Four Teams Look to Make NEC Baseball Championship Dream Reality; NCAA Bid on the Line in Norwich

Three recent champions and one surprise comprise the field at the 2012 NEC Baseball Tournament.

Monmouth, Sacred Heart, Central Connecticut and Fairleigh Dickinson will all contest the double-elimination event that awards its winner with an automatic NCAA Championship.

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The first three mentioned are the winners of the last three tournament titles.  Monmouth won it all in 2009 with Central following in 2010.  The 2011 NEC Tournament belonged to Sacred Heart and its pitching staff (the Pioneers allowed only 4 ER in three games).

But for FDU, the NEC Tournament is a place the Knights haven’t visited since before the turn of the century.

The Knights, who defied their last-place ranking in the NEC preseason coaches’ poll, have orchestrated a remarkable turnaround that has landed the program back in the postseason for the first time since 1999.

While FDU makes its long-awaited return with skipper Gary Puccio at the helm, Monmouth, Sacred Heart, and Central will continue what has been quite a run.

 Dean Ehehalt’s Hawks are here for the fifth year in a row, while Nick Giaquinto’s Pioneers make a fourth straight appearance. 

Although Monmouth has been here 16 times, more than any other NEC program, it’s Charlie Hickey’s Blue Devils who currently own the longest streak of playoff appearances. 

Contesting the NEC Tournament for the seventh year in a row, CCSU has qualified for postseason play during 12 of Hickey’s 13 years in New Britain.  The former Providence skipper and his Blue Devils were the last team to win a repeat title, although Sacred Heart has hopes of changing that this weekend.

The Pioneers’ quest to repeat will likely hinge upon the success of its starting pitching. In 2011, the staff line for the tournament looked like this: 27.0 innings, 4 runs allowed, two walks, and 3 wins.

The three starters – RHP Troy Scribner, LHP Nick Leiningen, RHP Kody Kerski — responsible for that line are all back wearing the Red and White.

Although SHU’s arms have the greatest history of success here at the NEC Tournament, there will be a ton of eyes, especially those of MLB scouts, on Monmouth RHP Pat Light.  The 6-foot-6 fireballer has struck out 97 batters and walked only 14 over 92.1 innings.  He has been projected as a high-round draft pick by Baseball America.

Central Connecticut has an effective No. 1 starter in Harry Glynne, but the Blue Devils M.O. this spring has been offense.  The Blue Devils led the NEC in team batting average (.298) and scored a league-high 278 runs in 50 games.  CCSU’s 29 long balls, 10 of which came off the bat of all-NEC first baseman Tyler McIntyre, were also a league-best.

NEC Player of the Year Ryan Kresky leads a young FDU team into the four-team, double-elimination tournament, which will run from May 17-19 with an “if necessary” game set for May 20.  FDU’s shortstop is one of a few upperclassmen on a roster that features 16 freshmen.  Kresky, who like Light played his high school ball in New Jersey’s Shore Conference, won the NEC’s regular season batting title with a .377 average. He also led the lead in slugging and OBP.

What: 2012 NEC Baseball Tournament
When: May 17-20
Where: Norwich, CT (Dodd Stadium)
Who: Monmouth, Sacred Heart, Central Connecticut, Fairleigh Dickinson
Watch Live: http://northeastconference.tv/
Twitter Updates: @NECbaseball

Here’s a list of the 2012 All-NEC selections who were honored at Wednesday night’s pre-tournament banquet…

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