicki has to really like the fact that he’ll have his two weekend anchors back again this season in righties Mike Augliera and Jay Lynch. In Augliera’s first three starts last season, he beat VMI and Liberty, then pitched 6.1 innings (but got no decision) in a win over Super Regional participant Dallas Baptist. Strong work. Some decent relievers return as well, led by RHP Lee Sosa (0-2, 5.02, 2svs) and RHP Joe Swindells (1-1, 6.75, 2svs), who should both get major parts in this year’s drama. The offense returns four of the top six hitters, led by Bill Bereszniewicz and Dave Ciocchi. Middle-infielders Jordon Smucker (.282) and John Howell (.272) will contribute to both offense and defense, big time. Speaking of, the defense was much improved last season, fielding at a .962 percentage. Oh, and an all-new baseball complex is on schedule to be completed for the ’12 season, raising the profile of the Bearcat program once again.

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The Bad News:

The ‘Cats were a streaky team last season and most of that wasn’t in the good way, as they started the year 4-15 and ended it on a 1-8 skein. A better start will help with confidence and a better finish could lead to playing in June. There were a few key members from last year who won’t be around for 2012, most notably the best power hitters in the order in Peter Bregartner and Corey Taylor. Catcher C.J. Lukaszewski will be missing as well after coming on strong last season. The bullpen must find some new arms to step up after saves leader Zach Juliano graduated. In addition, it wasn’t a good sign to see that their opponents hit .303 off the ‘Cats last year (when you consider the new, deader bats too). The biggest and worst news off all was that BU had their entire fall schedule washed out by the horrendous flooding that inundated the Binghamton area. Yes, the entire fall. Look for that to effect their early part of the season. What a drag.

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Schedule Note:

Other than the pig roast, not bad.

Tony Kornheiser U. will play a pretty manageable schedule in the early going, giving this team a chance to produce some wins. There IS that weekend playing down at Arkansas that could be a major problem (March 9-11), but other than that, matchups with VCU, Norfolk State, the Big Five Bash vs. St. Joe’s, Villanova and Temple, a home-and-home with Lehigh and games with Bucknell and Siena are all going to be winnable contests. So look for the 21-win mark to be surpassed this season.

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- HARTFORD (6-43-1, 3-20)

2011 ISR: 293

Starters Returning: 7

Weekend Starters: 3

Mid-Week Starters: 3

Key Relievers (20+inns.): 1

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All Conference Candidates:

C James Alfonso (.309)

LHP/UTL Ryan Lukach (0-4, 7.02/.276)

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The Good News:

We’re talkin’ new Blood. Yes, that was a horrible pun, but it’s true, Hartford baseball hired Justin Blood to be the new skipper of the program and hopefully will bring a new enthusiasm and energy to the Hawks. Blood was an assistant at UConn under Jim Penders the last few years. He’ll have a lot of experience to work with, that’s for sure. Seven regulars return, led by C James Alfonso, UTL Ryan Lukach and a host of sophomores that gained a lot of playing time in their first season for the Hawks. Five of the seven starters are sophs and four of the seven returnees on the mound are second-year guys as well. Look for LHP Mike Thatcher (0-5, 4.96), RHP Alex Gouin (0-3, 5.92) and RHP Anthony Mannuccia (2-7, 6.49) to improve their numbers.

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The Bad News:

Well, obviously there is a lot of bad news, considering the 2011 Hawks had four .300+ hitters back last year but only hit .235 as a team. They also gave up double digit run totals in 20 of their 50 games. It’s no real surprise that the Hawks were dead last in the AmEast in hitting (.235), pitching (7.63ERA), whiffs (328Ks at the plate) and runs scored (174). Coach Blood has to bring a lot of elements together and hope the ship can sail as smoothly as possible in his first season in Hartford.

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Schedule Note:

And the schedule won’t help the transition one bit.

New coach Justin Blood couldn’t have inherited a tougher assignment, opening the season at Oklahoma, then going to VMI, then traveling to Kansas State and then to Pitt. (Really?… who had the death wish here?). To be honest, unless there’s an instant turnaround, there won’t be many gimme wins this spring. Aye!

