SMITHFIELD, R.I. – The Bryant University baseball team travels to Bridgeport, Conn., this weekend to face Sacred Heart in a rematch of the last two Northeast Conference Tournament championship games. The series opens with a 3:00 p.m. first pitch on Friday afternoon at the Ballpark at Harbor Yard.
The Bulldogs (17-19, 8-4 NEC) and Pioneers (14-23-1, 7-5) have both struggled throughout 2015 and enter this weekend separated by one game for second place in the standings.
Growing into rivals, Bryant and Sacred Heart have met 23 times over the last five seasons, including back-to-back years in the NEC title game. The Bulldogs own a 14-9 advantage in the all-time series but the Pioneers took three-of-four from the Black and Gold the last time they visited Bridgeport in 2013. That is the last time the Bulldogs have lost an NEC series.
Bryant brings a blossoming offense into this weekend's series against the Pioneers. The Bulldogs are hitting .288 with 73 doubles, 18 triples and 30 home runs. They lead the league in all four categories and rank fifth in the country in triples per game (0.50), 37th in home runs per game (0.83) and 39th in doubles per game (2.03).
Leading the charge has been senior Jordan Mountford (Guelph, Ont.) and sophomore Matt Albanese (East Haddam, Conn.) and Brandon Bingel (Peabody, Mass.). Mountford is hitting just .271 but has 11 doubles, three triples, six home runs and leads the team with 30 RBI and 32 runs scored. Albanese is batting a team-best .355 with nine doubles, three triples, five home runs, 27 RBI and 30 runs scored, while Bingel is enjoying a breakout campaign with three triples, six home runs and 18 RBI.
Bryant's two-headed monster of junior Kyle Wilcox (Sandy Hook, Conn.) and freshman James Karinchak (Walden, N.Y.) will open the weekend on the mound. The two are tied for the league lead in wins (5) with Sacred Heart's James Cooksey. Wilcox (5-1) has won five-straight starts and has posted a 2.29 ERA in 55 innings. Karinchak has won three-straight NEC Rookie of the Week honors after earning three-straight complete-game victories. He is 5-4 on the year with a 2.91 ERA overall but has allowed just two runs on 11 hits in 21 innings against league opponents. Senior Trevor Lacosse (Watervliet, N.Y.) and Bingel are scheduled to start the final two games of the series.
Sacred Heart comes into the weekend on a four-game losing streak. The Pioneers have lost three of the four games in walk-off fashion, including two to NEC opponent Mount St. Mary's last weekend. SHU enters this series with a .230 team batting average and is led by All-NEC performers Jayson Sullivan and Zack Short. Sullivan is hitting .304 with seven doubles and 18 RBI, while Short has 10 doubles, six home runs, 23 RBI and 25 runs scored.
On the mound, Jason Foley will start game one for SHU. He is 1-5 with a 5.52 ERA but pitched great against the Bulldogs in two starts last year. In the NEC title game, he allowed just two runs on three hits and struck out six over 6.2 innings. Robbie Maguire is 2-4 with a 5.23 ERA and converted infielder Jesus Medina is 2-1 with a 3.23 ERA in 30.2 innings. Sacred Heart's top two arms could be the relief duo of Dan Wertz and James Cooksey. Wertz is 2-1 with two saves and a 2.32 ERA in 24 appearances. He has walked just seven and struck out 24. Cooksey is 5-1 with a 3.30 ERA in 19 appearances and has walked six and struck out 30 over 43.2 innings.