BULLDOGS FACE ARKANSAS ON ESPN3 FRIDAY NIGHT AT 8:00 P.M.
SMITHFIELD, R.I. – For the first time in program history, the Bryant University baseball team will compete in the Division I NCAA tournament as it opens play at the Manhattan Regional on Friday, May 31 at 8:00 p.m. against No. 15 Arkansas at Tointon Family Stadium in Manhattan, Kansas.
The Bulldogs (44-16-1) are the No. 3 seed in the four-team double-elimination regional that is hosted by top-seeded and No. 13 Kansas State. The Razorbacks (37-20), the No. 2 seed in the regional, are members of the SEC. The Wildcats will face fourth-seeded Wichita State in the first game of the regional at 3:00 p.m. on Friday.
Bryant's appearance in the NCAA tournament is the culmination of a dominate transition from DII to DI. In the past four years as a transitional member, the Black and Gold won at least 30 games every year and claimed two Northeast Conference regular-season titles. This season, the Bulldogs have put all the pieces together, posting the best season in program history to date. Bryant has won a program- and conference-record 44 games and its 19-game winning streak earlier this season still stands as the longest in the country.
The Bulldogs have earned their spot this weekend with a great combination of pitching, hitting and defense. Bryant is the top team in all three categories in the NEC, leading the league with a 2.67 ERA, a .289 batting average and a .975 fielding percentage. Nationally, the Bulldogs rank 10th in ERA and are second in the country in runs allowed per game (2.8), trailing only Arkansas (2.7). The leader of Bryant's pitching staff the last four years, senior Peter Kelich (Jackson, N.J.) will get the ball in tournament opener against the Razorbacks on Friday night. Kelich has posted a 7-4 record and a 2.53 ERA in 92.2 innings so far this spring, allowing more than three runs in just two of his 14 starts. Opponents are hitting just .227 against him and he has struck out 83 and issued just 18 walks.
As Bryant showed last week at the conference tournament, they feature an extremely deep pitching staff. Junior Craig Schlitter (Guilford, Conn.) twirled six innings of two-hit ball to run his record to a league-best 10-3, graduate student John Healy (Cranston, R.I.) won his ninth game with eight innings of three-hit ball, senior Joseph Michaud (Milford, Conn.) force the "if necessary" game with five innings of one-hit ball and sophomore Kevin McAvoy (Syracuse, N.Y.) tossed a three-hit shutout in the championship game. Out of the bullpen, Salvatore Lisanti (Bronx, N.Y.) has 10 saves and a 1-2 record in 22 appearances. He's posted a 1.27 ERA and limited teams to a .202 average in 28.1 innings. Sophomore Trevor Lacosse (Watervliet, N.Y.) is 3-0 with a 2.17 ERA in 27 appearances, allowing just one extra-base hit in 37.1 innings.
Offensively, the Bulldogs have thrived thanks to a very balanced lineup. Sophomore Jordan Mountford (Guelph, Ont.), the NEC tournament MVP, has been the spark at the top of the lineup, hitting .320 with 17 doubles, three triples, three home runs, 22 RBI and a team-best 49 runs scored. The NEC Rookie and Player of the Years follow in freshman AJ Zarozny (Shrewsbury, Mass.) and senior Kevin Brown (Northborough, Mass.). Zarozny is hitting .307 with 13 doubles and 41 runs scored, while Brown leads the team with a .368 average and has 16 doubles, six home runs, 46 RBI and 47 runs scored. Two more sophomores, John Mullen (Walpole, Mass.) and Carl Anderson (Sudbury, Mass.), have provided pop in the middle of the lineup, with Mullen driving in 45 and Anderson a team-best 47.
Bryant will have its hands full with Arkansas on Friday as the Razorbacks enter the tournament with the nation's best ERA at 1.87. Only one pitcher on the staff has an ERA over 3.00 and reliever Tyler Wright has posted a 0.00 ERA in 18.1 innings. On Friday, Bryant will see right-hander Barrett Astin who is 4-4 with a 1.94 ERA in 83.2 innings. He's allowed 78 hits and struck out 67 on the year. Colby Suggs has been great as a closer, picking up 12 saves in 18.2 innings of relief.
Offensively, Arkansas is hitting just .260 as a team. Brian Anderson is the only one over .300, hitting .338 with 12 doubles, five triples, four home runs, 33 RBI and 44 runs scored. Tyler Spoon leads the team with 45 RBI and has also stolen a team-best seven bases.
Kansas State is one of the top hitting teams in the country, posting the nation's second-best batting average at .323. The Wildcats (41-17) have eight starters hitting .314 or better, including Big 12 Player of the Year Ross Kivet. He's hitting .356 with 13 doubles, four triples, 34 RBI and 47 runs scored. Jared King has posted good power numbers with 14 doubles, six home runs and 48 RBI. On the mound, Matt Wivinis is 6-2 with a 4.91 ERA in 18 appearances, and Jake Matthys is 8-1 with seven saves and a 2.13 ERA in 30 relief appearances.
Whichita State, the champions of the Missouri Valley Conference, come into the tournament with a record of 39-26 on the year. Garrett Bayliff is hitting a team-best .389 with 91 hits, nine doubles, 39 RBI and 41 runs scored. Casey Gillaspie has supplied the pop in the lineup with 15 doubles, 10 home runs and 42 RBI. Cale Elam leads the team with a 7-4 record and a 2.60 ERA. He has struck out 74 in 93.1 innings.