2019 Northeast Conference College Baseball Preview

Image credit: Bryant outfielder Ryan Ward (Courtesy of Bryant)

Projected Standings
(2018 records)

1. Bryant (32-23-1, 21-7)
2. Long Island-Brooklyn (31-26, 16-12)
3. Wagner (38-18, 21-7)
4. Sacred Heart (17-35, 12-16)
5. Central Connecticut State (18-28, 11-16)
6. Mount St. Mary’s (21-33, 15-13)
7. Farleigh Dickinson (10-37, 1-26)

Team to beat: Bryant

After joining the NEC in 2010, Bryant quickly established itself as the conference’s top dog and has won eight titles in its first nine years in the NEC, including seven straight. Bryant figures to storm back to the top of the standings this season, as it looks to get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2016. Bryant is eager to get redshirt sophomores Ryan Ward, an outfielder, and Jimmy Titus, a shortstop, in the lineup at the same time, something injuries have largely prevented their first two years on campus. Titus was named NEC rookie of the year in 2017 but was sidelined by a torn ACL after two games last year. Ward played 10 games as a true freshman before suffering a season-ending injury but bounced back to produce a phenomenal 2018 and was named both the NEC player and rookie of the year. Bryant must replace catcher Mickey Gasper, the 2017 conference player of the year, but with Titus and Ward anchoring the lineup, Bryant has the most dynamic combination in the NEC. On the mound, Bryant welcomes back lefthanders Vito Morgese (5-2, 3.82) and Steve Theetge (6-7, 4.02) and righthander Tyler Mattison (5-2, 3.40), who form a strong rotation. The bullpen is anchored by closer Nathan Wrighter (1-4, 5.23, 8 SV), while first baseman/lefthander Chris Wright is coming off an impressive showing in the Cape Cod League, where he struck out 24 batters and walked five in 14.2 innings and will see more action out of the bullpen this spring. Bryant’s all-around talent should make for an impressive spring.

Player of the Year: Ryan Ward, OF, Bryant

Bryant broke his wrist just 10 games into his true freshman season in 2017 and was sidelined for the rest of the spring. He bounced back in a big way to hit .409/.449/.636 with eight home runs and nine stolen bases as a redshirt freshman and was named both the conference player and rookie of the year. He has an impressive feel for hitting and does a good job of plate discipline—he walked 21 times and struck out just 10 last season. That skill set should serve him well this spring as he looks to improve on his 2018 campaign.

Pitcher of the Year: Neil Abbatiello, LHP, Wagner

Abbatiello has made steady improvement throughout his college career and, now, the senior is ready for his best year yet. The lefthander last season went 8-0, 3.30 with 79 strikeouts and 33 walks in 87.1 innings, highlighting a pitching staff that helped lead the Seahawks to the regular season title. Abbatiello, listed at 6-foot, 170 pounds, has good feel for his breaking ball and pounds the strike zone.

Freshman of the Year: Jake Gustin, INF, Bryant

A Bryant player has been named the NEC rookie of the year for seven straight years, and Gustin has the tools to extend that streak. He is a natural shortstop but will likely slot in at second base this spring. Listed at 5-foot-10, 190 pounds, Gustin has a physical, athletic frame and is both a good hitter and defender. It won’t be easy to adjust to college pitching against the high-end competition Bryant will face early in the season, but once he settles in, he should become a solid member of the Bulldogs’ lineup.

Top 25 teams: None.

Notable Storylines

Wagner last year went 38-18, setting a program record for victories and tied Bryant for first place in the standings last season, losing out on the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament on a tiebreaker. It fell shy of its first NCAA Tournament bid since 2000, losing to LIU in the conference tournament championship game. From that team, the Seahawks return their top pitchers, including starters Abbatiello, senior righthander Eric Ligda (7-2, 3.89) and sophomore righthander Pat Gallagher (4-3, 5.67), as well as junior closer Nick Robino (7-4, 3.09, 7 SV). That core on the mound should keep Wagner strong, but it must replace five regulars in its lineup, including leading hitter Phil Capra. Outfielders Freddy Sabido (.300/.368/.500, 6 HR) and Joe Silvestrone (.294/.337/.382) will be counted on offensively, but the Seahawks will need some new hitters to step up to keep them in the mix at the top of the standings.  

LIU last season won a program-record 31 games and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history, beating Wagner twice and Bryant once to sweep through the NEC Tournament. The Blackbirds’ breakthrough came in coach Dan Pirillo’s second season at the helm of his alma mater. LIU must replace Andrew Turner, its leading hitter, but brings back the bulk of its offense. It figures to have five seniors in its lineup, including catcher Edward Modica (.299/.364/.396), center fielder Andrew Smith (.293/.418/.491, 11 SB) and third baseman Alex Briggs (.276/.361/.481, 8 HR), all of whom last year hit in the top half of the order. The Blackbirds also bring back key pitchers, including senior righthander Zach Pederson (6-4, 3.97) and junior lefthander Patrick Clyne (5-5, 4.73) in the rotation and senior righthander Mike Kreiger (4-2, 2.20, 7 SV) at the back of the bullpen. Having broken through last year, LIU is well positioned to put together another strong spring.

Top 10 2019 Draft Prospects

1. Ryan Ward, OF, Bryant
2. Jimmy Titus, SS, Bryant
3. Chris Wright, LHP/1B, Bryant
4. Vito Morgese, LHP, Bryant
5. Brent Teller, RHP, Sacred Heart
6. Mike Kreiger, RHP, LIU
7. Steven Theetge, LHP, Bryant
8. Jake Frasca, 3B/RHP, Sacred Heart
9. Neil Abbatiello, LHP, Wagner
10. Anthony Warneke, SS, LIU

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