2013 Preview – The America East

By Eric Sorenson. Posted on February 7th, 2013 in 2013 National Preview, American East
 

2012 CONFERENCE ISR: 26

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HOW THEY’LL FINISH IN 2013:

1- Stony Brook

2- Maine

3- Binghamton

4- Albany

5- UMBC

6- Hartford

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THE LOWDOWN.

Okay, when you look at the field of six teams above, what jumps out at you?… Lemme guess. Maybe the Stony Brook Seawolves? Yes, these dudes from Long Island were the equivalent of the Victoria’s Secret model at a Dungeons and Dragons party ‘coz everybody was talking about them in our popular circles all June long. It had actually been quite a while since a real stunner of a team had been in Omaha, so the Seawolves pulling off an epic upset or two in the Regionals and Super Regionals were kind of a welcome change. In this space last season I glossed on about how Maine and Stony Brook appeared ready to make big waves on the college baseball landscape. Obviously SBU followed suit. But the Black Bears turned into black eyes, failing to ever get their claws digging in and gaining ground from the get-go. But eh… that happens to teams from time to time. The Mainers actually finished fourth behind SB, Albany and Binghamton, though none of them came close to the Seawolves as they won the AmEast crown going away. Though it won’t be as comfy of a margin, look for SBU to turn the trick again this year. Maine will be back and Binghamton has everyone returning, which could make the race interesting. Oh, and speaking of the chase for the crown, the AmEast will now play 30 conference games, playing home-and-home weekends with each team in the conference.

Yep, you're not seeing things. Steven Goldstein, foreground, and coach Matt Senk, background, helped Stony Brook spend last June competing in the College World Series.

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BREAKTHROUGH TEAM:

- Maine.

Something has got to give. These guys are too talented to have .500 records. At least they were last year. But look for the Black Bears to get their act together this year and play more up to potential. Thirty wins should be attainable this time ’round.

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TRENDING DOWN:

- Stony Brook.

Pretty obvious one here, the Seawolves won’t come close to the 52 wins from a year ago. But these guys are also used to having the target on their backs in AmEast circles, so it’s not like they’re unaccustomed to high expectations.

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BIGGEST CLEATS TO FILL:

- Travis Jankowski, OF, Stony Brook.

It could be argued that J.T., Willie Carmona and Max Tissenbaum all should fit under the umbrella of biggest cleats to fill since they were the top three hitters in the America East. But Travis was the heart and soul of this team and its no-fear run to the College World Series.

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BEST PLAYER:

- Michael Fransoso, SS, Maine.

With the big three of Stony Brook hitting the bricks, the Black Bear dirtbagger is the leading returning base stealer, doubles hitter, run scorer and hit-maker in the conference.

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BEST PITCHER:

- Frankie Vanderka, RHP, Stony Brook

It may be hard to find a more versatile pitcher  in the country, with his three complete games as a starter and fives saves out of the ‘pen. He was also the hero who tossed a three-hitter to beat LSU and put SBU into the CWS.

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IMPACT NEWCOMER

- SS/2B Mark Esposito, UMBC.

The brother of Vanderbilt CWS star Jason Esposito is a transfer from Marshall and had to sit out last season. He’s an athletic infielder who will be a huge impact guy this year.

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STEAL A LEAR JET FOR…

Stony Brook at Maine, April 20-22.

Unfortunately, the top two teams will play each other waaaaaay too early in the season – major marks off for the AmEast schedule-makers. The first round will be on Long Island in mid-March and this will be the second weekend meeting.

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CAPSULES…

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- ALBANY (22-32-1, 16-8)

2012 ISR: 236

Starters Returning: 8

Weekend Starters: 1

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 2

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All Conference Candidates:

OF Nolan Gaige (.302, 14SBs)

OF Josh Nethaway (.313-2-30)

OF D.J. Hoagboon (.318)

SS Gordon Madej (.262)

3B Joey Tracy (.291)

RHP Austin Chase (4-2, 4.24, 1sv)

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NOTES:

- Wanna play the “glass is half-full” card? How about this: the Great Danes defeated AND finished in 2nd place behind a College World Series team. Not bad, eh? After their Sunday win over the Seawolves on Tax Day the Danes went on a 14-6 spree to wrap up the regular season. That has to instill a large amount of confidence for the 2013 season.

