HOW THEY'LL FINISH
Projected NCAA Teams (1): LeMoyne.
Conference Schedule: 27 games. Schedule begins March 25.
Conference Tournament: Four teams, May 25-27, at Fishkill, N.Y.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
* 2005 conference leader
C—Mike Medici, Sr., Niagara (.310-4-34). 1B—Matt Rizzotti, So., Manhattan (*.416-*9-*57). 2B—Andy Parrino, So., LeMoyne (.276-2-25). 3B—Jake Willis, So., Siena (.298-5-28). SS—Andrew McDonald, So., Niagara (.317-1-36). OF—Matt Mazurek, Sr., Canisius (.351-7-47); Travis Musolf, Jr., Marist (.358-0-30); Eric Nieto, So., Manhattan (.343-0-25). DH—John Fitzpatrick, Sr., Manhattan (.289-9-49). P—Bobby Blevins, Jr., LeMoyne (7-4, 4.12); Chris Cody, Sr., Manhattan (7-4, 2.70, 97 IP/89 SO); Josh Sawatsky, Jr., Niagara (6-6, 4.21).
PROJECTED TOP PROSPECTS, 2006-07 DRAFTS
1. #Matt Rizzotti, 1b, Manhattan.
2. Josh Sawatsky, rhp, Niagara.
3. John Axford, rhp, Canisius.
# Not eligible for 2006 draft
• Niagara had two players drafted in the fifth round last year—RHPs James Avery (5-5, 3.42), by the Reds, and Dan Griffin (6-4, 4.37 and a league-leading 120 strikeouts), by the Giants. Despite the loss of two top picks from the league, 21 of 27 players named to the league’s two-tier all-conference team have returned for 2006. That includes Manhattan sophomore 1B Matt Rizzotti (.416-9-57), the league’s player of the year, freshman of the year and triple-crown winner. For all their professional value, neither Avery nor Griffin was selected to the all-conference teams.
• A year after Canisius, Niagara, Rider and St. Peter’s named new coaches, three more MAAC schools have introduced new coaches this year. Manhattan promoted Kevin Leighton to head coach after Steve Trimper left to become the new coach at Maine. Iona hired former Fordham assistant Pat Carey to replace the retired Al Zoccolillo. And Marist, after winning the conference title a year ago, hired former New Orleans assistant Dennis Healy to replace Joe Raccuia, who left to become an assistant at Alabama. Healy becomes the Red Foxes’ fourth coach since 2002.
• Mike McRae, the only Canadian Division I head coach, tapped heavily into his Canadian connections to build Niagara into a conference contender before he left a year ago to become the coach at nearby Canisius. The Golden Griffins improved from four wins in 2004 to nine a year ago and could see a marked improvement this year. Among McRae’s newcomers are two Canadians: senior RHP John Axford, a 2001 seventh-round draft pick of the Mariners, whose once-promising career at Notre Dame was sidetracked by Tommy John surgery; and freshman OF Branson Joseph, a member of Canada’s junior national team. Axford went a combined 14-5, 4.04 his first two years at Notre Dame and pitched impressively in the 2002 Colege World Series, then missed the 2004 season and was slow to respond last year, working just three innings. He was still drafted by Cincinnati in the 42nd round last year; the Reds retain his rights as a fifth-year senior.
• Le Moyne slipped to fifth place in 2005 after running away with the league title in 2004. The Dolphins are looking for a bounce-back year with the return of five all-conference players: junior RHPs Bobby Blevins (7-4, 4.12) and T.J. Sheridan (6-2, 2.52), senior 1B Keith Connors (.321-6-34), sophomore 2B Andy Parrino (.276-2-25) and junior OF Ben Gaal (.310-5-29), who moves in at third base. Senior SS Mike Affronti (.343-1-19), the team’s best pro prospect, also returns.