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- MAINE (33-24, 18-6)

2011 ISR: 166

Starters Returning: 8

Weekend Starters: 3

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (20+inns.): 2

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All Conference Candidates:

SS Michael Fransoso (.318-5-33, 20SBs)

1B Justin Leisenheimer (.309-8-25)

DH Alex Calbick (.280-5-30)

RHP Jeffrey Gibbs (8-5, 3.42, .204OBA)

RHP Stephen Perakslis (6-4, 3.52)

RHP Shaun Coughlin (3-1, 2.37)

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The Good News:

UMaine is back. Yes, I said it. The Black Bears have now put together three straight 30+ win seasons and got back to the Big Dance last season, even eliminating FIU along the way. A big 18-3 finish saw the Bears playing their best baseball at the right time, with hopes of a carry-over effect for 2012. Lots of big time studs return, which is the main reason I chose Maine to be the team to watch for possibly making this year’s “Dallas Baptist-like” run in the post-season. Start on the mound, where most of the culprits responsible for that 4.36 team ERA will come back, led by All American candidate Jeffrey Gibbs, a power-arm with one of those “effectively wild” labels, RHP Stephen Perakslis (who, like Gibbs, is a top 10 round draft pick this June) and A.J. Bazdanes (1-5, 5.04), all of whom are experienced upperclassmen. Coach Trimper also says to keep an eye on LHP Jon Balentina (3-1, 5.31), who is back at 100% after Tommy John surgery and was the best pitcher on the team in 2009. But it’s not all about three-and-four year guys, as Soph RHP Shaun Coughlin is one of three UMainers named Freshman All Americans last year. The other two were 2B Troy Black (.363 in 36apps) and DH Alex Calbick (who also spent time at 3B). Along with Justin Leisenheimer (who hit nearly .400 in AmEast play) at 1st, this could be the best infield in the Northeast. Maine led the AmEast in HRs (35) and SBs (81), and should lead the bash-and-dash again in 2012. The glossing on the Black Bears doesn’t stop there either. Once again, head coach Steve Trimper brought in a freshman class to crow about, led by a pair of strapping OF prospects in Brian Doran (a 6’4 lumberjack from Canada) and Luke Morrill (a 6’4″ 215lb intimidator who may play 1st base or DH). Also, another hulking low-90s blazer comes to the mound in 6’6″ Florida native Manny Pupo, a RHP whom the coaching staff is really stoked about. So the future is good for Maine… but the present is even better.

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The Bad News:

These guys will compete with anyone, but the Bears won’t have staff ace Keith Bilodeau, leading hitter Joey Martin and CF/speed-merchant Taylor Lewis back as team leaders. The defense is set but finding solid starting catching and developing some depth are issues. Curiously, the Bears also led the AmEast in walks issued at 242, so clamping down around the dish will be needed from the mound corps. Speaking of, there is also a big lack of left-handed pitching, with mid-week starter Jon Balentina being the only southpaw of note coming back. Lastly, there’s always old Mother Nature and these guys always having to hope for a mild winter so that they can get out on the field before the season starts. And with teams like Clemson and Florida State up early in the slate… Well, read on below.

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Schedule Note:

Don’t let the early stuff crush your ego.

Maine will have a tough time to say the least. Even with the talent on hand, going to places like Clemson and Florida State in the first two weekends can crush teams that have lesser confidence. Lets hope the Black Bears can rebound. The best news is that they’ll not face teams like that again, unless they make the NCAA tournament (and UM will be a much better team by that time anyway). Another positive? The final weekend of the regular season sees Stony Brook come to play in Orono. Home field in a stretch run is definitely a good thing.

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- MARYLAND-BALTIMORE COUNTY (10-37, 2-20)

2011 ISR: 291

Starters Returning: 7

Weekend Starters: 1

Mid-Week Starters: 2

Key Relievers (20+inns.): 2

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All Conference Candidates:

DH D.J. Ream (.331)

1B Max Himmelstein (.315-2-31)

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The Good News:

The Retrievers are looking to make the school’s chess team to finally take a back seat and give school president Freeman Hrabosky – the 60 Minutes darling – something athletically to pride himself on. New head coach Bob Mumma will have six of the top seven hitters in the batting come back from last year,  led by D.J. Ream, Max Himmelstein and part-timers Kevin Kean (.283) and Brian Klukowicz (.283). LHP Luke Dibiasi (2-3, 5.76) and RHP Mike Mitchell (2-10, 7.81) return and will take two of their weekend starting posts. Keep an eye on senior LHP Josh Dick (1-1, 3.60) and RHP Jon Cohn (0-5, 8.44). There is a great mix of senior leadership and energetic youth on this team.