- The down side is that the Danes had a great finish, but then went belly-up at 0-2 for the AmEast Tournament, scoring just four runs in 18 innings. Although the offense made a jump up from 2011′s .258 team average, improving on its .277 team average is necessary if UofA is going to get things rolling in the Empire State’s capital city. But it could happen with eight bats in the order returning, led by D.J. Hoagboon, Josh Nethaway and Nolan Gaige coming back, all of whom hit .302 or better. Also, the Great Danes slapped 22 triples as a team, so there is gap power and speed to burn for this offense.

- The arms corps is nearly barren from last year, losing their No. 1 and 2 on the weekends will certainly hurt. So the Danes will have to find new hurlers to step in right away. Look for a lot of bumps and bruises until the weather gets warm as they search for new talents. The top newcomer of the 2013 season should be RHP Derek Zielinski, a steady pitcher who comes to Albany as a LeMoyne College transfer, where he was 14-8, 4.16 in his 175 career innings so far.

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- BINGHAMTON (23-26, 13-9):

2012 ISR: 217

Starters Returning: 9

Weekend Starters: 2

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 7

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All Conference Candidates:

3B Brian Ruby (.371)

2B Dan Nevares (.343-2-17)

RHP Jake Lambert (6-4, 3.79)

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NOTES:

- A new state-of-the-art home facility welcomes the Bearcats in 2013. The new park features 464 permanent, stadium-style seats, sunken dugouts and a new natural grass playing surface (over field turf?) with advanced draining systems and irrigation. That’s good news because the fall of 2011 was so drenched in B-town that it washed out nearly the entire fall workout schedule. That seemed to show its ugly face in the early portion of the spring 2012 season as the Bearcats struggled to an 8-14 start.

- With nine home games in the month of March, BU is hoping for a calm winter because this will be the earliest home games in their 11-years of playing at the Division 1 level. They’ll open the home portion of the slate against College World Series participant Stony Brook on March 23rd. Prior to this a March 28th game vs. Niagara in 2006 was the program’s earliest home game.

- You have to give some credit to head coach Tim Sinicki, over the last eight seasons its his Bearcats who own the 2nd-highest winning percentage in the AmEast, winning 63% of their games.

- Nearly the entire squad returns in full for 2013, although the few losses are significant ones. Staff ace Mike Augliera, who was 6-7, 3.16 with a remarkable seven complete games, and saves specialist Lee Sosa (10svs) are the big holes to fill on the mound. Leading home run/RBI hitter Dave Ciocchi (.284-4-33) is the lone batter that has moved on.

- Coach Sinicki says he thinks the AmEast is not only improving overall, it’s also becoming more and more of a jumble. “With the new format we now play 30 conference games in what I think is an ever-improving America East Conference. The balance within the conference is at an all-time high and trying to figure out who will finish first through sixth is like splitting hairs.”

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- HARTFORD (16-40, 7-17)

2012 ISR: 280

Starters Returning: 5

Weekend Starters: 1

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 2

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All Conference Candidates:

RHP/UTL Brian Hunter (3-4, 4.71, 2svs & .288-2-21)

C James Alfonso (.290-2-19, 20HBPs)

LHP Sean Newcomb (3-2-4, 4.17)

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NOTES:

- It may not sound like much, but the Hawks went from six wins in 2011 to 16 wins in 2012. You knew something was different about the Hartford team when they played toe-to-toe in their opening weekend at Oklahoma, taking leads in two of the three games before losing steam in the late innings.

- The Hawks went 6-5 in the month of May, proving that they “got it” as the season came to a close. Like Albany above, they must hope for a bit of a carry-over for 2013 and a better early season start.

