Northeast Conference Preview
Team to Beat: Bryant.
Coach Steven Owens has turned the Bulldogs into the powerhouse of the NEC since taking over the program in 2011. They have won six straight regular-season conference titles, three NEC Tournament championships and won or tied 56 of their 59 conference series. Bryant took a step back with a younger team in 2017 after its banner 2016 season, but with a young team it still went 29-26 and edged Central Connecticut State for first place. The Bulldogs figure to again be the class of the NEC, as they return the conference’s player of the year (senior catcher Mickey Gasper), pitcher of the year (junior lefthander Steve Theetge) and freshman of the year (shortstop Jimmy Titus). Bryant will have to replace ace James Karinchak, who was drafted in the ninth round, but Theetge (8-5, 3.86) is ready to lead the staff. Lefthanders Jack Patterson (4-0, 2.90) and Vito Morgese (4-6, 4.89) will follow him in the rotation, which figures to make Bryant a tough matchup. Gasper (.342/.470/.528, 7 HR), Titus (.296/.368/.500, 8 HR) and junior center fielder Nick Angelini (.318/.419/.512, 6 HR) keep Bryant strong up the middle and provide some thump in the lineup. The Bulldogs will also get back outfielder Ryan Ward, who came to Bryant as an acclaimed recruit, but was limited to 10 games as a freshman by a broken wrist. Also returning from injury is redshirt-junior lefthander Justin Snyder, who saved 10 games in 2016 but made just two appearances last year. Bryant is eager to get back to regionals this season and has the talent and experience it needs to do so.
Player of the Year: Mickey Gasper, C, Bryant.
Gasper was named 2017 NEC player of the year after hitting .342/.470/.528 with seven home runs as a junior. He led the conference in OBP and posted an impressive 42-to-18 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He went undrafted last year and went to the Cape Cod League, where he helped lead Brewster to the championship, hit .305/.429/.492 with five home runs and was named the league’s top prospect from New England. Scouts question his ability to remain behind the plate in pro ball and aren’t sure he’ll hit enough to profile if he has to move to first base, but he’ll get another chance to convince them this spring as he anchors Bryant’s lineup.
Pitcher of the Year: Steve Theetge, LHP, Bryant.
The 2016 NEC rookie of the year, Theetge captured pitcher of the year honors last year after going 8-5, 3.86 with 60 strikeouts and 38 walks in 81.2 innings. The junior isn’t overpowering, but his feel for pitching has played incredibly well during his first two years at Bryant. He is 17-5, 3.33 with the Bulldogs and could make a run at the program’s career wins record with a strong season. Theetge commands his upper-80s fastball well and mixes in an advanced changeup and two solid breaking balls that keep hitters off balance.
Freshman of the Year: Kevin Wiseman, RHP, Wagner.
Wiseman, a native of Fallbrook, Calif., gives Wagnersome Southern California flavor this year. Listed at 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, he locates his upper-80s fastball well and mixes in a curveball and changeup. He joins a solid Wagner pitching staff that ranked third in team ERA (4.93) in the NEC last season.
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Nick Restaino takes the helm at Sacred Heart this season following the retirement of Nick Giaquinto, who coached the Pioneers for 30 years. Restaino served on Giaquinto’s staff for the last three seasons and was previously the head coach for seven years at Fordham, compiling a 196-189-2 record from 2005-11. Sacred Heart went 23-36 last season and finished as runner-up in the NEC Tournament, falling one win shy of sending Giaquinto out with a championship. From that team, the Pioneers return redshirt-senior third baseman P.J. DeFilippo, the team’s leading hitter (.315/.396/.443), and pitchers Baylor Sundahl (4-6, 4.21), James Tabul (5-8, 4.85) and Brent Teller (4-3, 4.43), who all logged more than 80 innings last season. The Pioneers have the experience on the mound to stay in the league’s top tier as they transition into a new era for the program.
Central Connecticut State went 36-22 last year and swept through the NEC Tournament to advance to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010. The Blue Devils’ victory in the conference title game against Sacred Heart not only sent them back to regionals, it was also the 500th career win for Charlie Hickey, who is entering his 19th season as head coach. Central gets righthander/infielder Andrew Hinckley back this season after he missed nearly all of last season due to injury. He earned all-conference honors in 2016 after going 8-4, 3.73 on the mound and hitting .283/.353/.408. He and redshirt senior Brett Susi, who also missed last season due to injury, will return to the rotation, joined by righthanders Mike Appel (4-4, 4.52) and Michael Delease (5-0, 3.03). Central’s offense will be led by senior second baseman Dean Lockery (.330/.459/.473) and sophomore first baseman T.T. Bowens (.279/.364/.494, 6 HR), the MVP of the conference tournament. Central looks to be one of the NEC’s most well-rounded teams.
Top 10 2018 Draft Prospects
1. Mickey Gasper, C, Bryant
2. Andrew Hinckley, RHP, Central Connecticut State
3. Andrew Turner, 1B/3B, LIU-Brooklyn
4. Nick Angelini, OF, Bryant
5. Steve Theetge, LHP, Bryant
6. Brent Teller, RHP, Sacred Heart
7. Baylor Sundhal, RHP, Sacred Heart
8. Tyler Panno, 3B, Bryant
9. Jack Patterson, LHP, Bryant
10. Jake Frasca, 3B/RHP, Sacred Heart