Northeast Conference Preview
SEE ALSO: College Preview Index
Team to Beat: Bryant. The Bulldogs are coming off the best season in program history. Bryant went 47-12, set a program record for wins, won the NEC by 8 1/2 games, swept through the conference tournament and earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. Much of the core of that team is gone, but Bryant returns enough key performers and has enough young talent to again be the conference’s top dogs. Junior righthander James Karinchak (12-3, 2.00) and sophomore lefthander Steve Theetge (9-0, 2.72) give the Bulldogs a dynamic one-two punch atop the rotation. Bryant lost six regulars from its lineup, including conference player of the year Robby Rinn, but does return sophomore outfielder Nick Angelini (.353/.466/.485), the conference freshman of the year. With Angelini patrolling center field, senior Cole Fabio (.287/.384/.377, 16 SB) at second base and junior Mickey Gasper (.392/.489/.557) behind the plate, the Bulldogs have experience up the middle. They will be much younger around the diamond, but are expecting younger players such as freshmen Gabby Cruz, Jimmy Titus and Ryan Ward will be able to step up. Bryant may take some lumps early as it faces a challenging schedule that includes weekend series at Arkansas and Maryland, but by the time NEC play begins in mid-March, the young Bulldogs should be hitting their stride.
|TOP 10 PROSPECTS|
|1. James Karinchak, rhp, Bryant|
|2. Andrew Hinckley, rhp, Central Connecticut State|
|3. Logan Frati, rhp, Fairleigh Dickinson|
|4. Nick Angelini, of, Bryant/td>|
|5. Ryan Brennan, 1b/rhp, Fairleigh Dickinson|
|6. Cole Fabio, 2b, Bryant|
|7. Matt McCann, ss, Fairleigh Dickinson|
|8. Mickey Gasper, c, Bryant|
|9. Cody Brown, rhp, Central Connecticut State|
Player of the Year: Ryan Brennan, 1b/rhp, Fairleigh Dickinson. Brennan earned second-team all-conference honors last season for his performance as a hitter, as he batted .342/.420/.544 with six home runs and 14 stolen bases. He also served as FDU’s closer, picking up nine saves in 13 appearances. Brennan will again anchor the Knights' lineup and bullpen this spring.
Pitcher of the Year: James Karinchak, rhp, Bryant. Karinchak was named NEC pitcher of the year last season after leading the conference in ERA (2.00), wins (12), innings (94.2) and strikeouts (112). He’s again the best pitcher in the league and gives Bryant a true Friday starter. Listed at 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, Karinchak pounds the zone with a low-90s fastball and mixes in a quality curveball and changeup.
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Freshman of the Year: Jimmy Titus, ss, Bryant. Part of the Bulldogs’ exciting freshman class, Titus is the two-time state player of the year in Connecticut and will immediately take over as Bryant’s starting shortstop. He is a strong hitter and could quickly become a fixture in the middle of the lineup. Titus also has a plus arm and could also be used as a reliever.
Top 25 Teams: None.
Other Projected Regional Teams: None.
Notable Storylines: Bryant and Sacred Heart have won the last six NEC tournament championships, with both teams claiming three titles since 2011.The Pioneers will be determined to win another championship this spring in what will be head coach Nick Giaquinto’s final season. Giaquinto has led the program since 1988 and announced in November that he will retire following the 2017 season. Assistant coach Nick Restaino will succeed Giaquinto as head coach. From a team that went 30-28 and finished second in the NEC last year, the Pioneers return lefthanders John Sostarich (4-3, 3.98) James Tabul (5-3, 2.16), and outfielder/righthander Alex Perry (.277/.348/.372; 1-0, 2.55). . . Central Connecticut State was the last team other than Bryant or Sacred Heart to win the NEC tournament, and the Blue Devils have the pitching capable of challenging the duopoly this season. CCSU lost Casey Brown, its innings leader last season, but righthanders Mike Appel (2-5, 2.44), Andrew Hinckley (8-4, 3.73) and Brett Susi (4-6, 4.24) all return to the rotation. The Blue Devils will need a bit more offense this season after ranking sixth in the conference in runs (235) last season, but do return junior second baseman Dean Lockery (.344/.423/.402), their leading hitter in 2016. . . Dan Pirillo takes over as head coach at Long Island-Brooklyn after Alex Trezza was hired away to become the Boston College pitching coach. Pirillo played for the Blackbirds from 2005-2008 and was an assistant coach for his alma mater from 2010-2011. He returns to his alma mater after serving as an assistant coach at Chicago State. Pirillo takes over a program that has not had a winning season since his last season on staff. The Blackbirds went 19-35 and finished fifth in the NEC standings last year.
Tournament: Four teams, May 25-28 at Dodd Stadium in Norwich, Conn.