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2021 America East Conference Preview

Dombkowski, Nicholas (Courtesy Of Hartford)
Hartford lefthander Nicholas Dombkowski (Courtesy of Hartford)

The America East Conference has been dominated by Binghamton and Stony Brook over the last decade, but this year Hartford projects to also be in the mix at the top of the standings.

The conference welcomes a new member this year, as New Jersey Tech moves from the Atlantic Sun Conference to the America East. The addition gives the conference an even eight members, which is especially important this spring.

The conference will this season divide into two divisions, the North and the South, and play four-game series in conference action. Teams will play home-and-home series against intra-division competition and one series against inter-division competition. The North consists of Albany, Hartford, Maine and Massachusetts-Lowell, while the South is Binghamton, Maryland-Baltimore County, New Jersey Tech and Stony Brook. The top two teams from each division will advance to the conference tournament.

Can Hartford ride its pitching to another conference title?

The Hawks in 2018 won the America East and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history. After a disappointing 2019, they appeared to be bouncing back in 2020 and went 6-6 against a challenging early-season schedule. Now, Hartford, led by the best rotation in the conference, will look to return to the top of the standings in 2021.

The Hawks are led by a rotation of fourth-year junior lefthander Nicholas Dombkowski (3-0, 0.90), fifth-year junior Nathan Florence (1-2, 4.30) and second-year freshman righthander Ken Turner (0-1, 4.91). The trio is the best in the conference and could all be drafted over the next two years. Dombkowski is the most accomplished of the group and he does a good job of keeping hitters off balance with his four-pitch mix. Florence and Turner have more velocity and attack hitters with a powerful fastball-curveball combination. True freshman righthander Colin Blake fits that mold as well and could get in the mix as a starter. While closer Will Nowak is out injured this spring, righthanders Tim Blaisdell (0-0, 2.35) and James Judenis (1-1, 3.52) give the Hawks a pair of experienced relievers at the back of the bullpen.

Hartford’s strength is in its pitching and defense and it lost a pair of key players from its lineup in first baseman Tyler Coppo and shortstop Jackson Olson. Still, the Hawks should have enough offense to balance the team. Fourth-year junior second baseman Drew DeMartino (.250/.404/.450) is the team’s most accomplished hitter. If some other players like fourth-year junior outfielder John Thrasher (.214/.370/.357) or freshman outfielder Devon Edwards step up around him, there’s some real upside in the group.

Hartford’s rotation is strong enough to keep it in the mix all season long. With a few hitters ready to step forward, the Hawks look like the America East favorites.

Can Binghamton and Stony Brook maintain their hold on the conference title?

Over the last decade, Binghamton and Stony Brook have combined to win the regular season title eight times and the conference tournament title seven times. So, while Hartford enters 2021 as the favorite, the Bearcats and Sea Wolves must be reckoned with as well.

Binghamton is led by a talented, experienced offense headlined by fourth-year junior outfielder Shane Marshall (.333/.393/.444, 5 SB). Returning infielders Alex Baratta (.408/.492/.510), Justin Drpich (.333/.379/.444) and Jake Evans (.429/.451/.449) help strengthen the lineup and keep Binghamton strong defensively. The Bearcats’ pitching staff is led by third-year sophomore lefthander Thomas Babalis (2-1, 4.64), who was unanimously named the 2019 America East Rookie of the Year. Righthanders Josh Kopcza (2-1, 5.29) and Jack Collins (1-2, 7.04) also return to the rotation, but as a whole Binghamton’s pitching staff is not as accomplished and experienced as its lineup.

Stony Brook returns fifth-year seniors Jared Milch (1-2, 4.91) and Sam Turcotte (0-2, 3.32) to the rotation and should have a solid pitching staff. But after the Sea Wolves in 2020 posted a team OPS of .556 and averaged just three runs per game, they’ll need to find some more offense. Top hitters Evan Giordano (.368/.429/.561) and Chris Hamilton (.298/.394/.404) return to anchor the lineup, but they’ll need some help to keep Stony Brook in the title race with Binghamton and Hartford.

