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Baseball meets Sacred Heart in big four-game set




SMITHFIELD, R.I. – The reigning Northeast Conference regular season champion and the reigning NEC postseason champion meet this weekend as the No. 30 Bryant University baseball team faces Sacred Heart in a four-game weekend series beginning on Friday, April 19 at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport, Conn.

The Bulldogs (24-9-1, 12-0 NEC) have won 19-straight games and currently hold a four-game lead in the standings after sweeping their first three weekends of league play. The Pioneers (15-16, 11-5) have won the NEC tournament the last two seasons and have won seven of their last nine.

Bryant and Sacred Heart have met in each of the last three seasons, with the Bulldogs holding an 8-4 advantage in the series. The Bulldogs and Pioneers first met in 2010 as the Black and Gold won three-of-four to wrap up their first regular season title. In 2011, the two teams split their four-game series at Harbor Yard. Last year, Bryant won the first three games of the series before SHU salvaged a victory in the series finale.

In winning each of the last two NEC titles, Sacred Heart has received dominant pitching performances to advance to the NCAA tournament. This season, it is the Pioneers pitching staff that is once again shining bright. SHU has posted a 3.28 ERA which is 56th in the country and feature two pitchers that are ranked in the top 30 nationally in ERA. Troy Scribner (2-2, 4.22) is the Friday starter and has struck out 50 and walked just nine in 42.2 innings. On Saturday, the Pioneers feature a pair of left-handers in former NEC Rookie of the Year Nick Leinigen (4-2, 3.77) and Jeff Stoddard (4-1, 1.33). A freshman, Stoddard has walked just five in 40.2 innings. Kody Kerski (2-1, 1.32) is the Sunday starter and has worked at least eight innings in each of his last two starts.

Offensively, the Pioneers feature one of the premier hitters in the NEC in shortstop John Murphy. An All-NEC Second Team selection a year ago, Murphy hit .308 with four home runs and 16 RBI in 27 games last summer with the Bourne Braves of the Cape Cod Baseball League. This year, he's hitting .346 with seven doubles, five triples, four home runs, 24 RBI and 12 stolen bases. The Pioneers, however, are hitting just .257 as a team with Murphy and Dave Boisture the only regulars over .300.

Bryant's winning ways continued on Tuesday as it rattled off its 19-straight victory, a 10-0 thumping of Stony Brook. The Bulldogs put together one of their best all-around offensive efforts of the year with six doubles, two home runs and five stolen bases. Senior Kevin Brown (Northborough, Mass.) continues to lead the offense with a .397 average, 11 doubles, two triples, four home runs, 29 RBI, 28 runs and 16 stolen bases. Batting fifth and sixth in the order, sophomore Carl Anderson (Sudbury, Mass.) and senior Dan Muscatello (Hopkinton, Mass.) have become very tough outs. Anderson has raised his average to .360 and Muscatello is up to .328 and is currently riding a 12-game hitting streak.

On the mound, the Bulldogs will trot out the best four-man pitching staff in the conference for a fourth-time this season. Bryant's 1.58 ERA in league games is a full run lower than the next team and the Bulldogs have allowed just 73 hits in 97 innings. Senior Peter Kelich (Jackson, N.J.) will get the ball on Friday as he looks to continue his quest for 30 career victories. Kelich, 5-2 with a 2.09 ERA on the year, has been dominant in his career against the Pioneers, posting a 3-0 record and having not yet allowed a run in 23 innings. Graduate student John Healy (Cranston, R.I.) and junior Craig Schlitter (Guilford, Conn.) follow on Saturday for the Black and Gold. Healy is 4-0 on the year and Schlitter is the reigning NEC Pitcher of the Week after tossing a one-hit shutout last Sunday against Quinnipiac. Sophomore Kevin McAvoy (Syracuse, N.Y.) wraps up the series for the Bulldogs and is coming off his longest outing of the season against Quinnipiac in which he went seven innings, allowing just two runs and striking out three.

First pitch on Friday is schedule for 3:00 p.m. The series continues on Saturday with a doubleheader scheduled to begin at 1:00 p.m. The series wraps up on Sunday with an 11:00 a.m. first pitch.