- The Hawks have a couple of options on upcoming weekends as UTLman Brian Hunter had 10 starts on the mound last year, LHP Sean Newcomb had nine and RHP Alex Gouin (0-5, 5.29) also had nine starts. They could comprise the weekend rotation and will have saves leader Austin Barnes, a compact lefty who was 2-6, 7.38 with three saves as a frosh last season. Hunter and Newcombe are legit arms and will be the key to HU making the AmEast tournament or not.

- No matter who toes the rubber in the months to come, the fact that the Hawks issued 292 walks last season, a full 78 more than anyone else in the AmEast, is totally inexcusable. Bear down guys. I mean it.

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- MAINE (28-28, 11-11)

2012 ISR: 215

Starters Returning: 7

Weekend Starters: 1

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 3

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All Conference Candidates:

SS Michael Fransoso (.327-5-26, 20SBs)

3B Alex Calbick (.287-5-43)

RHP Shaun Coughlin (4-5, 3.98)

2B Troy Black (.338, 18SBs)

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NOTES:

- Aye caramba! As a noted Black Bear “homer” it was difficult to see coach Steve Trimper’s crew have such an unheralded 2012 season, especially when most people were expecting them to be the AmEast favorites going into the ’12 campaign. The fact that they finished at No. 215 nationally in the ISR rankings is a mind-blower. Best news is that the 2012 season is over.

- Now, the big problem for the Bears is the fact that big-time arms like Jeffrey Gibbs and Steve Perakslis won’t be around to lean on any longer – even if they weren’t living up to their sizable billing in the 2012 season. In fact, the Bears’ had a surprisingly poor 5.58 team ERA.

- A big addition to the staff will be RHP Jacob Marks, an Ontario native who was a 28th round draft pick in the MLB draft last June but chose to come to Orono instead. He’ll be joined by fellow incoming frosh Logan Fullmer and also Winthrop transfer Tommy Lawrence to re-store the pitching staff for 2013. The staff is particularly high on the potential of Lawrence, who comes to Orono D1-ready after pitching well in the Cape Cod League last summer.

- The batting order/defense will be a junior-senior dominated unit, led by the double-play, double-trouble combo of Troy Black and Michael Fransoso, who hit .338 and .327 respectively. The Black Bears were a very efficient 70-of-94 in the stolen base department. Black and Fronsoso were the leaders in that category too and will be joined by OF Colin Gay, who hit .299 to go along with his 14 steals. Those three will jump-start what could be the best offense in the AmEast.

- The other really good news is that coach Trimper says this 2013 team is “the hardest working team I’ve every had” and a very athletic group. He bemoans the lack of a real sledgehammer hitter at the dish but thinks his team can rely on versatility at the dish and speed on the basepaths.

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- MARYLAND-BALTIMORE COUNTY (10-42, 2-22)

2012 ISR: 291

Starters Returning: 6

Weekend Starters: 2

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 3

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All Conference Candidates:

OF Anthony Gatto (.303-2-22)

OF Ian Glassman (.295)

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NOTES:

- Not a lot of forward steps were made last season as the Retrievers have now won just two AmEast games and 10 games overall for the last two seasons in a row. The Rievers did get out to a 7-12 start last season, but then spiraled from there. But on the positive side, how about this?… UMBC played College World Series participant Stony Brook to a pair of one-run games, though sadly they were both losses. Dammit!

- The good news is that the Retrievers will be pitching heavy this season with weekend starters Shane Vlasic (2-8, 4.62) and Mac Gill (1-8, 8.39), both right-handed juniors, come back to the arms corps. There are lots of relievers coming back, led by RHPs Gavin Gibbons (1-1, 7.56) and Kevin Ladner (0-2, 10.20).

- Look out for the emergence of INF Mark Esposito, a redshirt freshman who was one of the best infield prospects in the Northeast back in his high school days. Esposito, brother of Vanderbilt star Jason Esposito, came to UMBC after spending a year at Marshall.

