PAWTUCKET, R.I. – The favorite in the 2016 edition of the Little East Conference Baseball Preseason Poll is the Southern Maine Huskies.
The defending league-champion Huskies received five first place votes to edge out Eastern Connecticut, whom tabulated two first place tallies as well. Securing third place in the polls was UMass Boston, who narrowly edged out UMass Dartmouth who ended up fourth.
Southern Maine was voted 15th in the 2016 D3baseball.com/NCBWA Top 25, preseason poll released in late January. Senior shortstop Sam Dexter was named to the preseason watch list for the 2016 Golden Spikes Award, given annually by USA Baseball to the nation's top amateur player. Dexter earned Player of the Year honors both nationally and in the Little East Conference last season after hitting .441 across 46 games. He was named to the D3Baseball.com Preseason All-America Team in January.
In his 29th year at the helm of Huskies Baseball, Coach Ed Flaherty has compiled a 916-409 career record over 31 years of service. Southern Maine was 37-15 overall in 2015, and 10-4 in conference action. Joining Dexter are key returners in All-LEC junior infielder Paul McDounough and senior outfielder Nick Dibiase, as well as seven strong seniors rounded out by a very talented freshman recruiting class.
Eastern Connecticut enters 2016 seeking its league-best ninth Little East championship. Head coach Matt LaBranche's third season looks continue the success of 2015, which saw the Warriors go 23-17 with an 8-6 slate in conference play. The Warriors return five starters for their campaign this spring.
Coming in third in the polls is the UMass Boston Beacons, who begin competing in their new complex, Monan Park, on March 5th when they open up to Lasell College. In 2015, UMass Boston went 23-15 overall and 9-5 in conference action. Now a sophomore, Josh Lopez became the first Beacon in program history to be named the Little East Conference Rookie of the Year. In 31 games played, Lopez finished second on the team with a .375 average totaling 39 hits in 104 at-bats. He finished the year with one double and one triple, but drove in 11 runs and reached base a combined 42 times. He posted a .484 on-base percentage, and finished the year with a team-leading 14 stolen bases, and seven sacrifice hits.
Anthony Searles had a breakout year for the Beacons in 2015, as he finished in the top-4 with a .330 average. The Beacons go-to catcher, Searles tallied 35 hits, 12 doubles, and two home runs in 106 at-bats. He combined for 17 RBI and reached base a total of 53 times. His .500 slugging percentage was third best on the team behind Mantoni, and designated hitter Todd Ezold '15. His .984 fielding percentage was a team-best, and his 163 put-outs ranked second most in 2015. He went on to earn second team All-Conference honors, and was also named a D3Baseball.com All-Region selection.
It will be the 12th season for head coach Brendan Eygabroat with the Beacons and is the all-time winningest coach in program history.
Rounding out the top four is UMass Dartmouth and fifth-year Head coach Bob Prince. The Corsairs return significant experience across the lineup with 18 returners, including First Team All-LEC pitcher Steve Colella. The Corsairs, who went 25-17 overall and 9-5 in conference action, face some stiff out of conference action in regional powerhouses in Wheaton and MIT, as well as Ramapo.
Non-conference action kicks off for Western Connecticut and Plymouth State this weekend, with the rest of the Little East joining suit within the next two weeks. Conference competition begins the weekend April 2nd with a day full of doubleheader action.
Formed in 1986, the Little East serves as New England's premier athletic conference for public institutions in NCAA Division III. Featuring 19 championship sports, the Little East sponsors quality competition in every season for our student athletes. Our eight state colleges and universities dedicate themselves to an ongoing fulfillment of the Division III mission of passion, responsibility, sportsmanship, and citizenship.