TOP-SEEDED BULLDOGS BEGIN QUEST FOR NEC CROWN THURSDAY
SMITHFIELD, R.I. – For the first time in five years the Bryant University baseball team will compete for a postseason championship as the Bulldogs begin play in the Northeast Conference tournament against LIU Brooklyn on Thursday, May 23 at FirstEnergy Park in Lakewood, N.J.
The top seed in the four-team double elimination tournament, the Bulldogs (40-15-1) will face the fourth-seeded Blackbirds (20-31-1) in the first game of the tournament. Second-seeded Sacred Heart and third-seeded Monmouth will play at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday.
Thursday, May 23
12:00 p.m. – Game 1: #1 Bryant vs. #4 LIU Brooklyn
3:30 p.m. – Game 2: #2 Sacred Heart vs. #3 Monmouth
Friday, May 24
12:00 p.m. – Game 3: Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser (elimination game)
3:30 p.m. – Game 4: Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner
Saturday, May 25
12:00 p.m. – Game 5: Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 loser (elimination game)
3:30 p.m. – Game 6: Game 4 winner vs. Game 5 winner
Sunday, May 26
12:00 p.m. – Game 7: Game 6 winner vs. Game 6 loser (if necessary)
The NEC regular-season champion for the third time in four years, the Bulldogs are finally eligible to compete in the postseason this year after completing its transition period. Bryant won an NEC-record 27 league games and became the first team since Central Connecticut in 2004 to win 40 games in a season.
Bryant's remarkable season has been a combination of great pitching, stellar defense and timely hitting. The Bulldogs' pitching staff leads the league and ranks ninth in the country with a 2.67 ERA, the defense is first in the league at .974 and their .286 team average is second in the league.
On the mound, senior Peter Kelich (Jackson, N.J.) will get the ball in the tournament opener and will be pitching close to his home in Jackson. He's 7-3 on the year with a 2.07 ERA and has thrown 16-straight scoreless innings against LIU dating back to last season. The Black and Gold also feature NEC wins leader Craig Schlitter (Guilford, Conn.) and graduate student John Healy (Cranston, R.I.). Schlitter went 9-3 during the regular season, including an eye-popping 7-0 with a 0.81 ERA in league play. Healy posted an 8-1 record and a 2.45 ERA on the year. Out of the bullpen, sophomore Trevor Lacosse (Watervliet, N.Y.) leads the team with 26 appearances and senior Salvatore Lisanti (Bronx, N.Y.) leads the league with nine saves in 21 appearances.
Offensively, senior Kevin Brown (Northborough, Mass.) leads a balanced offensive attack that features seven players with 20 or more RBIs. Brown is hitting .365 with 16 doubles, 40 RBI, 42 runs scored, 43 walks and 21 stolen bases. Sophomore Carl Anderson (Sudbury, Mass.) has been outstanding as well, hitting .339 with a team-high 43 RBI and 35 runs scored. Classmate Jordan Mountford (Guelph, Ont.) has been a sparkplug at the top of the lineup, hitting .295 with 13 doubles, three home runs and 40 runs scored.
LIU Brooklyn advanced to the NEC postseason tournament by winning four of its final six games to overtake Wagner for the final spot. The Blackbirds lost three-of-four to the Black and Gold during the final weekend of April in Smithfield, scoring just five runs in the four games. Bryant posted 10-0 and 14-0 shutouts to bookend the series. The two teams split a doubleheader on Saturday, with the Blackbirds winning 4-2. Transfers John Ziznewski and Kevin Needham have sparked the LIU offense, hitting .354 and .313, respectively. Ziznewski has 11 doubles, five triples, five home runs and 26 RBI, while Needham has seven doubles, four home runs and 33 RBI. Pete Leonello is hitting .328 with nine doubles, three triples, four home runs and 25 RBI.
On the mound, the Bulldogs will face hard throwing right-hander Justin Topa. He is 7-6 with a 4.35 ERA in 91 innings this spring. Topa has allowed 89 hits, struck out 75 and issued just 25 walks. Evan Zerff is the Blackbirds' top reliever, collecting three saves and posting a 3.68 ERA in a team-leading 26 appearances.