PAWTUCKET, R.I. - The 2017 Little East Conference baseball preseason poll has been released by the conference office with the defending regular season champions, UMass Boston Beacons garnering six first place votes for 55 points named the 2017 favorites to win the Little East title.
The Beacons return under the leadership of coach Brendan Eygabroat, who enters his 13th season at the helm of the program. They are coming off a strong 2016 campaign in which they boasted a 30-16 overall record, including a 10-4 conference record and a share of the LEC regular season championship.
UMass Boston will see the return of many of their key contributors across the board. The All-New England honoree, shortstop David Murphy (Plymouth, Mass) will look to build upon his conference leading 48 RBIs. He will be joined by fellow senior Dan Mantoni (Northbridge, Mass) who looks to continue his impressive showing both at the plate (.300 average) and on the mound (2.23 ERA). The Beacons also tout reigning LEC Rookie of the Year Fernando Burgos (Hyde Park, Mass). Burgos finished last season with a 1.51 ERA, which was second best in the Little East. The Beacons have eight starters returning to the team, along with their entire pitching rotation from their 2016 campaign. Pitchers JT Morin (Wilton, Conn.) was recently named one of the top lefthanders in the country and incoming transfer Matt Tulley (Lowell, Mass.) is ranked amongst the top right-handers as well as a top draft prospect by Baseball America.
The Beacons received an At-Large bid to the NCAA Division III Regional Tournament in 2016 and the expectations to return in 2017 are high. The Beacons, as a team are currently ranked 39th in Division III on Collegiate Baseball Top-40 Preseason Poll and are receiving votes (48) on the D3Baseball.com Top-25 poll (currently 28th nationally).
Finishing second in the poll are defending tournament champions Eastern Connecticut State with 48 points and two first-place votes. The Warriors finished in the middle of the conference at 7-7 last season, but were powered to another tournament title by First Team All-LEC and All-New England selection Alex Zachary (Enfield, CT) who led the conference with 10 home runs. He returns to the fold alongside fellow All-New England honoree, infielder Alex Parkos (Meriden, CT). Parkos, the 2016 LEC Tournament Most Outstanding Player, added seven home runs and 38 RBI for the Warriors in 2016. Parkos drove in seven runs with five hits to power the Warriors to its ninth Little East tournament title in program history. Head coach Matt LaBranche will look to notch the programs 10th championship in his fourth season leading the Warriors.
The Southern Maine Huskies placed third in the 2017 baseball preseason poll with 45 points. Led by skipper Ed Flaherty, the Huskies will look to return atop the regular season standings this season. The Huskies pitching depth will be improved with the addition of transfer Tom Fortier (St. Joseph's) who will try to fill the void left by last season's conference win leader Shyler Scates. They will look to repeat their tremendous offensive success, which included conference bests in an array of offensive categories, including RBIs and batting average. The Huskies finished with a 29-13 record in 2016. The Huskies will also deal with the loss of graduated senior and two-time Little East Player of the Year, Sam Dexter. Dexter was drafted in the 23rd round by the Chicago White Sox in the MLB First-Year Player Draft. Returning junior and All-LEC selection, Sam Stauble will bolster the Huskies offense after he led the league with a .428 batting average last season.
The UMass Dartmouth Corsairs placed fourth in the 2017 baseball preseason poll with 36 points. The Corsairs finished third overall in the regular season standings in 2016 with an 8-6 record in the conference. Head coach Bob Prince will challenge his team early in the schedule with a match-up against Ramapo, who sits at No.11 in the d3baseball.com national preseason rankings. Key senior returnees Taylor Cacciola (West Greenwich, RI) and Sean Callahan (Colchester VT) will look to guide a team that is filled with a solid freshman and transfer class. Cacciola led the Corsairs with a .340 batting average (11th in LEC) and finished in the top-10 in both runs batted in (35) and slugging (.535). Callahan finished near the top-10 with 56.2 innings pitched and top-15 with a 3.90 ERA.
The Plymouth State Panthers placed fifth in the 2017 baseball preseason poll with 35 points. Head coach Clay Jenkins enters his second season with the Panthers and returns a majority of the starting lineup and a deep pitching staff. The Panthers offense will be led by a trio of upperclassmen in senior James Riley-Garnett (Newport, R.I.), senior Jarek Krajewski (Cranston, R.I.) and junior Luke Mancini (Scotia, N.Y.). Krajewski, an All-New England and All-Little East First-Team selection in 2016, finished fourth in the Little East with a .384 batting average and .556 slugging percentage after collecting 58 hits in 151 at-bats. Riley-Garnett earned All-Little East First-Team honors after batting .318. Mancini returns after a 2016 All-LEC Second Team selection in which he finished inside the top-5 with 17 stolen bases on 20 attempts and batted .261.
The Western Connecticut State Colonials placed sixth in the preseason poll with 25 points. Head Coach John Susi returns 24 players and six starters for his 19th season leading the program. Key offensive returners include seniors EJ Lavoie (East Granby, Conn.), a 2014 All-LEC selection and Bill Buscetto (Old Lyme, Conn.), a 2016 All-LEC selection for the Colonials. Susi has brought in a couple right-handed transfers in Dan Hedden (West Cornwall, Conn.) and Matt Fasoli (Trumbull, Conn.) with the goal to replace their top-2 pitchers from a year ago with Craig Frobel and Todd Lyons graduating. Lavoie finished inside the top-10 with a .352 batting average (51-for-145).
The Keene State Owls placed seventh in the preseason poll with 15 points. Head coach Ken Howe returns 18 players, including four starters from the 2016 squad. Leading the Owls into 2017 will be third-baseman Christian Bourgea (Litchfield, N.H.), a 2016 All-LEC Second Team selection. Bourgea was second behind graduating senior Joe Libby (.379 BA) with a .320 batting average. Bourgea collected 47 hits, seven doubles, one triple and four home runs while slugging .463 for the Owls last season. Senior pitcher Michael Crimi (Bethel, Conn.) will take the lead on the mound for the Owls this season. Crimi tossed 35.1 innings and had a 3.31 ERA. The Owls will be looking for some of the younger players to fill some of the voids left by graduating seniors like Cody Dube. Dube was drafted in the 10th round by the Baltimore Orioles in the 2016 MLB First-Year Player Draft.
The Rhode Island College Anchormen finish up the 2017 LEC baseball preseason poll with 11 points. Head coach Scott Virgulak has 16 players returning, including four starters from the 2016 squad. The Anchormen brought in a lot of young talented players that will be thrown right in the mix this season. Rhode Island College will have a core of upperclassmen leading the charge with Austin Barry (North Kingstown, R.I.), Brad Douglas (Wakefield, R.I.) and Shaun Vigeant (Coventry, R.I.) roaming the outfield. Barry hit .304 with 42 base hits and 22 RBIs last season and Douglas hit .301 and drove in 27 runs.
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.