SMITHFIELD, R.I. – The Bryant University baseball team begins its quest for a fourth Northeast Conference title in five years this weekend at the NEC Baseball Championships held at Dodd Stadium in Norwich, Conn.
Bryant, the defending tournament champions, will serve as the No. 1 seed for the fifth-straight year after claiming their sixth-straight NEC Regular-Season title. The Bulldogs will open the four-team double-elimination tournament against No. 4 Sacred Heart on Thursday afternoon at 12:00 p.m. Second-seeded Central Connecticut and third-seeded Wagner will meet at 4:00 p.m. in Thursday's second game. The championship tournament continues with two games on Friday, two on Saturday and an "if necessary" game on Sunday. The winner of the NEC Tournament receives an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Game 1 – James Karinchak (6-2, 3.93)
Game 2 – Steve Theetge (8-5, 3.70)
Karinchak and Theetge have been tabbed the first two games of the NEC Tournament. Karinchak will look to rebound after struggling down the stretch in the regular season. The hard-throwing righty allowed 13 runs (12 earned) on 14 hits over his final 13 2/3 innings. Prior to that, Karinchak had been dominant, posting 10+ strikeouts on three occasions and tossed a one-hit shutout and struck out 11 against Wagner on Apr. 8. Karinchak, however, has pitched past the fifth in just three of his 12 starts.
Theetge has been outstanding down the stretch and enters the NEC Tournament having won each of his last seven decisions. He's allowed three earned runs or less in each of his last eight outings and is coming off a six-inning, seven-strikeout performance against Rhode Island last Friday. Theetge went 7-0 with a 2.08 ERA and three complete games against NEC competition this year.
BRYANT AGAINST THE FIELD
The Bulldogs went a combined 9-5 against the other three teams in this year's tournament. Bryant went 4-2 against Sacred Heart, split a four-game series with Central Connecticut and won 3-of-4 against Wagner. The Black and Gold and Pioneers met just two week ago in Connecticut and split a four-game series. Sacred Heart won the first two games of the series but Bryant bounced back to sweep a Friday doubleheader and earn the split. Bryant is 26-14 all-time against SHU, 28-10 vs. CCSU and 26-8 vs. Wagner.
BRYANT IN THE NEC TOURNAMENT
Bryant has won three NEC titles in the last four seasons (2013, 2014, 2016). The Bulldogs have played in the NEC Championship Round all four seasons it has been eligible for the postseason and are 13-3 in the tournament. Bryant needed to come out of the losers bracket to win the title in 2013 but swept through the tournament in 2014 and 2016.
NOTES AND NOTABLES FOR THE NEC TOURNAMENT
Bryant finished the regular season with a 29-24 record after starting the year 3-17. The Bulldogs went 26-7 over their final 33 games.
This will mark the fourth year the Bulldogs will play at Dodd Stadium in the NEC Tournament. Bryant is 9-2 at Dodd Stadium.
Bryant finished the regular season ranked fourth in the NEC in batting average (.279), second in team ERA (4.44) and sixth in fielding percentage (.959). Against NEC opponents, Bryant led the league in average (.305) and ERA (3.52).
Junior Mickey Gasper (Merrimack, N.H.) finished the regular season with a .348 average, 11 doubles, seven home runs, 53 RBI, 44 runs scored, 39 walks and a .471 OBP. He leads the NEC in RBI and OBP.
Gasper's 53 RBI are the fourth-most in a single-season in DI program history. He joins Jeff Vigurs, Robby Rinn, Buck McCarthy and Matt Albanese as the only players to drive in 50+ runs in a single season.
Sophomore Nick Angelini (Bedford, N.H.) put together an impressive 40-game stretch to end the regular season, hitting .349 with 29 walks and only 16 strikeouts. He is tied for the team lead with 25 extra-base hits and has scored 46 runs.
Freshman Jimmy Titus (Stafford, Conn.) is enjoying one of the best rookie seasons in program history this year. He's hitting .298 and leads the team in doubles (15) and home runs (8). The eight home runs are the most by a rookie in DI program history.