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The Bad News:

Despite the increase to double-digit win totals (okay, only one win up to 10), the Retrievers went from four wins in AmEast play in 2010 down to two wins last year. The offense wasn’t too shabby (all things considered), hitting .260, 4th in the conference. But the pitch staff had an ERA of 7.40, 2nd to last in the AmEast and dead last in pitching, at .948. The other bad news is that the Retrievers had two weekends each vs. Binghamton and Stony Brook in 2011 and will face that daunting task again this year.

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Schedule Note:

The home stretch, literally.

From Tax Day onward, UMBC will spend most of their time in their home confines. After finishing up a road weekend at Binghamton on April 15th, the Retrievers will face Albany, Stony Brook and Binghamton on home weekends, and play at Hartford and Stony Brook (again) in roadies. In all, they’ll play 15 home games and seven road games.

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- STONY BROOK (42-12, 22-2)

2011 ISR: 77

Starters Returning: 7

Weekend Starters: 2

Mid-Week Starters: 2

Key Relievers (20+inns.): 5

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All Conference Candidates:

OF Travis Jankowski (.355, 30SBs)

DH/1B/RHP William Carmona (.357-6-40/1-0, 1.76, 4svs)

OF Tanner Nivins (.313, 10SBs)

RHP Brandon McNitt (7-3, 2.03, .231OBA, Frosh All American)

RHP Tyler Johnson (9-3, 2.30, .222OBA)

2B Maxx Tissenbaum (.343-5-43, just 4Es)

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The Good News:

It’s hard to have a better season for a “mid-major” team in the Northeast (Okay, we see you waving UConn fans) than the Seawolves did last season. 42 wins. 22 in conference. 8th in the country in hitting (.316). 2nd in the country in defense (.985). Led the nation in fewest errors committed. Hell, coach Matt Senk even had a Q&A with ESPN.com (insert slight smirk on my part here). And get this; 2012 could be even better. The number of returning players doesn’t lie, seven of the nine hitters in the order come back, six of which hit .300+ as well. And of the nine main pitchers used last year, only one is missing. And keep in mind this is a staff that threw at a 3.34 pace, walking an amazingly low 132 batters in 54 games. Motivation won’t be a problem for ace RHP Tyler Johnson, who went undrafted last June, but had a great summer in the prestigious Cape Cod League, sporting a 1.59 ERA for the Orleans Firebirds. In fact, just an indicator to the Seawolves talent, there were six SBU players taking part in the Cape League last summer: Johnson, Travis Jankowski (who was named the League MVP after hitting .329), Pat Cantwell (a 39th round pick of the Orioles last June), OF Tanner Nivins, 2B Maxx Tissenbaum and RHP Anthony Luciano. Not only is this a stacked team, but there is a new wave of talent coming to campus as well with studs-to-be like power-hitting catcher Kevin Krause and middle infielder Cole Peragine, who could find a starting spot immediately.

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The Bad News:

For a team that has so much returning, everyone is stoked on Long Island for another banner season. But even though there isn’t a lot of bad news to report, the first order of business is putting that terrible 1-2 finish in last May’s America East tournament out of their minds, especially since this was a team ready make some huge waves in the NCAA tournament. But it was a bid that never came. The Wolves will have to move on without last year’s All American Friday ace Nick Tropeano and also SS Chad Marshall and 3B Stephen Marino, who were solid defenders and .300+ hitters. So finding a new left side of the infield will be job one. Other than that, let ‘er rip guys.

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Schedule Note:

Not enough RPI building?

Despite the 42 wins, last year’s team never could quite get into the at-large discussion for the Big Dance. This year’s slate will be better, going up against teams like East Carolina, Minnesota and Kansas, but it still is unlikely it would be enough quality wins to get the Seawolves into the top 50 of the RPI. The other down side of the schedule is this will be a wandering troupe come late in the season. From April 25th onward, SBU will play 12 of its last 16 games away from home, including the season-ending showdown at AmEast contender Maine.

 

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