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- STONY BROOK (52-15, 21-3)

2012 ISR: 62

Starters Returning: 5

Weekend Starters: 1

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 2

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All Conference Candidates:

SS Cole Peragine (.304, 10SBs)

RHP Brandon McNitt (8-4, 2.76, .241OBA)

RHP Frankie Vanderka (3-3, 2.33, 3CGs, 5svs, .175OBA)

1B Kevin Courtney (.293-4-38)

C Kevin Krause (.330-3-40)

OF Steven Goldstein (.337-4-34, 15SBs)

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NOTES:

- Holy freaking’ cow! Where do I start with these guys? I mean, winning 52 games, winning the Regional at Miami, beating LSU in Alex Box two of three and becoming the darlings of our sport once in Omaha… incredible. You can’t script a Hollywood movie like that, like that goalie’s “knucklepuck” shot in that kiddie movie The Mighty Ducks… no one will believe it’s real. But here we were back in June, swapping a StitchHead t-shirt for a Stony Brook t-shirt with SBU Athletic Director Jim Fiore. And by the way, he is a great StitchHead.

- The OBVIOUS down side is the fact that, had the ‘Wolves not won the AmEast Tournament, they would not have made the field of 64 in the post-season. That’s just the reality of things for SBU and other similar programs in the NorthEast, as criminal as it may sound to a team who beats LSU on its home field.

- The other down side is that it may be nearly impossible to top what this program did last season. The expectations will be higher, sure, but I’m not sure those same lofty heights will be attainable for coach Matt Senk and his staff, despite the miracle workers they have become. The losses of talents like Travis Jankowski, Willie Carmona, Maxx Tissenbaum, Tyler Johnson and Evan Stecko-Haley and not expect there to be a significant drop-off. So there will be a heavy emphasis on the newly elevated underlings and incoming freshman class to perform at a high level right away.

- Still, some of the returnees will be VERY familiar names as well. I mean, who could forget the guts that Frankie Vanderka showed in that game three complete-game win at LSU? Or that game two home run from Kevin Courtney? Or the gritty play of OF Steven Goldstein in the post-season? Or Brandon McNitt out-dueling LSU’s Aaron Nola in the game one loss?

- Speaking of newbies, looks like another high-quality recruiting class was brought in by coach Senk and the boys. Again, my home state of California was harvested by the Seawolves with LHP Daniel Zamora, a 27th round pick who is a crafty, upper-80s hurler who should pack more muscle on that projectable 6’3″ frame. They also pulled in Golden State talents like Azusa LHP Kenny Ball, San Dimas RHP Chad Lee and San Diego INF Austin Shives. But the biggest haul of all was 3B Johnny Caputo, a 12th round draft pick of the A’s who played for the Canadian National team.

- I thought I’d take this chance to tell you guys that I thought the Stony Brook run to Omaha was one of the most improbable things I have seen in my nine decades of covering college baseball. And even though I’m an LSU grad, it didn’t kill me to see these gutty boys win their way to Omaha. As I told a lot of my relatives and friends who were upset with the Tigers losing out on a trip to the CWS, look, it’s not like LSU won’t ever make it to Omaha again. You couldn’t help but be a Seawolves fan last June.

 

COMMENTS:

February 13, 2013 at 3:47 am
anonymous says:

You certainly provided an excellent outline of the conference. Just one disagreement: Stony Brook winning regional and super-regional was not improbable….they had 8 draft picks, LSU had 7. They were a better team than LSU; but unfortunately, its hard to disregard the front of the jersey when evaluating teams. Underdog…yes, but they had one of the strongest lineups in the country, and a crafty staff to couple it. The America East has some great ball clubs, but lack the name that bigger conferences provide to their ratings.

From a players perspective, I enjoyed reading your blog….let me know if you’d like some inside info on the conference. I’d be happy to answer any questions you might have. With Stony Brook on the nations radar, I’m sure people are dying to hear more about Stony Brook and the America East Conference.

Take care,

Jason Allinder