SMITHFIELD, R.I. – The No. 15/21 and top-seeded Bryant University baseball team begins its quest for a third Northeast Conference title in four years this weekend at the NEC Baseball Championships held at Dodd Stadium in Norwich, Conn.
The Bulldogs (44-10, 26-4 NEC) open the four-team, double-elimination tournament against fourth-seeded Central Connecticut on Thursday afternoon at 12:00 p.m. Second-seeded and defending champion Sacred Heart will face third-seeded Fairleigh Dickinson at 4:00 p.m. The tournament continues with two games on Friday, two more including the championship game on Saturday and an "if necessary" game on Sunday.
Bryant is the top seed for the fourth-straight year after capturing its fifth-straight NEC Regular-Season title two weeks ago with a victory over the Blue Devils (23-32, 15-17). The Black and Gold have won two championships, 2013 and 2014, and have played in the title game in all three years they have been eligible. Bryant is a combined 10-3 in the NEC Tournament and 11-7 overall in the postseason since 2013.
The Bulldogs had a good deal of success against the other three teams competing this weekend, going a combined 13-3. Bryant played Central Connecticut in a pair of series this season, going 7-1 against the Blue Devils. The Bulldogs also took three-of-four from both Sacred Heart and Fairleigh Dickinson. Bryant holds an all-time record of 69-24 against the three other teams.
The Black and Gold enter the tournament on a seven-game winning streak and have the second-most wins of any team in the country. Bryant has done it with the bat (.324 average), on the mound (3.17 ERA) and in the field (.970 fielding percentage). All three numbers lead the NEC and the average is sixth nationally and the ERA ranks 18th in the country. Bryant also leads the country in scoring margin (+4.7) and is 11th in doubles (124), 17th in hits (590), fourth in OBP (.419) and 10th in slugging percentage (.490).
Individually, senior Robby Rinn (Warwick, R.I.) has enjoyed one of the best seasons in program history. He won the NEC batting title with a .380 average and also leads the NEC with a program-record tying 24 doubles, a career-high 57 RBI and a career-high 128 total bases. Rinn also has four triples, five home runs, 52 runs scored and a .451 OBP. He is one of five regulars that is hitting .325 or better on the season.
Seniors AJ Zarozny (Shrewsbury, Mass.), Zach Wood (Griswold, Conn.), Dan Cellucci (Sudbury, Mass.) and Buck McCarthy (Saugus, Mass.) are all having career-years as well. Zarozny is hitting .363 with 15 doubles and 29 RBI, Wood is hitting .335 with six home runs, 35 RBI and 43 runs scored, Cellucci is hiting .328 with 30 RBI and 39 runs scored and McCarthy has 16 doubles, seven home runs and 49 RBI.
On the mound, sophomore James Karinchak (Walden, N.Y.) has been every bit of a staff ace so far this year. He is 11-2 with a 2.21 ERA, 97 strikeouts and just 36 walks in 81 1/3 innings. Karinchak's 11 wins are tied for the single-season program record, while his 97 strikeouts are the most in a single season in program history.
The rest of Bryant's pitching staff has also been very good this year. Freshman Steve Theetge (Cicero, N.Y.) is a perfect 8-0 with a 2.83 ERA in 14 appearances, junior Brandon Bingel (Peabody, Mass.) is 8-3 with a 3.79 ERA and senior James Davitt (Wallingford, Conn.) is 7-2 with a 3.76 ERA.
Out of the bullpen, sophomore Justin Snyder (Georgetown, Mass.) has been dominant at the backend. He leads the NEC with nine saves and is 2-2 with a 2.21 ERA and 48 strikeouts in 40 2/3 innings. Senior Michael Marshall (Maynard, Mass.) has pitched to a 2.05 ERA in 22 innings, while sophomore Ross Weiner (Woodbridge, Conn.) and redshirt-junior Oliver Powers (Newtown, Conn.) have both posted sub-3.00 ERAs out of the bullpen this season.
The NEC Baseball Championships will be streamed live and free of charge on NECFrontRow.com.