CAMBRIDGE, Mass.— University of Maine is the favorite of the head coaches to capture the 2010 America East Baseball Championship in what would be the Black Bears’ first conference title since 2006. Maine, which finished fifth in 2009, garnered three of a possible five first-place votes and 23 total points. Head coaches were not permitted to vote for their own teams.
Stony Brook University, the 2008 America East Champion, was selected second with two first-place votes and 21 points, and Binghamton University, last year’s regular-season and tournament champion, finished third with the final first-place vote and 19 points. University at Albany (13 points), University of Hartford (9) and UMBC (5) rounded out the six-team poll.
The league will compete in two separate divisions, the red and the white, this year for the first time, with the top four teams regardless of division advancing to the America East Championship. The highest seed will host the three-day, double-elimination tournament May 26-28 and the winner of the tournament will receive the league’s automatic berth into the NCAA Championship. Albany, Hartford and Maine will compete as the red division, while Binghamton, UMBC and Stony Brook make up the white division.
Maine (32-23 Overall, 13-11 America East record in 2009) finished just out of the four-team conference championship field a year ago, but is in a good spot to return to the tournament for the first time since 2007. The Black Bears led America East in team batting (.319), pitching (4.60 ERA) and fielding (.966) a year ago, and will look to do the same in 2010. Sophomore designated hitter Ian Leisenheimer, a Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American, is poised to be the offensive catalyst, finishing second on the team a year ago with a .356 batting average and a .500 slugging percentage, while also pacing the Black Bears with 41 RBI. Senior catcher Myckie Lugbauer (.321 BA, 32 RBI) and shortstop Tony Patane (.315 BA, 16 doubles), both second-team all-conference selections, bring strong defensive skills to the field with fielding percentages of .990 and .948, respectively. On the mound, sophomore AJ Bazdanes and junior Matt Jebb recorded ERAs of 4.30 and 4.33, third and fourth, respectively, in the conference last season.
Stony Brook (29-23, 14-10) is in the hunt for its third America East Championship title and first since 2008. Young pitching is one of the Seawolves’ strengths for 2010 as it returns two talented sophomore starters in right-handers Tyler Johnson and Nick Tropeano. Johnson, a second-team all-conference pick as a freshman, is the league’s top returning strikeout pitcher, finishing fourth with 58 strikeouts. He compiled a 5.32 ERA and 5-3 record in 64.1 innings of work. Tropeano was named the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League Pitcher of the Year last summer, as well as the #1 prospect out of the ACBL by Baseball America. Last year, Tropeano lost just one game in six decisions with a 5.12 ERA. The Seawolves, who led the conference with 59 home runs, lost a lot of power hitters, but do return first-team all-conference first baseman Rob Dyer along with his 15 home runs, 50 RBI and a .610 slugging percentage.
Binghamton (30-22, 13-7) has won three straight regular-season titles, and finally broke through with the program’s first-ever America East Championship crown last season. The Bearcats return eight starters and two starting pitchers from last year’s team which won an NCAA Regional game, knocking George Mason out of the postseason. Leading the offense which averaged a conference-high .319 in 2009 is Rookie of the Year Dave Ciocchi, a first baseman who completed his first season with a .381 batting average, 41 RBI, 12 doubles and a.565 slugging percentage. First-team all-conference outfielder Corey Taylor, a junior, provides the pop to the lineup, starting all 52 games a year ago with a .340 batting average and 56 RBI, along with league-leading numbers of 16 home runs and 130 total bases. The Bearcats lost their top two starting pitchers, including Pitcher of the Year Murphy Smith, and their top relief man in Greg Lane, and will rely on junior lefty James Giulietti (5.03 ERA, 5-1) and all-rookie righty Mike Augliera (5.60 ERA, 5-3) to carry the weekend rotation.
Albany (26-31, 15-9), the 2007 America East Champions, returned to the conference title game last season for the first time since its improbable run three years ago. The Great Danes like to run on the base paths, swiping 80 bases on 103 attempts last season, and are led by senior outfielder Brendan Rowland who scored 55 runs and stole 25 bags on 29 attempts in 2009. A pair of young starting right-handed pitchers anchor the rotation in junior Dave Kubiak and sophomore Zach Kraham, both second-team all-conference starters last season. Kubiak started a team-high 13 games, pitching two complete games, compiling a 5.90 ERA, 55 strikeouts and a 4-9 record in 71.2 innings pitched. Kraham hurled 50 innings in 11 appearances, holding opponents to a .265 batting average.
Hartford (15-32, 7-15) has the 1-2 punch of junior catcher Andy Drexel and senior catcher Mike Amendola. Even when one is catching, the other is rarely out of the lineup, usually hitting in the designated spot or playing left field. Drexel led the team with a .363 batting average, along with 49 RBI, 13 doubles, seven homers and four triples in 47 games. Amendola also played 47 games in which he hit .362 with 59 hits, 11 doubles, three four-baggers, 27 RBI and drew 26 walks.
UMBC (9-36, 4-18) returns sophomore Max Himmelstein, a 6-2 catcher/first baseman, who is the top returner in average (.304), runs (18), hits (41), RBI (26) and total bases (58). Junior outfielder Bryan Russo hit five pitches out of the park last season in 25 games, recording a .487 slugging percentage. For pitching, senior right-handed hurler Kevin Clark was one of the stingiest pitchers in the league in allowing just three homers in 12 appearances and 54.1 innings of work. He returns as the team leader in ERA (5.30) for the Retrievers.
Maine kicks off the 2010 season on Friday, February 19 with a three-game set at Lamar. UMBC, Albany and Binghamton get their seasons underway the following weekend, while Stony Brook opens up at UNC Wilmington on March 5 and Hartford stays in state on March 10 at Central Connecticut.
2010 Preseason Poll
Rank Team (1st-place votes) Total
1. Maine (3) 23
2. Stony Brook (2) 21
3. Binghamton (1) 19
4. Albany 13
5. Hartford 9
6. UMBC 5