Can Albany maintain its momentum?

The Great Danes in 2019 finished as runners up, just half a game behind first-place Stony Brook. It was their best finish in the league standings since 2012, whey they also finished as runners up to Stony Brook. Albany carried that momentum into 2021, as it started the season 7-5.

The Great Danes must replace Dolan Ocasal and Alex Thul, their top two hitters from last season. Third-year sophomore center fielder Jason Bottari (.293/.370/.317, 7 SB) and fourth-year junior third baseman Brad Malm (.267/.358/.400) lead Albany’s returners in the lineup. They’ll get help from some newcomers, including fourth-year junior first baseman Johnny Marti, a transfer from Delaware.

The Great Danes get back their rotation of lefthander Cregg Scherrer (2-1, 4.30) and righthanders Ray Weber (1-2, 5.75) and Anthony Germinerio (0-2, 5.40). That group taking a step forward will be key for Albany to remain among the conference’s contenders. The Great Danes also get back key relievers Joe Kruszka (0-0, 9.39, 1 SV) and Kenny McLean (3-0, 1.69), whose experience as fifth-year seniors will be welcome.

What can opponents expect from NJIT in its first year in the conference?

NJIT hasn’t had an easy go since moving up from Division II in 2006. The Highlanders have had just one winning season as a Division I program (24-23-1 in 2015) and are now joining the America East coming off a 6-10 season.

While NJIT isn't ready to compete with the likes of Binghamton and Hartford at the top of the standings, it will find a better fit in the America East than in the ASUN Conference, where it was the northernmost school in a league that stretched as far south as Fort Myers, Fla.

Twin fourth-year junior infielders David (.317/.450/.444, 6 SB) and Julio Marcano (.306/.408/.452) top the returners in the lineup. Outfielder Albert Choi (.286/.395/.413, 6 SB) last year established himself as a regular in the lineup as a freshman and returns to the mix this spring.

Fifth-year senior righthander Tyler Stafflinger (1-1, 3.94) has been a starter the last three years for the Highlanders and will again pitch important innings this spring. Lefthanders Jake Rappaport (1-0, 8.22, 10 G) and Grant Vurpillat (0-3, 8.22, 5 GS) also return to important roles.

If NJIT can make progress on the mound after posting a 6.73 team ERA in 2020, it has the veteran lineup to compete in its first season in the America East.

Horton, Cade 2 (Courtesy Of Oklahoma)

2022 MLB Draft: Oklahoma RHP Cade Horton Uses College World Series To Rocket Up Draft Boards

In a draft class that has been decimated on the college side (and has started losing pitchers on the prep side as well), Horton is potentially filling a demographic vacuum ahead of the July draft.

What’s the status of the Binghamton stadium project?

Binghamton last February shocked college baseball when it announced it had received a $60 million anonymous gift to build a new baseball stadium. At the time, construction was tentatively expected to begin over the summer and take about a year.

Since then, however, the project’s timeline has been pushed back. A combination of delays due to the coronavirus pandemic and a slowed bidding process has pushed back the process. Binghamton will play this season at NYSEG Stadium, home of the Double-A Binghamton Rumble Ponies.

Binghamton athletic director Patrick Elliot told local reporters in October that Phase 1 of the project—the stadium, clubhouse and offices—will be completed at the beginning of the spring semester in 2022. The project’s second phase, which features an indoor practice facility, is expected to be finished the following year.

Top Five 2021 Draft Prospects

  1. Shane Marshall, OF, Binghamton
  2. Thomas Babalis, LHP, Binghamton
  3. Nicholas Dombkowski, LHP, Hartford
  4. Chris Hamilton, 1B, Stony Brook
  5. Nathan Florence, RHP, Hartford

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